The Stillaguamish Tribe became Wednesday the first Western Washington tribe to reopen a casino since the COVID-19 outbreak began, as Angel of the Winds Casino reopened its doors in Arlington.
Twenty-two tribes operate 29 casinos on their lands throughout the state, and as sovereign nations, they are not subject to the stay-at-home orders from Gov. Jay Inslee. They also depend on income from gaming to directly fund many essential government services.
The National Indian Gaming Association said the Nisqually and Squaxin Island tribes are expected to follow the Stillaguamish, reopening their casinos in Olympia and Shelton mid-month, as reported by KNKX.
Tribes that have enough reserves are waiting until Memorial Day or the end of the month, said Ron Allen, the CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, and chairman of the Washington Indian Gaming Association. Allen said the impact of casino closures on most Washington tribes is “devastating” as “so much of the tribal operations are supplemented by these gaming revenues.” He said the unrestricted funds casinos generate directly fund everything from child and elder care programs to dental clinics and public safety.
The casinos also are large employers in many tribal communities. But as they reopen, Allen said safety is a high priority. There’s a long list of minimum standards that all association members agreed to strive for. “I think everybody agreed that employees have to wear masks,” Allen said, adding that masks are also recommended for patrons, but only some casinos will require them.
Other safety measures include wiping down high-touch surfaces frequently, providing hand sanitizer, limiting the number of patrons, and only operating every other slot machine, to ensure proper social distancing.
Individual tribes will tailor the best practices to suit particular needs, which might be different based on architecture or other distinctions. But he says the tribes are not taking these steps as any kind of act of defiance against the Inslee administration.
“We highly respect the objectives of the governor and the state and the health care officials,” Allen said. “And we feel that we can open the properties safely, in a way that will not cause a spike,” in cases of COVID-19. He said they also are trying to discourage people from traveling long distances to get to the casinos, an issue that will lessen as more open, especially those along the Interstate 5 corridor.
Inslee's office has said it would prefer that people stay home and not attend venues such as casinos until public health data indicate it is time and new protocols are in place to protect public safety. The Kalispel tribe, located near Spokane, was the first in the state to reopen a casino, on May 5.