A quarter of Michigan’s tribal casinos have decided to close for three weeks after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered most of Michigan’s indoor public spaces – including the three Detroit casinos – closed until at least Dec. 8 due to the escalating coronavirus pandemic.
There are 24 tribal casinos in Michigan, and six of them – all on the Upper Peninsula – have voluntarily decided to honor Whitmer’s order. The tribal casinos are under federal jurisdiction and thus under no legal obligation to follow state mandates.
The six casinos that have closed are the Bay Mills Resort and Casino in Brimley and all five Kewiden casinos, according to a MLive.com report.
“The pandemic is unpredictable,” Bryan Newland, the tribal chairman of Bay Hills Indian Community, said in a statement. “Fortunately, we budgeted CARES Act funds in anticipation another shutdown might occur. We believe in protecting our community as well as our employees.”
The Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians also closed its casinos. They are: Kewadin Casino Christmas, Kewadin Casino Sault Ste. Marie, Kewadin Casino Hessel, Kewadin Casino St. Ignace, and Kewadin Casino Manistique. They all plan to reopen on Dec. 9.
Some casinos, like Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant and Saganing Eagles Landing Casino and Hotel in Standish, plan on remaining open. The casinos, owned and operated by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, posted their rationale on their respective Facebook pages earlier in the week.
“Today, we have a track record of success,” read the statement. “Our experience with coronavirus transmission has been that the safety protocols are effective, particularly the requirement that all team members and guests wear masks. Contact tracing indicates that coronavirus transmission typically occurs outside of the casino environment where masks may not have been worn and other protocols may not have been followed. For these reasons, we have decided to keep our gaming facilities open under our stringent Health and Sanitation Plan.”
Some other tribal casinos have announced reduced hours, like the Little River Casino Resort in Manistee. It will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Other casinos, like The Island Resort and Casino, will temporarily shutter their non-casino entertainment options.
Michigan governor orders second shutdown
Whitmer’s order, which went into effect on Nov. 17, closed down the MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino Hotel, and Greektown Casino-Hotel until at least Dec. 8.
“We are in the worst moment of this pandemic to date,” Whitmer said at a press conference announcing the restrictions on Sunday. “The situation has never been more dire. We are at the precipice and we need to take some action. As the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors, this virus will spread. More people will get sick and there will be more fatalities.”
This marks the second time during the pandemic Detroit’s casinos have been forced to close. The first time was March 16, and it wasn’t until Aug. 5 that they were allowed to reopen.
Michigan is poised to begin online casino gambling, available to both the Detroit and tribal casinos, later this year or in early 2021. Either way, online gambling will be a major boost to the casinos, but especially if the pandemic shows little signs of abating this winter.