Spike in COVID-19 Cases in Arizona Leads Tribe to Suspend Casino Operations Again

The Gila River Indian Community’s Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino

After extended periods of closure, several Arizona casinos resumed operations last month with vigilant disinfectant protocols and social distancing measures in place. However, Arizona, one of the first states to reopen, is witnessing a surge in cases of the coronavirus. The uptick kicked in some 10 to 14 days after the end of the state’s stay-at-home order. That’s the typical timeframe persons infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. 

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While some people contend the surge in COVID-19 cases can be attributed to increased testing, many health experts assert that the rate of tests administered to positive results is how they know rates are in fact rising. Additionally, hospital admissions are up, along with the overall positive-case numbers. Theoretically, if the spread of COVID-19 had not accelerated, hospital admissions would be declining or steady, Dr. Joe Gerald, the director of public health policy and management at the University of Arizona Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, told Time.

Whereas Gila River Gaming reopened its three properties — including Wild Horse Pass, Lone Butte and Vee Quiva — on May 15, the Tribal gaming arm is now closing its venues for a two-week period.

As Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis explained, the Tribe had restarted operations, same as other casinos and businesses across Arizona. But the Tribe is responsibly responding to the surge in COVID-19 cases by shuttering once again to protect public safety. In an unfortunate incident, a 68-year-old security guard at the Lone Butte location contracted COVID-19 and passed away on June 11. 

Employees will receive pay in the interim period. 

When Gila River resumed operations in mid-May, the Tribal gaming arm was following suit with sister Tribes nationwide.

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The impact of casinos shuttering on Tribal economies has been massive and crippling, as Tribes were still faced with the burden of maintaining buildings and systems throughout the closures. Opening back up was the only way to earn back some direly needed and lost revenue for Tribal coffers, while providing jobs to casino employees and business to vendors likewise hurting from the coronavirus-fueled closures. 

“Those secondary impacts are huge as well because that total loss of revenue at the direct level, where it’s at the casino, flows straight through to everything else. Those end up becoming huge losses,” said Alan Meister, CEO of Meister Economic Consulting, which studies the gaming industry.