TOPPENISH, Wash. — The Yakama Nation Legends Casino was fined $5,000 for handing out more than $20 million in casino profits to tribal members without federal approval.
Yakama tribal leaders last December approved giving $2,000 to each man, woman and child in the roughly 10,000-member tribe. Tribal leaders at the time characterized the one-time payment as stimulus money that would help members in tough economic times.
But in September, the National Indian Gaming Commission told the tribe that the one-time payment violated the Indian Regulatory Act because there wasn’t a federally approved plan in place to do so.
The tribe originally faced $25,000 in fines per offense per day, so the lesser fine came as welcome news.
“We are pleased to have resolved this misunderstanding with the federal government regarding the Nation’s infusion of necessary moneys into our local economy last Christmas when money was especially tight in our community,” Yakama Tribal Council Chairman Ralph Sampson Jr. said in statement released Tuesday.
“We were happy that Legends Casino operations were never disrupted by NIGC (the gaming commission).”
Situated west of town just off Fort Road, the casino boasts more than 1,000 slot machines, a poker room and roulette, blackjack and craps tables.
Based on revenue reports, the casino in 2005 netted more than $69.4 million from table games and 671 slot machines. That doesn’t include another 375 slot machines that fall under a different gaming classification that isn’t regulated by the state gambling commission.
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Before handing out casino money in December, the Yakama tribe submitted to federal authorities a plan to give tribal members monthly payments equaling 40 percent of the casino’s profits.
Other tribes, such as the Puyallups near Tacoma, have similar federally approved plans in place.
It’s not clear if the Yakamas’ plan was used to calculate the $20.4 million handed out to the tribe’s 10,213 members on Dec. 19, 2008.
Department of Interior officials didn’t approve the plan until February — after the money was disbursed — because they wanted the tribe to clarify the definition of a full-time student.
The National Indian Gaming Commission is the regulatory body for tribal gaming.
The violation cited by the commission amounted more to a communication mixup than anything else, Yakama Legal Council attorney Julio Carranza said.
“It was miscommunication on both sides, but at the end of the day, we did what we had to do,” he said.
Tribal members last month began receiving a share in casino profits, but Sampson wouldn’t divulge payment amounts.