Southern California’s tribal casinos continued to operate last week unaffected by the state-wide stay-at-home order which shut down many businesses while forcing others to pare back services, local media reports.
ICU Level Triggers the Order
December 3 the Office of California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a conditional stay-at-home order which entered into effect December 5, giving every region in the state 24 hours from the point its intensive care unit (ICU) capacity falls below 15% to implement the restrictions in the order.
Once triggered, the order which restricts residents from gathering, limits grocery stores to 35% and retailers to 20% capacity, and shuts down bars, salons, indoor and outdoor restaurants, among others, will be in effect for 3 weeks. Unlike the rest of the businesses, Native American tribes are not required to follow state’s orders as they are sovereign nations.
Interest in Casinos Fairly High
According to the media report, Tuesday night was fairly busy at the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ casino in Rancho Mirage, where visitors played mainly slots, with dozens other eating at the property’s several indoor restaurants, as several guests removed their masks long before their food was served.
San Manuel Casino in Highland expressed confidence on social media regarding its decision to continue operations relying on the effectiveness of the casino’s safety protocols, while Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in Cabazon was promoting meal specials for its 16th anniversary, and Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio continued with its outdoor live music events throughout the week.
Casino Virus Outbreaks
Since their re-opening in June, there were 6 cases of coronavirus outbreaks at 5 Riverside County casinos according to county data. 4 land-based gaming establishments had 1 outbreak of three or more associated cases, while the fifth had two occurrences. County spokesman Jose Arballo Jr. did not release the names of the affected casinos.
The county’s outbreak reports do not have a separate number for the virus cases in casinos, but according to a comprehensive analysis published in August, casinos are considered high-risk environment. They are indoors, crowded and a potential feeding ground for the virus and even the risk mitigation measures are not effective since around 40% of infected people do not show symptoms, yet spread the infection.
Measures and Testing
Since the initial virus outbreak, every casino implemented a set of measures to protect public health, yet these measures vary from one establishment to another. Some casinos enforce face masks, temperature checks and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing protocols, while limiting their capacity. Others restricted their restaurants to offer only food to go.
Some casinos in Southern California like Fantasy Springs, owned by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, mandated regular testing for their employees. Michael Felci, public relations manager for the casino noted that the measure allowed them to avoid a cluster situation and currently, out of more than 1,000 employees, the property has a super low percentage of positive cases.
If the operation of a tribal facility threatens the public health and safety, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) has the power under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to temporarily close the venue, yet it is unclear whether such closure orders for casinos were issued so far, the media analysis concluded.