As MGCB Approves Reopening Guidelines, Michigan Tribal Casinos Follow Suit

A number of tribal casinos are set to reopen later this week with strict safety guidelines in light of widespread COVID-19 concerns.
Michigan on Map

A host of tribal casinos throughout Michigan are set to open their doors in the coming days, as the Michigan Gaming Control Board eases restrictions on Detroit casino properties to reopen following a lengthy shutdown brought about by COVID-19.

The measures come after the MGCB issued a statement Monday outlining minimum guidelines for the initial opening of Detroit casinos. The Detroit casinos, however, still remain closed until the properties receive approval under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Safe Start Plan. Tribal casinos in Michigan, which do not operate under the authority of the governor, have the ability to reopen their respective facilities independently from the state.

As of June 5, 10 tribal casinos in Michigan reopened their doors. There are 24 such casinos across the Wolverine State, as well as three commercial casinos in Detroit. In March, the MGCB ordered the temporary shutdown of state-regulated casinos, days after the trio of Detroit casinos debuted sportsbook lounges, expecting the unveilings to coincide with the NCAA’s March Madness. Things changed.

Next in line

Hours before the MGCB made the announcement, the Gun Lake Tribal Gaming Authority detailed plans to resume operations June 8 at Gun Lake Casino in Wayland, Mich. The casino, located halfway between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, has installed thermal cameras at every entrance under a non-invasive, three-part entry screening for all guests and staff members. Any person displaying a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be allowed entry, the casino said in a statement.

Days later, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, plan to open five gaming facilities located in the Upper Peninsula of the state. Following an extended shutdown, the tribe will reopen the Kewadin Shores Casino, along with Kewadin Casinos in Christmas, Hessel, Manistique and Sault Ste. Marine on June 12. Upon the reopening, table games, keno and bingo will not be immediately available, the tribe said.

Also on Friday, Bay Mills tribal leadership intends to reopen the Bay Mills Resort & Casino in Brimley. While the casino will require all employees, customers and vendors to wear a mask inside the facility, the tribe said in a statement that it will be limited in the number of masks it can distribute. The casino will also install a series of visual floor aids to promote social distancing guidelines and will install plexiglass stations at numerous service areas inside the facility.

“As we begin the process of reopening our facility, the health and safety of our customers, our team members and our communities will be our highest priority,” Bay Mills general manager Richard LeBlanc said in a statement.

The Pokagon Gaming Authority also announced Monday that it will reopen both of its Michigan casino properties on June 15. The tribal authority operates the Four Winds Dowagiac and the Four Winds Casino Resort in New Buffalo, near the Indiana border.

Traffic across the border

For the time being, tribal casinos will have to find a way to recapture some lost revenue from Canadian customers who will be unable to leave their home nation. In an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the U.S. and Canada are nearing an agreement to extend a prohibition on non-essential travel through late July, Reuters reported.

In many cases, a tribal casino reopening plan in Michigan must receive approval from the applicable tribal gaming commission, as well as notification from the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) before the facilities can resume operations.

When asked whether the commission has been encouraged by the high rate of reopenings among tribal casinos in Michigan, an NIGC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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