Three San Diego County-area casinos plan to reopen this month despite warnings from local leaders that the coronavirus pandemic is not over and reopening too soon could lead to unnecessary death.
The casinos -- Sycuan Casino Resort, Valley View Casino & Hotel and Viejas Casino and Resort -- sit on tribal land that may not be required to follow the county's public health order. But on Wednesday, Health Officer Wilma Wooten expressed concern over the casinos' attempt to reopen.
"We are very concerned and we want to make it perfectly clear that we do not agree with reopening of casinos," she said. "We feel that the health officer’s order does extend to our tribal nations."
Sycuan Chief Administrative Officer Adam Day told NBC 7 in response, "We disagree with any legal interpretation that allows the county any jurisdiction over activities on a tribal reservation."
"However, we share the same concern for public health and safety, and that is why our re-opening plan incorporates all federal, state and county public health guidance and industry best practices - over 700 different requirements to be approved by our regulators," he said.
The county is working with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to ensure compliance with the order, Wooten said, but she did not expand on what measures would be taken.
She said if the casinos were to reopen, they would "definitely have to ensure they put stringent (public health) methods in place."
Day said it was unfortunate that Wooten responded to their plan at a press conference instead of to the casinos directly.
"We informed her of our robust plan nearly a week ago and we have yet to hear a response from her or her office," he said.
No other casinos have responded to Wooten's comments on Wednesday.
Viejas Casino plans to reopen next Monday, followed by Sycuan Casino on Wednesday and Valley View Casino on Friday. All said their casinos would have modifications that ensured employee and visitor safety.
The reopenings come with modifications about two months after their initial closures. Here's what each casino says they are doing to ensure the safety of their guests.
Sycuan Casino and Resort
Sycuan's reopening will happen in phases with some gaming machines, restaurants and other amenities remaining closed at first, the casino said. During the upcoming phase one, four food and beverage venues will have limited hours of operation and only one will offer dine-in options.
“We have gone above and beyond of what the CDC is asking. We actually have a checklist of 700-different items that we follow," said Sycuan General Manager Rob Cinelli, stressing that protocols would be enforced by tribal operations and security teams.
All guests will be screened before entering the building and all will be required to wear face coverings.
Sycuan said every other slot machine will be turned off and table games will be limited to a max of three players. Bingo and poker will remain closed in the initial phase.
Valet, room service, the Spa Ritual and Retreat Pool & Cabanas will also remain closed in the initial phase.
The casino said it is using self-cleaning antimicrobial coating throughout the property, thermal cameras at entrances, plexiglass shields, personal protective equipment and more. Read all about Sycuan's sanitation program here.
Cinelli said the important thing is balancing guest safety and the wellbeing of their tribal community.
"For us, it’s more about just livelihood and making sure our tribal community and our team members are able to provide for their families," he said.
Valley View Casino and Resort
Valley View said on its website that it will reopen its casino, restaurants and hotel with spacing on Friday, May 22 at 8 a.m.
Other modifications include a requirement for guests to wear face masks and other precautionary measures, according to a letter from General Manager Bruce Howard, although he did not elaborate on the measures the resort was taking.
Viejas Casino and Resort
Viejas Casino and Resort announced Saturday that it will reopen its casino, restaurants and hotel on Monday, May 18 at 8 a.m. with plenty of signage that will remind guests of their safety protocols and social distancing guidelines.
Each employee and guest will get a temperature screening before they enter the building and anyone showing signs of illness will be asked to leave. Guests and team members will also be required to wear masks.
The casino will also refuse entry to guests under 21.
To ensure social distancing, the casino will only utilize every other slot machine and table games will be limited to three seated players. Bingo and Off Track Betting will remain closed.
Bars and restaurants will be open with limited seating and disposable menus.
Sanitary measures include closing the casino for four hours overnight for a deep cleaning and UV germicidal treatment and adding hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the resort.
For more on Viejas protocols, visit here.
Jamul Casino, Pala Casino Spa & Resort and Harrah's Resort Southern California have not yet released any information about reopening. Barona Resort & Casino said it does not have a target reopening date.