Tribal community looks forward as Chukchansi Resort & Casino set to reopen

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- It appears to be a new beginning for the Chukchansi Resort & Casino in Coarsegold.

The doors are set to reopen Thursday, New Year's eve, after being closed for more than a year. A judge ordered that closure after violence broke out, and it was lifted last week.

For most of the tribe, it's simply back to business. People have been out of work and losing money over what started as power struggle. It seems to be over, but some aren't so sure. The lights are on, the machines have been dusted off and the Chukchansi casino is just days away from reopening. "We met our deadlines," Claudia Gonzales with the Picayune Rancheria Tribal Council said. "We pushed forward and here we are, opening New Years eve."

The doors closed last year after a tribal faction walked through them, armed to take over the operation. There was a split in the tribe. Since then, a new tribal council for the Picayune Rancheria has been elected.

There have been several court dates and several agreements made with state, local and federal agencies, specifically the National Indian Gaming Commission, to get the closure lifted and the dice rolling again.

"This is showing our tribe as one," Gonzales said. "And our community as a whole, and I look forward to what we can do in the future with everyone."

There is one problem, not everyone is onboard. A rival faction, known as the On-Reservation Tribal Council stands in opposition. The faction's attorney, Les Marston says the casino is legally in the wrong hands and the NIGC shouldn't have granted the newly elected council the authority to operate it.

"They're clearly violating federal law," Marston said. "So, if this 2015 group embezzles any money or misappropriates it or misspends it, it's going to be the National Indian Gaming Commission that's liable."

Still, the tribal leaders inside the casino say the problems are in the past. They say the rival faction is made up of a handful of people and the majority of the tribe is ready to move forward and put hundreds of people in the community back to work.

"I pray for everybody," Gonzales said. "I pray for our tribe to heal."
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