Tribal officials receive another letter to close casino

Sunday, May 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PONCA CITY, Okla. (AP) _ Ponca Tribe officials continue to operate their casino even though federal officials ordered the tribe to close it.

Ponca Tribe attorney Geoffrey Standing Bear said the tribe received an official closure notice from the National Indian Gaming Commission on Thursday.

``They are taking it seriously,'' Standing Bear said Friday. ``It is a communication issue with the NIGC. We're going to fix that in short order.''

Blue Star Casino closed March 3 after gaming commission officials asked tribal leaders to shut it down voluntarily. The casino had failed to conduct background checks on its employees, implement minimum internal control standards and complete an annual audit, commission officials said.

The facility reopened April 12 after tribal leaders said they had met the gaming commission's demands. But the closure order maintained the tribe failed to meet all the conditions, namely background checks on employees.

Tribal officials haven't submitted applications to the commission or maintained applications and records of key employees for three years from the date of termination of employment, officials said.

``Under these circumstances, closure of all gaming activities is the only means of assuring the integrity of Indian gaming until (the tribe) institutes an adequate system for background investigations and licensure,'' it stated.

Janice Price, casino finance officer, said in April the casino employed 30 people but only 17 were working because the others were awaiting licenses.

Standing Bear said the issues in the letter are not allegations of illegal activities or cheating.

``Fortunately, it is not a violation of laws. It is an administrative matter,'' he said.

The casino, which has 150 Class II gaming machines and three blackjack tables, usually pulls between $700,000 and $1 million annually. It's the only source of revenue for the 2,500-member tribe.

The closure letter states the tribe has 30 days to appeal.

Richard Schiff, acting chief of staff for the gaming commission, would not speculate on what would happen if the tribe did not close the casino.

``It is a lawfully issued closure order. It's certainly enforceable by the courts,'' Schiff said.