California Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino

Warring factions at the California Chukchansi Casino remain poised to take actions that could endanger public safety, authorities say. The property remains closed.  (Image:

California’s Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino should stay closed for the safety of its own customers and employees: that’s the word from the state’s Deputy Attorney General, as a dispute between two rival tribal factions shows no signs of abating.

The AG’s office this week asked a federal judge to keep the gaming property shut down until the contentious issues can be resolved for good.

The Chukchansi had been closed down following an armed power struggle between two rival tribes, each wrestling for control of the casino’s ownership. On October 9 at around 6:30pm, 20 armed men entered the building and ordered security guards at gunpoint into an area of the casino where they were handcuffed and assaulted, forcing around 500 patrons and employees from the casino and hotel.

More details have since emerged of the dispute, which concerns two opposing groups now known as the Tex McDonald and Reggie Lewis factions. It seems the McDonald faction had been running the Chukchansi from its base at the tribe’s nearby business complex up until August, when the Lewis faction entered the casino in the early hours of the morning and occupied the 10th and 11th floors, effectively taking over.

The initial schism in the tribe apparently arose following a disputed election.

Danger to Public Safety

The ousted McDonald group claimed it then stormed the premises in order to gather casino documents and audit information that were overdue for submission to the National Indian Gaming Commission. The Commission had threatened to close the casino down and issue it a $16 million fine if the accounts, some of which are 18 months late, were not submitted. The Commission said last Friday that it had now received the audits.

However, the McDonald faction’s heavy-handed actions resulted in the casino’s immediate closure by order of a federal judge. While no arrests could be made in relation to the armed stand-off, because it took place on tribal land, a restraining order is now in place to keep both groups apart. US District Judge Lawrence O’Neill has said that the casino may have violated its agreement with the state, which requires it not to endanger public safety.

“All evidence points to the tensions and confrontations continuing, not abating,” said the court documents filed by Deputy State Attorney General William Torngren this week. “The keys to reopening the casino are in the tribe’s hands,” added Torngren, who says it’s up now to tribal officials to solve the dispute.

No Federal Interference

Little progress has apparently been made since the dramatic incident. According to Joginder Dhillon, senior adviser for tribal negotiations for California Governor Jerry Brown, the two factions “remain poised to take actions that could threaten public safety.”

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said he hoped the casino’s continued closure would incentivize the tribe to find common ground. “Perhaps it will force the tribe to get its act together and do something positive,” he said.

The federal government, meanwhile, said it would not step in to resolve the dispute. “The United States is ill-suited to make such decisions for tribal nations,” said Kevin Washburn, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, in a letter to the tribe. “I implore you to work together to resolve this dispute for the good of your tribal government, tribal membership, and the surrounding community for which you have made such a significant impact through a successful operation of your economic enterprises.”