The Nooksack Northwood Casino began redeeming customers’ slot machine tickets for cash on Wednesday, nearly a week after the National Indian Gaming Commission ordered the Nooksack Tribe to immediately close its casino over alleged violations of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The casino will do such exchanges 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, according to its website.
Slot tickets will expire within 30 days of being issued.
The casino at 9750 Northwood Road, north of Lynden, is the tribe’s last remaining casino. It closed the Nooksack River Casino in December 2015.
The federal commission issued the closure order last Thursday, citing “numerous violations” of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, including that tribal gaming “must be conducted by federally recognized leadership.” The current tribal council isn’t recognized as a legitimate governing body by the Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The commission’s order was the latest blow in an ongoing legal battle over the tribe’s decision in November 2016, under Nooksack tribal Chairman Bob Kelly Jr., to remove 289 people from the Nooksack membership rolls because, the tribal council said, those people didn’t have strong enough blood ties to the tribe and had been erroneously enrolled.
The tribe has 30 days to appeal the commission’s order.
Kelly couldn’t be reached for comment despite a number of attempts.
“The closure is sad, because it was completely preventable,” said Gabe Galanda, attorney for the members facing disenrollment from the tribe.
“My clients did not desire closure or further destruction of their tribe,” Galanda said in an email. “They simply wanted, and still want, an election, so the voice of the Nooksack people can finally be heard.”
The Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs have said they won’t accept actions taken by the tribe after March 24, 2016, because no election was held to replace four expiring council seats, meaning decisions were made without a quorum and therefore weren’t legitimate – and that included the decision to push members out of the tribe.
The tribe held an election Jan. 21, but the BIA didn’t accept it because the nearly 300 who were ejected weren’t allowed to vote.
The casino’s website indicated the closure would be temporary, but Galanda disputes that.
“The closure is not really ‘temporary’ as some claim. For starters, an election is required to cure the non-compliance and an election process will require until at least late 2017 were it to start today. So the closure will very likely last into at least 2018, which in the meantime will leave many people looking for work and the entire tribe in further disarray,” Galanda said.
“Innocent peoples’ lives – Nooksack and non-Nooksack lives – are being impacted, unnecessarily,” Galanda added. “The only silver lining is that the closure might motivate the Kelly Faction to finally hold the election so that democracy can be restored to Nooksack.”
The Northwood Casino, which opened in 2007, provided more than 100 jobs, according to its website. It had more than 350 slot machines, three dining outlets and a gift store.
“This closure demonstrates the lack of leadership and competence of running a business, let alone a tribe,” said Michelle Roberts, a former tribal council member who was among those facing disenrollment, in an email. “The violations outlined by the NIGC were in their control and easily prevented.”