On Monday, Casinos in San Diego County began reopening despite several weeks of please from the local, state, and federal levels of government.
Four casinos reopening in SD County this week
Viejas Casino in Alpine fully reopened Monday along with a casino member only reopening of Jamul Casino in Jamul. Sycuan Casino in El Monte is to open Wednesday while Valley View Casino in Valley Center will join Jamul Casino on Friday for a full reopening.
All four casinos are Native American, and as the tribes are ostensibly sovereign nations, they do not need to abide by state or local law on reopening.
Casino reopenings were designated as a Phase 3 reopening by Governor Gavin Newsom in his 4 Phase reopening plan. Currently, Phase 3 is set to start in early June. However, Native American tribes have been hurt by the economic downturn caused by coronavirus. Reopening the casinos has been seen as a crucial part of revenue for tribal care.
“Ever since the Indian Gaming Act was passed in 1988, Casinos have been the lifeblood of many tribes,” said casino and gaming historian Paul Hasqua. “In 2020, with coronavirus shutting many down, it has caused untold amounts of stress on Native American communities who rely on gaming money for everything from jobs to reservation infrastructure to improved healthcare.”
“The four reopening in [San Diego County] this week is a response to a need. Of course they’d love to have the income coming in, but they had been closed before this. They have to be hurting that bad financially to pull the trigger, use the sovereignty law, and skirt around the law to reopen like this.”
Newsom, SD County, CDC tried to stop reopening last week
Both San Diego County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tried to stop the casinos from reopening last week. Governor Newsom also pled with the tribes to not reopen for people’s safety. Newsom even pointed out that while he understood that reopening was crucial for the tribes for jobs and income, the coronavirus threat affects everyone in the state.
“I cannot stress enough that the risk of COVID-19 transmission remains a serious threat for all Californians,” stated Newsom on Friday.
All three were ignored in favor of reopening.
Some local leaders also reportedly felt uncomfortable in trying to direct the tribes a certain way due to the history of Native Americans in the state.
“This is a decision that is for them to make, and there is a very long and very dark history of the country of white people, in particular, telling our Native Americans what they should and shouldn’t do,” explained San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “I’m not going to be a part of continuing that into the future. I respect their sovereignty.”
Heightened health and safety in casinos
When it became clear that the tribes would not change their mind, County health officials quickly worked with casino employees on how to make casinos as safe as possible for guests.
“They have that same mission and goal,” said San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten late last week. “We both have the same goal. We will be working with them to make sure they follow social distancing and masking.”
Casinos will now have rigorous standards for any patrons coming in. Most guests will have to have their temperature taken before going inside the casino. Every other slot machine will be turned off for social distancing purposes. Limited capacities will be put in place. Masks for guests and workers are mandatory with signs pointing out rules such as six-feet social distance distancing and hand washing being prominently displayed throughout casinos. Enhanced cleaning will also take place, with at least one casino employing new cleaning methods to be thorough for players health.
As of Monday, Viejas reported a full parking garage before noon and 2-hour long wait to get into the casino as it was at capacity. Even into the afternoon, hundreds of people were being counted outside waiting to get in.
“Tribes are hurting, but people also want this kind of freedom again,” continued Hasqua. “Let’s hope it doesn’t spark some outbreaks. We’re in untested water here with these openings. It’s a need for these tribes, but it can also be dangerous for everyone.”