Michigan Tribal Casinos Face COVID-19 Challenges After Reopening

Written By Matt Schoch on July 6, 2020

Though Detroit’s casinos still await permission to reopen, the weekend brought about a milestone for Michigan tribal casinos.

The Fourth of July holiday on Saturday marked the 50th day of reopening at Island Resort & Casino in Harris.

The Upper Peninsula casino, operated by the Hannahville Indian Community, reopened on May 16. Island Resort was one of the nation’s first to reopen after every US casino closed in mid-March because of the coronavirus.

Most of Michigan’s casinos have been open more than a month and faced some challenges, but none have shut down again.

Most US casinos now open once again

According to the COVID-19 Tracker from the American Gaming Association, 831 US casinos were open on Monday afternoon with 158 still closed.

Only four Michigan casinos were closed, including Greektown Casino-Hotel, MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino in Detroit.

Of the state’s 23 tribal casinos, only Kings Club Casino in Brimley was still closed on Monday. Meanwhile, the Bay Mills Indian Community has opened its sister facility, Bay Mills Resort & Casino, about two miles down the road.

That does not mean there haven’t been challenges for the reopened facilities, though.

Odawa has a COVID-19 customer on day one

On May 29, there was a customer who tested positive for COVID-19 inside Petoskey’s Odawa Casino, four hours after it reopened.

Five days later, the casino reported the incident on its social media channels — three days after the Health Department of Northwest Michigan reported the case.

The casino said they verified the individual was wearing a mask the whole time they were in the casino.

In response to a customer on Facebook asking about the delay in notification, the Odawa Casino account replied:

“The news stations are able to run a story once they have the basic information. It was important to us to review with security, etc, to ensure we knew exactly what happened and how great the risk of exposure was before passing on any information. Taking the time to do so allowed us to ensure that all of our safety protocols had been followed and we are able to reassure our guests that they are safe in our property. We want to be sure that what we are telling our guests is accurate and helpful. Thanks!”

Soaring Eagle reports two employees have COVID-19

It’s not just customers who have tested positive in tribal casinos.

Over the weekend, Soaring Eagle Casino Resort in Mount Pleasant released a statement on their Facebook page that two employees at its Legends Diner tested positive.

According to the statement:

  • The employees developed symptoms while away from work and have not returned to work since that time
  • The last days worked by the employees were on June 29 and 30
  • The employees had contact with each other outside of the workplace
  • Soaring Eagle believes there is no significant risk of transmission for those who were not in close contact
  • Soaring Eagle is working with local health authorities on contact tracing
  • Legends Diner was deep cleaned and sanitized after the most recent days worked by both employees

Like many casinos across the state, Soaring Eagle is requiring customers and employees to wear masks at all times.

MGM Grand Detroit also will require masks when it opens, as part of a company-wide effort.

Gun Lake had three employees test positive

Since last week, Gun Lake Casino has reported three different employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The property reported the first case on Friday. After some contact tracing and more testing, Gun Lake discovered two more positive cases on the staff.

The first employee to be diagnosed with the virus was a table games supervisor. They had no contact with cards or chips. Another employee with the virus has not been on the property since Gun Lake first closed March 16.

Gun Lake notified the health department, instructed the affected employees to quarantine for 14 days, and executed a number of other cleaning and health protocols in order to limit the spread of the virus.

No Michigan casinos have closed after reopening

Neither Odawa nor Soaring Eagle closed the casino for any extra amount of time after the positive tests.

That hasn’t been the case throughout the Midwest, though.

In Pennsylvania, River Casino Pittsburgh closed Friday for one week after an order from the Allegheny County Health Department.

The order applied to:

  • Bars
  • Restaurants
  • Nightclubs
  • Casinos
  • Taverns
  • Events with 25 people or more.

In south Florida, the following casinos have closed for a second time:

  • Calder Casino
  • Casino Miami
  • Hialeah Park Racing & Casino
  • Magic City Casino

In addition, three Gila River Indian Community casinos closed for a second time in Arizona for two weeks. A security guard at one of the Gila River casinos reportedly died of COVID-19 complications.

Matt Schoch Avatar
Written by

Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He’s also the former host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

View all posts by Matt Schoch