Tribal Casinos in California Exempt from Conditional Stay-at-Home Order

December 28, 2020

According to local reports, casinos in Southern California continued to operate unhindered amidst the state-wide curfew that shut many businesses while forcing others to roll back services. In California, the Governor’s Office issued a conditional stay-at-home order for the citizens on December 3, which came into effect on December 5.

The order gave every region in the state 24 hours from the point ICU capacity fell below 15% to implement the order. Once enforced, the regulation prevents citizens from gathering socially. Grocery stores can only operate at 35% capacity, while retailers can work at 20% capacity. Bars, restaurants, salons, and similar institutions are to stay closed for 3 weeks.

However, Native American establishments were exempted from the order. According to local reports, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ casino in Rancho Mirage was fairly busy last week. The patrons played slots and sat at the restaurant with their masks removed long before the food was served.

In Highland, San Manuel Casino seemed pretty confident on social media about its decision to operate amidst the conditional stay-at-home orders. Other properties that continued serving guests include Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio and Moronga Casino Resort and Spa in Cabazon.

Virus Outbreaks at Casinos So Far

Since reopening in June, six reported cases of virus outbreaks at five Riverside County casinos have been reported. Four brick-and-mortar casinos had one outbreak of at least three associated cases, while there were two occurrences in the fifth. However, the names of the affected casinos were not publicly revealed.

While the national outbreak reports do not have a separate listing for the five incidences, a comprehensive analysis published in August considered casinos a high-risk environment. Casinos are crowded, confined, and the ideal feeding ground for the virus. And despite the establishments enforcing numerous risk management and mitigation measures, it’s not as effective since 40% of infections are asymptomatic, meaning the infected individuals spread the virus unknowingly.

Containment Efforts

Since the initial virus outbreak, every casino in the state implemented a set of measures to guard public health, and the details vary between the organizations. While some casinos enforce masks, others mandate enhanced sanitization protocols and temperature checks, while a few others operate at limited capacity.

Casinos have also put a temporary ban on in-person dining at the restaurant while only accepting on-the-go orders. Certain establishments like the one owned by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians in Fantasy Springs made it mandatory for the staff to test for infections before arriving at work.

Michael Felci, the Casino’s PR Manager, noted that the extreme measure allowed them to avoid cluster infections so far as the casino reported a super low percentage of positive cases among its 1,000 plus strong workforce.

If the situation continues to worsen, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) holds the authority Under the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act to temporarily close the venues. Fortunately, no such drastic measures were required so far.

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