Chukchansi casino hopes for September reopening

The hopes of tribal officials to reopen Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in September appear to be on track, though a recent criminal investigation summons by the Internal Revenue Service on a tribal council member may prove disruptive.

On Sunday, Aug. 16, the Fresno Bee reported that a collective bargaining agreement had been struck between the casino and a union representing 700 of its workers earlier that week.

The deal included raises above the rate of inflation, as well as low-cost health, vision, and dental insurance.

Christian Goode, the resort’s chief operating officer, said that was a significant milestone to reach the goal of a complete reopening for the casino, including all restaurants and the hotel in September.

“There are several factors here,” Goode said. “We have to make sure all the systems will be back online, employees are properly trained ... the long and short is it will happen in September. We’re not quite clear on the exact day, but we’re hoping for sooner rather than later.”

Goode said slightly under 1,000 total employees will be hired to work at the casino, from the 1,044 on staff before a factional dispute led to an Oct. 9 raid that closed the casino a day later.

On Aug. 7, Jeffrey Chance Alberta, a member of the federally-recognized Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians tribal council, was issued summons for criminal investigation by the IRS.

As part of the summons, IRS investigators demand examination of all financial documentation related to Alberta, the business offshoot Chukchansi, Incorporated of Coarsegold which he led, and any other entity involved with either party.

The news created another rift in the Chukchansi tribe’s leadership, which has been hotly contested for years.

The Fresno Bee reported some faction members on the council support suspending Alberta during the investigation and others support keeping him, possibly because he was the key vote in allowing around 150 disenrolled members between 2010-2012 to vote in a tribal council election scheduled for Oct. 3.

Tribal chairman Reggie Lewis, who supports suspending Alberta, said the allegations of possible misuse of tribal assets are “of great concern” and “should be troubling to each member of the tribe.”

“While the IRS investigation has just begun and in itself is not evidence of any criminal wrongdoing ... I urge all tribal members to fully cooperate with these investigations,” said Lewis, who added the IRS inquiries do not involve efforts to reopen the casino.

No other tribal members were named in the summons, and no statements were made about audits filed with the National Indian Gaming Commission over $49.6 million missing from audits in 2012 and 2013.

Goode said he couldn’t comment on the IRS investigation, but added it had “zero to do with the casino.”

“It’s an entirely separate business entity of the tribe which has no impact or relevance to what we’re doing here at the casino,” Goode said.