By Miriam Raftery
File photo: Sycuan Casino
Updated May 14 with additional information from County Public Health Officer Wilima Wooten
May 13, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – Following Viejas’ announced plans to reopen its casino on May 18, Sycuan and Valley View casinos have unveiled plans to reopen on May 19 and 21. All are on Native American reservations, and each has detailed plans for modifications aimed at protecting safety of the public and guests including face masks, sanitation procedures and social distancing.
However in a press conference today, San Diego County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten voiced concerns and indicated that the county does not agree with the casinos’ reopening plans. “If. they do open and ignore our request not to open, then we would definitely have to ensure that they put stringent practices in place to help protect the public health. But opening up casinos will cause a risk to our public health. That is very clear; it creates gatherings of individuals,” she stated.
Later she indicated the county has reached out to the federal government to potentially block the casinos from reopening, NPR reports.
Tribal reservations are considered sovereign nations that make their own laws, however state and federal officials do have some powers to intervene if public health is at risk. It remains to be seen whether authorities will allow the casino openings to proceed, or take steps to require modifications or prevent openings.
Casinos provide the primary source of revenue for many tribes as well as employment for tribal members and other workers. All local casinos have been closed since mid- to late-March, depending on the venue.
Sycuan spokesman Adam Day reacted to Dr. Wooten’s remarks. “It’s unfortunate the public health officer chose a press conference to share her concerns, as we informed her of our robust plan nearly a week ago and we have yet to her a response from her or her office,” NBC 7 reports.
Sycuan published a detailed description of its plans for sanitation, social distancing and other health/safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread on its website. According to the site Sycuan has partnered with the San Diego-based TruClean company, which has sprayed its antimicrobial-based coating throughout the casino and resort. The coating is internationally registered as a long-term disinfectant that reportedly controls bacteria, viruses, fungi and mold.
Other health protective measures include limiting table games to three players and using only every other slot machine, using plexiglass shields, thermal cameras at entrnces and more. Tribal chairman Cody J.Martinez says Sycuan is doing “everything we can to protect our guests and team members for our reopening.”
The reopening, set to occur in stages, will keep some areas closed during phase one including the resort’s spa, pool and cabanas. There will be no valet parking or room service, though restaurants are set to offer limited dine-in and to-go service, NBC reports.
Valley View Casino in Valley Center has not detailed its health and safety plan online, except to indicate that guests will wear masks and can expect a more “spacious” ambience in the casino, hotel and restaurants.
Viejas Casino & Resort plans to add new cleaning protocols including hospital grade UVC germicidal technology. All employees and guests will have non-contact temperature scans before entering.
The Jamul Casino website states that safety measures and club improvements are “coming soon” but does not list a reopen date. The tribe provided pay and benefits for workers through April 11 after its March 20 closure, with healthcare benefits through the end of May. The Casino’s restaurants are offering pre-packaged meal kits to prepare at home during the closure.
Chairwoman Erica M. Pinto states, on the Casino website, “We are deeply saddened that we have reached the point of having to make these difficult decisions, but they have become unavoidable given the uncertainty we face as to when we will be able to reopen our business. We have and will continue to do everything in our power to create the best possible outcome for our team members, and we look forward to welcoming them back very soon.”
The Campo tribe’s Golden Acorn Casino remains closed, with no mention of reopening on its websites. However its gas station and convenience store remain open.
Barona Resort & Casino has furloughed workers since April 20 and remains closed until further notice, continuing to monitor federal, state and local health updates. The tribe has announced plans to cancel its annual summer's end powwow.
Harrah’s Rincon in Valley Center remains closed until further notice, with shows cancelled through June.
Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.
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