California balks at considering casino license for men with ties to Utah polygamous sect, wants to know more about their finances

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Lake Elsinore Econo Lodge Casino in Lake Elsinore, Calif., on Monday, April 8, 2019.

California’s gambling regulators are again asking for more information about the finances of two men operating a casino there, including who else with ties to a Utah polygamous group might have financial interests in the business.

The order made public Tuesday by the California Gambling Control Commission is a setback for the owners of Lake Elsinore Casino, which has been in a dispute with the commission for 20 years and been operating on a string of temporary gambling licenses. The casino is owned by Ted and Joseph Kingston, who have been described in public documents as second cousins.

They also have family and business ties to the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known in Utah as the Kingston Group, according to a review of public records. The group believes in polygamy — though not all members practice plural marriage — and in sharing assets, though neither of those issues nor the Kingston Group has been discussed in any of the Gambling Control Commission’s public filings.

In a July 26 letter to The Salt Lake Tribune, Ted Kingston’s attorney wrote that his client “is not, and has never been, involved in polygamy.”

The dispute with the Gambling Control Commission has been whether Ted and Joseph Kingston should have to supply more information about their finances and the ownership history of the casino. The latest order sends the case back to an administrative law judge for a new hearing, probably sometime next year.

The order asks an administrative judge to consider several issues, including whether the owners supplied required information, used inappropriate accounting methods and employed a felon in a key position. The commission also wants to know more about the casino’s ownership history.

According to an account published in previous documents, cousins Joseph and Clyde Elden Kingston, along with Clyde’s son Ted and Joseph’s daughter Michelle Kingston-Knighton began the process of purchasing what was Sahara Dunes Casino in 1991. Gaming regulators approved the sale in 1993.

Clyde Kingston died in 2005. The order released Tuesday says an administrative judge should seek more evidence about how the casino shares owned by Clyde Kingston and his widow passed to Ted Kingston.

The Gambling Control Commission also wants to know who else might have a financial interest in the casino, including “any others such as family members, spouses, or affiliates in this jurisdiction or in other jurisdictions?”

An administrative law judge in July criticized California’s regulators for delays and not explaining to the owners everything they needed to apply for licenses. The judge also said Ted Kingston should be allowed to resubmit his management firm’s application while Joseph Kingston should not have to apply for a gambling license at all because he plans to sell his shares to another relative, Chad Benson.

A 2007 probate filing in Utah says Benson and Ted Kingston are sons of Clyde Kingston.

(Courtesy photo) Ted E. Kingston, seen here in this undated photo.

Joseph Kingston

The Gambling Control Commission’s new order rejects those recommendations from the administrative judge.

Neither the casino’s current owners, Benson, nor an attorney representing them returned messages seeking comment for this story.

Kurt Eggert, a professor at Chapman University’s law school, in Orange, Calif., and an expert on gambling law, reviewed the latest order. In an email to The Tribune, he wrote that it is “astonishing” that the Lake Elsinore Casino owners have gone 20 years without providing “crucial information” to the regulators.

“One has to ask, what took California gambling regulators so long?” Eggert wrote. “The Gambling Control Commission’s own order is a huge black eye for California gambling regulators.”