National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) Chairman Ernest Stevens says the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe has caused “unprecedented times.”
In a letter to the 184 Indian Nations that conduct gaming, Stevens commended their response to the coronavirus. The American Gaming Association (AGA) says 76 percent of the country’s 524 tribal casinos have temporarily suspended operations.
It is important that we, as tribal nations, continue to support each other through these times with the critical safety precautions necessary. I commend all tribes for their diligence in taking the appropriate actions to maintain the health & prosperity of not only their tribal citizens, but all customers and visitors to their gaming properties,” Stevens said.
Last week, the NIGA announced the postponement of its annual Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention in San Diego planned for March. A new date has yet to be announced.
The Seminole Tribe in Florida is one of the most powerful Native American organizations in the US, and they’re currently flexing their muscles. While casinos across the country are closed – 95 percent of all commercial gaming properties – the Seminole casinos in the Sunshine State remain open.
All six Seminole casinos are open, despite Florida reporting 432 coronavirus cases and nine deaths. The most saturated region of COVID-19 cases is in southeastern Florida. Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties account for 226 of the patients.
Broward County is where four Seminole casinos are located: Hard Rock Hollywood, Hollywood Seminole Gaming, Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, and Seminole Casino Classic.
Other racinos in the area that offer slot machines and non-house-banked table games, such as poker, have closed, including The Big Easy Casino, Isle Casino Pompano Park, and Hialeah Park Casino.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) issued a state of emergency back on March 9. The governor said he wishes all non-essential businesses would close, but explains the state has no such power to force the Seminole casinos to shutter.
As you know, they are sovereign. They don’t have to follow what the state of Florida decrees,” DeSantis explained. “But they did implement my directions regarding bars and restaurants voluntarily, and they’ve implemented a number of far-reaching social distancing measures for some of their other operations.”
The governor added, “They conveyed to me that the safety of their workforce is paramount to them, and they will only operate if they can do so safely. I take them at their word on that.”
The National Indian Gaming Association says it will seek federal economic assistance and inclusion in any COVID-19 bailout package.
In a letter to the House of Representatives Native American Caucus, Stevens demands tribal economic relief grants, national loan assistance, emergency loans, tribal unemployment benefits, and treatment as states in any state fiscal stabilization fund or emergency aid.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which President Donald Trump signed on March 18, provides $64 million to the Indian Health Service for COVID-19 testing.