Most of Michigan's tribal casinos will remain open under latest shutdown

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

If you wanna roll the dice, you're going to have to leave downtown Detroit.

While Detroit's three casinos are getting set to shut down late Tuesday for at least the next three weeks to be in compliance with new COVID-19 restrictions issued Sunday by the state, most outstate tribal casinos are planning to remain open.

Among the tribal casinos issuing statements saying they're staying open: Firekeepers in Battle Creek, Soaring Eagle in Mount Pleasant and Gun Lake in Wayland.

Soaring Eagle Casino will remain open despite the new COVID-19 restrictions.

"Gun Lake Casino is confident in our play-it-safe initiative, a thought-out safety plan implemented during the casino's initial re-opening in June," the casino, in west Michigan, said on its website. "Gun Lake Casino is a critical business to the Gun Lake Tribe and to the local communities that we serve. We are proud to provide financial stability and healthcare benefits for over 900 team members, which will continue during this time."

Gun Lake Casino, however, will cut its hours, typically 24-7, to 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. for at least the next three weeks. It will not have food or bar service, and most table games will remain shut down.

The state has 25 casinos, three in Detroit which operate under the rules and regulations of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, and the 22 tribal casinos outstate that are governed by their tribal communities. Still, all of the tribal casinos shut down voluntarily during the state's initial order on casinos this spring; they all began reopening in June, while the Detroit casinos didn't reopen until early August.

Soaring Eagle in Mt. Pleasant and Saganing Eagles Landing in Standish are jointly operated, and remaining open during these latest state orders.

"We do not believe that closing ... will reduce the spread of the coronavirus," Soaring Eagle said on its website. "Should new information emerge that indicates otherwise, we will revisit this decision. We will continue to review protocols in all areas of our operation and make adjustments as deemed appropriate."

Soaring Eagle and Saganing Eagles Landing did step up their mask policies in September, saying neck gaiters, bandannas and masks with valves no longer acceptable.

All casinos heavily increased health and safety measures after reopening amid the pandemic, including banning indoor smoking, spacing out slot machines, installing hand-sanitizer stations and requiring masks. Several casinos also shut down their table games or installed plexiglass dividers at the tables, and most casinos altered food policies, including shutting down buffets.

At least one tribal casino has decided to follow the latest state guidelines: Bay Mills Resort & Casinos in Brimley. The casino cited an increase in COVID-19 cases in the area.

Detroit's casinos, no surprise, have seen steep declines in revenues in 2020. They were shut down for months, and when they reopened, capacity was capped at 15%. The lost revenue is a huge blow to the city and state, which combined collect more than $100 million in taxes from the casinos each year. The three casinos employ thousands, though many were laid off or furloughed after the reopenings.

"This is an unprecedented and challenging time," John Drake, general manager at Greektown, said in a Tuesday email to customers. "While we are closed, we will be taking the opportunity to further deep clean our casino and will be preparing for the day when we welcome you back. We look forward to seeing you soon for more winning moments. We will continue to stay connected with federal and state health officials to monitor the ongoing situation and will provide you with regular updates about our reopening date."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984