LYNDEN, Wash. — Federal regulators have ordered the Nooksack Tribe to close its only remaining casino in the latest fallout from a controversy concerning the tribal government’s efforts to disenroll close to 300 people.
The National Indian Gaming Commission on Thursday ordered the tribe to shut down its Northwood Casino in Lynden, The Bellingham Herald reported (https://goo.gl/nlurQ ).
The U.S. government no longer recognizes the tribal council, saying the terms of at least four members expired more than a year ago and the tribe has failed to hold legitimate elections since then as it tried to kick out nearly 300 members, allegedly for not having strong enough blood ties.
The regulators said that without a legitimate government, the tribe can’t maintain its sole proprietary interest in and responsibility for gambling activity as required by federal law. Further, the commission said, the tribe has failed to conduct background checks on officials who oversee the casino, including Chairman Robert Kelly Jr., and also failed to remedy drinking water quality violations at Northwood.
The violations “compromise the integrity of the Northwood Casino and the gaming industry as a whole,” Jonodev Chaudhuri, chairman for the National Indian Gaming Commission, said in a news release.
“We do not take lightly the issuance of notices of violation and closure orders against tribal gaming operations,” he said.
The tribe did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment. The tribe has 30 days to appeal.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many jobs were at stake.
The tribe’s other casino, the Nooksack River Casino in Deming, closed in late 2015. That casino had been renovated with about $15 million in loans; the Nooksack Business Corp., an entity owned by the roughly 2,000-member tribe, made loan payments for a year before going into default.
The gaming commission said the tribe could be fined up to $50,276 a day for each violation.
Early this year, the remnants of the tribal council sued the federal government, arguing that the government’s decision not to recognize the body interferes with the tribe’s right to govern itself. The tribe had been denied $13.7 million in state and federal grants for medical services, housing and salmon habitat restoration, among other things, the complaint alleged.
U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour dismissed the lawsuit last month. He ruled that the tribal council wasn’t recognized as a legitimate governing body and thus didn’t have authority to file the lawsuit.