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Fight For Control Of Chukchansi Tribe Escalates, Casino Shuttered

Oct 10, 2014

A tribal dispute that began Thursday night at a hotel and casino outside of Coarsegold continue Friday. FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports on the standoff that led to the evacuation of 500 guests and employees.

The impromptu closure of the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino has left the mountain communities around it with more questions than answers.

STEWART: “One faction did a takeover in the casino where the other faction has been residing. Someone pulled the fire alarm and in doing so also happened to trip up the electrical wiring thought-out the casino. So it was literally lights out.”

That’s Erica Stuart, spokeswoman for the Madera County Sheriff’s Department. She says the takeover is an important marker in the tribal dispute dating back to 2012.

STUART: “This is the first time the takeover has actually occurred in the casino. It has always been on tribal headquarters.”

Because the conflict isn’t new, residents in the mountain communities surrounding the casino are growing tired of the dispute over control of the tribe.

Diane Avery (seen here with her husband Gene) has been in housekeeping at Chukchansi for three years. She was told not to report to work on Friday.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Diane Avery has been in housekeeping at Chukchansi for three years. She worked Thursday before the takeover took place.

AVERY: “I get a call at 11 o’clock at night saying don’t come into work tomorrow; we’ll tell you further notice about it. And it hurts us because we need two paychecks you know to make it.”

Avery’s husband Gene wishes the tribe could get along.

AVERY: “Nobody knows who the bad guys are, nobody knows who the good guys are. 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.”

But those employed by Chukchansi will have to wait to go back to work. And according to Roger Salazar spokesperson for the resort and casino that could take a while.

SALAZAR: “There’s members of a faction who have decided to camp out in one of the office. Everything is safe and secure for the moment, but until we are certain that nothing could happen we are going to keep things closed for now.” 

Last week, the federal agency that regulates the casino said it would shut down the facility if the tribe didn’t turn in past due audits.

Late Friday a federal judge granted a request by California Attorney General Kamala Harris to keep the casino closed through the middle of next week, citing a threat to public safety.