The coronavirus has forced the closure of 96 percent of commercial casino operations in America, according to the American Gaming Association. Many tribal operators are also heeding the advice from state and federal governments to follow suit, despite the economic devastation it might wreak on their communities.
But there is growing anger in Florida that for one of the wealthiest and most powerful tribal operators, it’s business as usual — almost.
As of Thursday, all six of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hard Rock Casinos remained open, despite nearly 400 confirmed cases of coronavirus and six deaths recorded in a state with an aging population.
This is also despite the Seminole HQ closing for a clean up a week ago after an employee tested positive for the virus.
The Seminoles say they have streamlined their operations, calling off scheduled concerts and large parties, shutting their poker rooms, and unplugging over half the slot machines to promote distancing between their customers. Seats at table games have also been removed, while restaurants have closed every other table.
The tribe is also making hand sanitizers available in all common areas, while disinfectant wipes are available on request, and common surfaces are being disinfected more frequently.
But on Wednesday, State Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) said it’s not enough – an opinion she has been retweeting persistently through Thursday.
“Schools are closed, bars are closed, but the casinos remain open,” she complained to FOX 13. “In a casino, patrons have to touch screens, they touch money, they touch chips, and they touch tables. They are encouraging the spread of this virus.”
There is no reason in this war against the invisible enemy that the Seminole Hard Rock can’t keep its employees and patrons safe,” she added.
Toledo wants Governor Ron DeSantis to intervene, although there is little, legally, the governor can do.
The Seminole tribe is a sovereign nation. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA), sovereign tribes are permitted to offer gaming provided they comply with the rules of IGRA and other federal laws, but not necessarily the laws of the state.
Can the Feds Close Tribal Casinos?
But does the federal government have the power to order a tribal casino to close? In the case of the Seminoles, it’s unlikely to come to that — but the answer is, possibly.
The tribes are subject to federal law, which means that Congress would first have to pass a statute to allow federal authorities to shutter tribal casinos in times of pandemic, for example. But this would be a highly politically sensitive issue.
Casino.org readers had plenty to say when we touched on the Seminole situation earlier in the week.
Reader Rebecca Doughty said, “Tribal or not, close the casinos. They are putting people’s lives in jeopardy … Greed should not be a factor. People’s health is.”
But not everyone was against the tribe’s position. “Janie” said, “I am proud of the Seminole people for choosing not to let the government control every issue of her (sic) life. If you don’t want to go, then stay home. But if you do want to go, at least you have that choice. It’s time the Indians stood their ground.”