Internal Tribal Dispute Turns Violent Inside California Casino
Old rivalries in California’s Chukchansi tribe boiled over into violence last week, when a rival faction stormed the group’s casino, overpowering security guards and kicking out customers.
On Thursday evening, around 20 men equipped with firearms and claiming to be tribal police forced their way inside the Chukchansi Gold Resort casino. After neutralizing the venue’s security guards, the men told customers that they would need to cashout immediately and that the casino would be closing.
“One faction did a takeover in the casino where the other faction has been residing,” said Erica Stuart, spokeswoman for the Madera County Sheriff’s Department. “Someone pulled the fire alarm, and in doing so also happened to trip up the electrical wiring throughout the casino. So it was literally lights out.”
The two groups have been at odds since 2012, but this was the first time such a takeover has played out inside the casino; normally such disputes take place inside tribal headquarters.
The incident seems to revolve around financial audits which the tribe must provide regulators in order for the casino to stay in operation. Some of those involved in the raid apparently attempted to remove documents from the premises, but were blocked by staff. Insiders say that leaders of the faction controlling the casino have been holed up in the hotel’s top floors for weeks.
With the rivalry clearly spinning out of control, state and federal government officials stepped in and shut down the resort on Friday. Residents of the surrounding areas have grown weary of the tribe’s constant internal conflict. “Nobody knows who the bad guys are, nobody knows who the good guys are,” said the husband of one employee. “So why don’t you just get together and be a team and make it work? Every other casino around has done that. There is money to be made.”
Madera County is also where the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians have proposed to build their own controversial casino. The venue has garnered opposition due to the fact that it will be located miles away from the tribe’s lands.
At the moment, the Chukchansi Gold is scheduled to be closed at least through October 15, when a federal judge will listen to arguments by both sides. If the required audits are not produced by the end of October, though, the National Indian Gaming Commission could be forced to close the business permanently.