Court orders American Indian casino in California to stay closed after standoff

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 15, 2014 10:00 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A federal court on Wednesday ordered an American Indian casino in California to remain closed over public safety concerns tied to an armed standoff that occurred last week between two tribal factions at the establishment, officials said.

The order by U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill of the Eastern District of California is expected to keep the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold closed at least until a court hearing on Oct. 29, said Madera County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Erica Stuart.

Guests at the casino, which belongs to the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, were sent rushing for the exits on Oct. 9 when an armed faction of the tribe entered the gambling establishment north of Fresno and confronted another tribal group running it, according to state and local officials.

The following day, O'Neill ordered the temporary closure of the casino based on a request from the California Attorney General's Office, whose attorneys argued the tribe violated its agreement with the state by allowing the situation at the establishment to become dangerous.

While the closure order is expected to remain in effect at least until the hearing on Oct. 29, Attorney General's Office spokesman Nick Pacilio said the judge could issue an opinion before then on the state's request for a longer term closure of the casino.

A representative from the tribe could not be reached for comment.

In court papers, Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians attorney Lester Marston argued the tribe was likely to lose millions of dollars in revenue and there was "no urgent matter necessitating the court's involvement in the operation of the tribe's casino."

Meanwhile, the National Indian Gaming Commission has sought audit reports from the operators of the casino for 2012 and 2013, Stuart said.

In the meantime, employees at the casino are expected to be allowed back to work to take on such tasks as clearing out perishable food and other maintenance work, she said.

The Madera County Sheriff's Department is still investigating last week's armed takeover of the casino by a faction of the tribe, she said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Eric Beech)