Chukchansi casino could reopen by year’s end | Fresno Bee Fresno Bee

A $35 million deal with creditors is close to being reached to reopen the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino by the end of the year, but the tribe is still awaiting state and federal approval.

Officials with the tribal council led by Reggie Lewis described it as one of the “significant milestones necessary to re-open their world-class” casino.

Chukchansi Gold, located in Coarsegold, was closed in October following a factional dispute after the group led by Tex McDonald raided a casino office looking for documents related to late audits due to the federal government. The raid resulted in the state Attorney General and federal government closing the casino and hotel. It ended with 15 arrests. The casino has not reopened.

The Lewis group said in a statement Monday that the casino will reopen before the end of 2015. The statement indicated that the Lewis group expects to finalize an agreement in a few weeks with the National Indian Gaming Commission and Attorney General’s Office that will enable the facility to re-open. The attorney general and the federal gaming commission ordered the hotel and casino closed on Oct. 10, the day after the raid.

Another sticking point is dealing with Madera County supervisors, who are yet to recognize a tribal council because members of the former McDonald group are working in the offices across the street from the casino and hotel.

The tribal council Lewis represents is from 2010. It wasrecognized by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs last year and affirmed by the Interior Board of Indian Appeals in February as interim council until an election, which is scheduled on Oct. 3. The recognition allowed federal grants to flow to the Lewis council to administer through the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development.

It was the Chukchansi Economic Development Authority, the body overseeing the casino, that entered into a deal with some of the tribe’s lenders that will allow it to raise $35 million, at a 12% interest rate, to reopen the facility.

The tribe already is under a $250 million bond deal struck in 2012 and is paying 9.75% in interest through 2020. The tribe must pay about $12 million twice each year to its creditors. The bond was for construction of the casino.

Lewis said the two arrangements are separate, equating the new agreement to taking out a second mortgage on a house.

Lewis has been projecting an October opening for the hotel and casino. The new casino manager, Christian Goode, from Las Vegas-based Ivory Gaming, told Lewis he was aiming for a Labor Day reopening, but Lewis said he’s not sure that can be achieved.

Other remaining issues that have to be resolved before the casino can reopen relate to the county’s reluctance in recognizing a tribal council and forging a new public safety services agreement for the hotel and casino, as well as ensuring the casino and tribal properties can be safe from further conflict between rival factions, Lewis said.

A letter sent by Madera County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rogers last week said the county supports the tribe in reopening the casino, but is yet to support a particular group as the tribal council.

“We understand that the Chukchansi tribe is presently securing funding and taking steps to establish the lawful governing body of the Chukchansi tribe,” Rogers’ letter said. “Madera County is committed to working with the Chukchansi tribe to develop an agreement once those endeavors are finalized.”

Lewis said a meeting “didn’t go well” earlier this month between the rival factions, which included members of the McDonald group and a faction seeking to shrink the tribe to fewer than 50 members.

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