Eight southern California Indian tribes plan to reopen their casinos on May 18, they informed Gov. Gavin Newsom in a letter last week. The casinos plan to reopen despite the state’s ongoing stay-at-home order due to COVID-19.
While the state of California can take disciplinary action against most businesses that violate the order, Newsom’s authority on tribal casinos is far more limited. Tribal law experts say casinos have the power to open whenever they choose, and the southern California casinos have settled on May 18 as their date – albeit with enhanced safety measures in place.
A different look
There will be several changes to casino operations upon reopening. From NBC San Diego:
- Signage will be provided across the property to remind guests of safety protocols, social distancing guidelines, and safety practices.
- No one under the age of 21 will be allowed in the casino, restaurants, or hotel.
- All Guests and Team Members will be subject to a non-contact temporal scan prior to entry.
- Any Guest or Team Member exhibiting signs or symptoms of illness will be directed to return at a later date.
- A mask must be worn at all times by Guests and Team Members.
- Guests and Team Members will be required to practice social distancing at all times.
- Additional hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed throughout the resort.
- The casino will close at 3:00 am through 7:00 am for deep cleaning and UVC treatment
Northern California casinos have no imminent plans to reopen. San Diego’s Viejas Casino Resort, which has been closed since March 20, posted the following message on its website.
“We have missed you during these trying times. You are like family to us, and like family, we hold you near and dear to our hearts. Your safety, and the safety of our Team Members, is of paramount importance to Viejas. That is why we continue to exceed all cleanliness standards set by federal, state, local, and gaming commission authorities.”
Viejas also said every other slot machine will be turned off to provide proper spacing, while table games will be limited to three seated players.
It is with great pleasure that we announce our re-opening date:
Monday, May 18th at 8am
We have missed you and are ready to welcome you back!
Visit https://t.co/ZT0P9yXRZK to view the measures we have taken for a safe return.
Let's Play Again!#SanDiegoStrong pic.twitter.com/hWjO76IKYI
— Viejas Casino Resort (@ViejasCasino) May 9, 2020
“It makes sense to get people back to work,” Susan Jensen, executive director of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, said on May 6. “It’s important for them to get up and operating … but not putting public health at risk.”
Two days later, several casinos announced plans to reopen. California’s tribal casinos typically generate $8 billion in annual revenue and have been out of commission for nearly two months.
California continues to table legal sports betting
And while sports betting isn’t legal in California, the state is still losing out on money with teams in southern and northern California out of action. Granted, the state’s financial issues span far beyond sports (4.2 million Californians have filed for unemployment since mid-March, and the state is now expected to face a budget gap of $13.4 billion in the current fiscal year and $40.9 billion next year, according to the Department of Finance). But even if the return of sports wouldn’t make a massive dent in either of those numbers, it would be a step in the right direction.
And there’s been progress on that front over the past week. MLB owners have approved a proposal for the season to start in July, which is now being negotiated with the players. In the NBA, participants on a board of governors call Tuesday with commissioner Adam Silver left the meeting feeling “increasingly positive about the league’s momentum toward a resumption of play this season,” according to ESPN. MLB games would happen in teams’ own stadiums without fans, while the NBA would likely resume in a “campus environment” in Orlando or Las Vegas, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
It will be fascinating to see how casino and sports bettors behave once they are able to wager on their usual games or events in these unprecedented circumstances.