UPDATE on Dec. 31: Jamul Casino, which had previously advertised New Year's Eve events with live music, had deleted their website pointing to NYE events hours before they were scheduled to begin.
Some tribal casinos in San Diego County are advertising New Year’s Eve promotions and events, despite county records linking hundreds of positive coronavirus cases to gaming.
KPBS recently published county outbreak data showing 638 positive cases tied back to tribal casinos, including 266 to Viejas, 155 to Sycuan, 102 at Barona and double-digit case counts at Jamul, Harrah’s, Valley View and Pala casinos.
"It’s very clear that some of those new protocols have not been very effective,” said Julian Posadas with Unite Here Local 30, a labor union representing 900 tribal casino workers.
"We’re talking about a virus that is airborne,” Posadas said. “Anybody can get it. Any kind of protective gear is helpful, but we know when people are smoking, they’re taking off their masks. When people are drinking, they’re taking off their masks."
In a statement, Sycuan’s general manager said it's scaling back its New Year celebrations. The casino said it is not hosting any events, and only inviting select guests to promotions (however its website is advertising several NYE promotions).
Jamul was advertising live music on New Year’s Eve but had deleted their website pointing to NYE events, like an Elton John Tribute, a Latin Night and more, hours before they were scheduled to begin.
"I would say that they're not safe,” Posadas said about the similar events at casinos this year.
Not all casinos are ringing in the New Year with fanfare. In November, Barona announced it canceled its New Year’s Eve celebration.
"It's appalling,” said Kyle Kirkland with the California Gaming Association, which represents cardrooms across the state. “It's just appalling. Tribal casinos are advertising their New Year’s parties? How can that possibly be?! How can you reconcile the two? You can't if you’re a thinking, decent, rational human being that cares about society and cares about public health, you cannot rationalize the two."
Kirkland understands the casinos are on sovereign land, but said the attorney general has shut down a tribal casino in the past and has grounds to do it now.
"The health and safety of the public is at risk,” Kirkland said. “And if the governor and AG wanted to shut tribal casinos down they could. And they are not."
Instead, Kirkland said policymakers are choosing to look the other way while casinos serve food and drinks, and offer live entertainment indoors to thousands of Californians.
"This pandemic will continue longer because we're not all in it together,” Kirkland said.
A sure bet - whether you like to gamble or not.
More than 60 of California's Native American tribes run casinos, which rake in more than $7 billion a year – more than any other state.