‘Safer Together’: NYS Tribal Casinos Plan Phased Reopenings

The Oneida Indian Nation has released a plan to begin phased reopening of its three New York State Tribal casinos, including Turning Stone Resort Casino (pictured here) beginning June 10. (Courtesy Oneida Indian Nation)

Tribal casinos in New York State including those owned by the Oneida Indian Nation and the Seneca Nation of Indians are planning phased reopenings of their properties beginning this month.

The Oneida Indian Nation released its comprehensive reopening health and safety plan called “Safer Together,” which details a multi-phased approach to restoring full operations.

“The comprehensive plan we have developed for the limited reopening of our operations is based on guidelines and input from public health experts to make certain that — as always — our policies prioritize the health and safety of our employees, guests and broader community,” said Oneida Indian Nation Representative and Oneida Nation Enterprises CEO Ray Halbritter in a release. “We are grateful to Oneida and Madison County leadership for their ongoing coordination through this process as we work to reopen our operations and bring back our employees in the safest way possible.”

According to the Madison County Industrial Development Agency, the Oneida Indian Nation employs some 4,800 people. While the Nation’s largest casino is located just outside Madison County, the next largest employer in Madison County is Colgate University, which employs 985 people.

The Oneidas’ three properties — Turning Stone Casino and Resort, Yellow Brick Road, and Point Place — will follow the same “Safe Together” plan, which includes not allowing any guests from more than a 120-mile radius to limit the spread among regions. This will allow patrons from as far away as Rochester, Albany and Binghamton, but not from New York City or Buffalo.

The “Safer Together” plan included the creation of a COVID-19 Coordinating Committee, which holds daily meetings, as well as an internal working group that monitors and assesses anything that could impact the health or safety of guests and staff.

The Games Department at all of the Oneidas Tribal casinos has implemented a plan to wash all gaming chips on a regular basis, and will be removing playing cards at least every 24 hours.

The Oneida Indian Nation has the backing of local leaders. Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente stated: “I have closely reviewed the detailed reopening plan put together by the Oneida Indian Nation and found it to be thorough and measured. What the Nation has proposed, prioritizes safety first for all visitors and employees along with the need to reopen the local economy for the benefit of all Oneida County residents.”

Madison County Chairman John Becker also expressed support for the Oneida Indian Nation’s robust plan for reopening operations: “It is time to get our community back to work and reopened. Madison County is currently in Phase 1 of reopening. As long as a business has a plan in place to ensure the safety of their employees as well as their patrons, that business should be allowed to reopen. The Oneida Indian Nation businesses are important to our local economy. Many of their employees have been out of work for months, and it is time to get those individuals back to work so they can get back on their feet. I have faith that the Oneida Indian Nation has the safety and health of their employees and patrons as their top priority as they get ready to open their doors.”

On May 29, 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that five New York State regions could move to Phase 2 of the New York Forward plan including Central New York, the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, North Country, and the Southern Tier, but that phase specifically says that video lottery and casino gaming facilities are to remain closed.

Seneca Nation of Indians

The Seneca Nation of Indians hasn’t announced a specific date for reopening but has said they will start a phased, multi-week reopening process in early June for its three properties including Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel, Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, and Seneca Allegany Casino and Hotel.

The Seneca Nation of Indians has said it will begin a phased multi-week reopening of its three New York State properties, including Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino (pictured here) beginning early this month. (Courtesy Seneca Nation of Indians / Facebook)

“Over the past two months, we have taken extraordinary steps to protect the health and safety of our territories, our people, our workers and our guests,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. in a release. “The Seneca Nation’s gaming operations are an important economic driver for the Seneca people, Western New York and the statewide economy. We are committed to a measured and responsible process that balances our economic sovereignty and our commitment to ensure a safe, healthy and enjoyable environment for all workers and visitors at our properties.”

The phased reopening will include temperature screenings for all workers and guests upon arrival, personal protective equipment standards for all workers, the required use of masks by workers and guests, controlled social distancing, and enhanced sanitation procedures at all properties.

“Reopening the properties in phases will allow us to keep a close eye on how each individual facility responds and to make any necessary adjustments as we ramp up to full operations,” Armstrong said in the release. “We’re eager to open our doors, but safety will remain our guiding principle through these all-important first steps.”

Seneca Nation’s Tribal casinos employ more than 4,000 workers from across Western New York. “Suspending business activity on our territories was a difficult, but necessary decision,” Armstrong continued. “We are excited to welcome our employees back and to provide world-class service to our guests again.”

Cayuga Nation

Lakeside Entertainment, a Class II gaming facility in Union Springs owned by the Cayuga Nation, reopened on May 15 and is only allowed up to 45 patrons at a time. Beginning May 24, the property instituted a gaming by reservation only system from Friday to Sunday. Gaming from Monday through Thursday was on a first come, first serve basis.

On its website, Lakeside Entertainment notes that machines are cleaned between uses and that all guests must wear face coverings and maintain six feet of social distance. Guests and employees are checked for temperature before being admitted and are encouraged to make use of hand sanitizing stations throughout the property.

Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe

Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort, however, remains closed. The property, in Hogansburg, is owned by the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and closed on March 17, 2020.