Washington Tribes Weigh Reopening Casinos Against COVID-19 Risks; 6 to Reopen

Of Washington gaming Tribes, six will reopen soon, including Angel of the Winds Casino Resort. (Courtesy Angel of the Winds Casino Resort / Facebook)

Twenty-two Washington Tribes operate 29 casinos in Washington State, one of the hardest hit states for the COVID-19 pandemic with a current count of 16,231 cases and 891 deaths.

So far, six casinos have announced plans to reopen, including two that already opened doors to patrons with limited hours of operation: Northern Quest Resort & Casino and Kalispel Casino, both owned and operated by the Kalispel Tribe of Indians.

“While we understand that some people will continue to choose to stay home and self-isolate, others are looking for a place to safely feel a sense of community during these challenging times,” the Kalispel Tribe said. “In addition, as one of the largest employers in Spokane and Pend Oreille Counties, we have hundreds of Team Members who want to get back to work and make a living to help support their families.”

The Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians will welcome visitors to its Angel of the Winds Casino Resort in Arlington, Washington, on May 13. The casino will require patrons to come equipped with their cell phones in order to enter a virtual queue to gain access to the casino.

“We have discussed a variety of re-opening dates previously and wanted to ensure all necessary precautions were in place and we were fully prepared to open our doors,” said Shawn Yanity, Stillaguamish Tribal Chairman. “The casino is a central part of supporting the Stillaguamish Tribal government and essential services. The closure has had a significant impact on Tribal programs such as family services, health services, cultural resources, and Tribal elder programs, to name a few. Lastly, the Stillaguamish Tribe is exercising their sovereignty to support the livelihoods of our Team Members, their families, and our community.”

The Colville Business Council and the Colville Tribal Federal Corporation (CTFC) Board of Directors approved a reopening date of May 19, 2020, for all three 12 Tribes Colville Casinos properties — in Omak, Manson, and Coulee Dam.

“We want to be the right place, for the right time,” said CTFC Chief Executive Officer Kary Nichols. “Our number one priority has always been the health and safety of our team members, valued guests, and communities.”

Other Washington Tribes have shared that they are leveraging their closures for continuous deep cleaning. Spokane Tribe Casino said they are disinfecting individual game chips, in between each slot machine, and cleaning the ventilation system.

Many other Washington Tribes have chosen to support Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, which was recently extended through the end of May.

“We made the difficult decision early to support Governor Inslee’s stay-home order and close Legends Casino Hotel, which is an essential Tribal operation that keeps many of our other vital programs running,” reads a statement on the Legends Casino website. “The Yakama Nation and Legends Casino Hotel management continue to be dedicated to supporting the health and safety of team members, our communities, and our neighbors, and that is why we will extend our property’s closure through at least May 18.”

Legends Casino Hotel is among the Tribally-owned and operated casinos in Washington State that has decided to follow Gov. Inslee’s stay-at-home order. (Courtesy Legends Casino Hotel / Facebook)

Aside from extending stay-at-home orders through the end of May, Gov. Inslee announced a Safe Start plan on May 4, which amends some components of the original order and allows phased reopening for some parts of the state.

“Through the Washington ‘Safe Start’ plan, more businesses and activities would re-open in phases with adequate social distancing measures and health standards in place,” Inslee’s website states. “Each phase will be at least three weeks  — data and metrics will determine when the state can move from one phase to another.”

The “Safe Start” plan consists of four phases that each take at least three weeks to complete with the first phase having begun on May 5. Within the first phase, the stay at home order remains in effect and only allows for the operation of essential businesses. Phase three permits gatherings of no more than 50 people.

“The Department of Health recognizes that there are currently some small counties with a population of less than 75,000 that have not identified a resident with COVID-19 for the past three weeks. These counties have the opportunity to apply for a variance to move to Phase II of this plan before the rest of the state,” reads Safe Start.

But Tribally-owned and operated casinos do not need to apply for a variance.

READ MORE: Confronting Coronavirus: Economic Implications Across Indian Country