Tribal casinos in San Diego County were linked to at least 638 community outbreaks for the period from late June to mid-December, a comprehensive report from a local news media revealed.
Not One Property Was Spared
The highest numbers of virus community outbreak cases related to the two biggest casinos in the county, the Viejas Casino & Resort, operated by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, 166, and Sycuan Casino & Resort, owned by the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, 155, but literally none of the other 5 tribal gaming establishments were spared.
Barona Resort & Casino in Lakeside accounted for 102 cases, Jamul Casino located 20 miles east of downtown San Diego added another 91, Harrah’s Resort Southern California contributed with 57, Valley View Casino & Hotel had 45, while Pala Casino Spa & Resort featured in the data with 22 cases.
“While it is true that since reopening, Viejas Casino & Resort has learned of some guests and team members testing positive for COVID-19, those guests and team members typically interacted with numerous other persons and places other than Viejas Casino & Resort during the potential exposure period.”Tuari Bigknife, Chief Legal Officer, Viejas Enterprises
A case is determined to be linked with a specific location whenever a person was at that location within 2 weeks of having tested positive or being diagnosed with the virus, meaning that linking a case to a location does not imply the virus has been contracted there. A community outbreak is defined by 3 or more unrelated reported cases being at the same location within the same 14-day period.
Consistent Ongoing Transmission
According to Christian Ramers, head of Population Health at Family Health Centers of San Diego, community outbreak data shows a “consistent ongoing transmission in these settings”, which only facilitates the “overall community spread”, working like a “chain reaction” and preventing health specialists to get a grip of the situation. Other health officials have been expressing concerns regarding seniors who are mostly at risk from the virus and among the most avid casino patrons.
The tribal casinos closed in March when the first virus wave hit and re-opened in May, despite opposition from state and county officials as tribes are sovereign entities and exempt from state and county orders. And both Viejas and Sycuan have no intention to close again despite the new stay-at-home order from Gov. Newsom.
“As a tribal government who is responsible for providing medical care, education, police protection, fire protection, etc., to our tribal members, we are an essential business.”Adam Day, Chief Administrative Officer, Sycuan Casino & Resort
Tribes’ reluctance to shut down their properties is not surprising considering the impact gaming has on the tribal communities, and prolonged periods of no operations would be detrimental for them. Besides being major tax contributors generating more than $3.5 billion in revenues to the state, casinos also employ in excess of 125,000 people statewide, making the relationship with the state “symbiotic”.