Coachella Valley casinos to close for coronavirus

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Valley News Graphic/CDC Courtesy Photo

PALM SPRINGS (CNS) – The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians today declared a state of emergency, and announced it would be closing its two Coachella Valley casinos tonight due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The tribe’s decision — a reversal of its previous stance — came after the Palm Springs City Council earlier Tuesday directed staff to draw up a formal letter to be sent to tribal, state and federal officials urging the tribe to close its Palm Springs casino following the tribe’s announcement Monday that it would not be closing its two casinos in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.

“I’m personally very concerned about a casino being opened in our city where the virus could spread,” said Mayor Pro Tem Christy Holstege, who started the discussion during Tuesday’s emergency council meeting. “I know they are concerned about employees, which many of us are — the employees in the whole city.”

The proposed letter was expected to include state officials and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and be discussed further during Thursday’s regularly scheduled council meeting.

The Tribal Council held its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, where a reservation-wide emergency order “consistent with similar declarations by the state of California and the federal government” was declared, a tribal statement said.

“Pursuant to tribal law, we declared a state of emergency today for the Reservation to protect the health and welfare of tribal members, tribal employees and the broader non-tribal reservation community,” tribal Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe said. “We stand ready to assist federal, tribal, local and state agencies with emergency preparedness and disaster response related to the COVID 19 global pandemic.”

The tribe’s casinos in Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs will close at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Indian Canyons Golf Resort in Palm Springs will close Wednesday. Tahquitz Canyon and the Indian Canyons, which are popular hiking areas that normally draw heavy tourist traffic, will also be closed starting Wednesday.

Employees will be paid and still receive benefits during the temporary closures, the tribe said.

The tribe’s emergency declaration comes a day after the tribe announced it would not be closing its Coachella Valley casino, saying its decision to continue operations was made with their employees livelihoods in mind.

“The decision to remain open or closed altogether is a difficult one. As one of the largest employers in the Coachella Valley, our employees depend on us to provide for their families, especially during this difficult time,” Grubbe said. “The tribe is currently developing workplace policies to address individual team member needs based on their obligations to their families.”

The tribe said Monday that instead of closing, it would be implementing an aggressive cleanliness regime effective immediately, which includes deploying additional hand sanitizer stations and new “clean carts” aimed at sanitizing gaming machines on a regular basis.
Every other seat at gaming tables and in restaurants will also be
removed, the tribe said at the time.

Concerts and other entertainment options were postponed, and buffets closed. The spa at the Rancho Mirage casino was also closed.

Agua Caliente’s decision at the time to keep its casinos open drew a stark contrast to neighboring tribes, many of whom shuttered their casinos in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians was the first Coachella Valley tribe to announce whether it would be putting the brakes on its area gaming operations. Tribal officials said Sunday it would be closing its Augustine Casino in Coachella until further notice.

The Cabazon Band of Mission Indians announced Monday it would be shuttering its Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio as of 6 p.m. Tuesday through the end of the month.

And the Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa closes the doors to its casino in Cabazon as of noon Tuesday, also through the end of the month, the Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians announced on Monday.

During the same emergency meeting on Tuesday, the Palm Springs City Council also directed staff to draw up an order shuttering all nonessential businesses within city limits, building on previous orders closing bars, gyms, nightclubs and cannabis lounges due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new rules are expected to go into effect at 7 a.m. Wednesday, Mayor Geoff Kors said, given an order is written up in time.