All three Detroit casinos to close for at least two weeks

Kim Kozlowski Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit's three casinos — MGM Grand, Greektown and MotorCity — announced late Sunday and early Monday that they plan to close today, after staying open through the weekend even as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had called for gatherings of 250 people or more to cease.

The casino closures, all for two weeks for now, will cost the state and city millions in tax revenue.

The Michigan Gaming Control Board started working Sunday to institute temporary closures of the billion-dollar casino gaming industry to slow the spread of coronavirus, Whitmer announced in Lansing.

Greektown Casino in Detroit

All three casinos said they would remain closed for 14 days, then re-evaluate. MGM Grand and Greektown are scheduled to close at 5 p.m. Monday, and MotorCity at noon Monday.

"As we continue to navigate through through this unprecedented health crisis, we will close for the safety of our employees and the community," MGM Grand Detroit said in a statement on Twitter late Sunday night. MGM Grand Detroit said Monday it would pay full-time employees two weeks' salary.

Greektown, through its owner Penn National Gaming, said it would continue paying its employees.

"As for our team members who will be impacted by this temporary closure, we plan to continue to pay them for their full wages and benefits during the two week closure, with the hope that the situation in Detroit will allow for the casino to reopen as quickly as possible," Penn National Gaming said in an email sent to customers sent after midnight Monday.

MotorCity Casino said on its website late Sunday night that its hotel would remain open; MGM Grand's and Greektown's hotels will be closed. It's unclear if MotorCity would continue paying employees. Greektown and MotorCity didn't respond to messages from The News.

Earlier in the week, all three casinos, with typically operate 24/7 and every day of the year, opened sports books as live gambling officially became legal statewide, but essentially were shut down within days when the sports world almost entirely shut down.

Whitmer's announcement that the gambling board was working on closure came as temporary closure announcements were made by Caesars Windsor and Gun Lake, a casino run by Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians on the west side of Michigan. Firekeepers in Battle Creek later announced that it was closing, after earlier in the day saying it would stay open but with limited services.

There are 26 casinos in Michigan; 23 are operated by Native American tribes and regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission.

The Gaming Control Board, which regulates the three Detroit casinos, was working to put a policy together to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Whitmer said.

"It is not time to panic," the governor said, adding that she has discussed the issue with fellow governors. "This is about saving lives."

Detroit's three casinos remained open through the weekend in the wake of Whitmer's ban on gatherings of more than 250 people, but took safety precautions such as closing buffets, putting up temporary partitions throughout the properties, the disabling of some slot machines to create more space, and the increased washing of chips.

Since last Tuesday when the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Michigan, the governor has issued executive orders to mitigate the spread of the global pandemic, including shutting down K-12 schools  and banning gatherings of 250 or more people. On Sunday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel vowed to hold businesses accountable if they fail to adhere to the guidelines.

Presumed confirmed coronavirus cases reached 53 as of Sunday night, including the first child to be diagnosed.

Gaming is a multi-million dollar revenue generator for the state and city: The three Detroit commercial casinos reported adjusted gross revenue of $1.5 billion during 2019, according to an annual report of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. That's worth hundreds of millions in taxes to the state and city of Detroit.

Whitmer's announcement came as Ceasars Windsor announced that its shutdown will start at 4 a.m. Monday with the gaming floor and all hotel guests departing by 12:00 pm Monday.

"At Caesars Windsor, the health, safety and well-being of our employees and guests are our highest priority," according to a statement by the casino. "We are working on an orderly shutdown based on the recommendation of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health to temporarily close until further notice."

Meanwhile, Gun Lake Casino announced on its website that it was voluntarily closing temporarily at 3 a.m. Monday through 9 a.m. March 30.

"In a caring effort to protect the health and safety of all Gun Lake Casino Guests and Team Members, we are proceeding with a voluntary short-term closure of Gun Lake Casino," said a statement on the casino's website. "In the best interest of the Gun Lake Casino community, all casino events, including promotions are canceled during this period."

During the closure period, Gun Lake Casino will use the  time to deep clean the entire facility. 

"Protecting the health and safety of our guests and team members is of utmost importance and our main priority," the statement said. "While there is no requirement to close, we believe in doing our part to prevent of the spread of COVID-19."

FireKeepers Casino Hotel in Battle Creek, which is operated by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Indians, announced Sunday that beginning at 3 a.m. Monday, it will close bingo, table games, some slot machines and valet operations. It later announced a total shutdown starting at 3 a.m. Monday.

"We are taking this action as responsible business leaders within the Michigan community and as one of the largest employers in the region," Fireekeepers said in a statement.

Firekeepers did not provide a re-open date.