COARSEGOLD, Calif. – A federal judge closed a Central California casino after an armed showdown between tribal factions caused many gamblers to flee with chips left on the tables.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill, acting on an emergency request by the state attorney general, set no date for the possible reopening of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold, about 40 miles north of Fresno, The Fresno Bee reported (http://bit.ly/1syCiKE ). He scheduled a hearing for Wednesday.
The National Indian Gaming Commission also ordered the casino closed, declaring a threat to public safety that could result in serious injury or death.
A faction that was forced out of the casino to a nearby tribal business centre in August returned Thursday night. According to the gaming commission, each faction controlled different parts of the casino and was unwilling to leave as Friday wore on.
Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said about 500 people fled the casino Thursday night. He said he worried for weeks about escalating tensions and had asked state and federal officials for help.
The sheriff’s department negotiated with about 20 armed members after the casino cleared, Anderson said. There were no arrests, and no one was injured seriously enough to be hospitalized.
“When they move the war into the casino, it meant we had to stop this,” Anderson said. “We have not been getting closer to a solution. If anything, we have gotten farther away.”
The casino and hotel were guarded by sheriff’s deputies on Friday.
The gaming commission had said it would close the casino if the tribe failed to provide audits and other financial documents by Oct. 27. One audit is 18 months overdue.
Vernon King, treasurer for the tribal council led by the faction that was ousted from the casino, said his group wanted to recover audit information and avoid a shutdown later this month. The casino, he said, employs 1,000 to 1,500 people and provides an average of around $450 a month to each of about 900 tribal members.
Rob Rosette, a lawyer for the group that has controlled the casino since August, said the other faction refused offers to negotiate for several months.
Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler said the economic impact of the hotel and casino closure will be devastating. Still, he said he was more concerned about the potential for violence and that he urged authorities to close the casino immediately.
Information from: The Fresno Bee, http://www.fresnobee.com/