California Gaming Association Urges Governor Newsom to Close Casinos


This week, the California Gaming Association has written to Governor Gavin Newsome about closing casinos as a second wave of coronavirus cases hits the state. The Association oversees card rooms but not tribal casinos and believes tribes should shut down operations during a public health emergency.

The letter comes as Newsom ordered an immediate halt to all indoor activities at restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, zoos, and museums on Monday in response to a 20 percent spike in coronavirus infections in California in the past week. The Golden State recorded over 7,000 cases on Monday.

Despite card rooms having the shutdown under Newsom’s order, casinos are allowed to remain open as they are not under California laws. Tribal casinos are governed under the National Indian Gaming Commission, which makes the laws for tribes. Tribal casinos began reopening in Mid-May after a self-imposed lockdown.

Covid-19 Impact on California Gaming

Over recent weeks, California has seen a spike in coronavirus cases. They are up over 20 percent in the past week, which promoted Newsom to close indoor activities to help prevent the spread. Two weeks ago, Newsom ordered card rooms to close due to the high possibility of COVID-19 spreading.

Now, indoor facilities around the start are closing again except for casinos. CGA President Kyle Kirkland pulled out the gaming agreement signed by the tribes. It states, “The Tribe shall not conduct Class III Gaming in a manner that endangers the public health, safety, or welfare, provided, however, that nothing herein shall be construed to make applicable to the Tribe any state laws or regulations governing the use of tobacco.”

Kirkland believes that tribal casinos could put people at more risk if they remain open. If bars, restaurants, and other indoor places are closing, then more people might flock to casinos, which could help spread the virus.

New York is keeping its commercial casinos closed, stating that air conditioning ventilation could help speed up the spread of the virus, which is something California should consider.

During a July 1 daily coronavirus update, Gov. Newsome said that his office is “working very collaboratively” with tribal leaders to make changes to the way they operate to keep guests safe.

“We are in deep conversations, and we will be making public the fruits of those efforts to at least get a rational of understanding between our partners in sovereign nations and the State of California,” Newsom said. However, Newsome or anyone in his office has made announcements on these plans.

Card Room and Tribal Casino Rivalry

As the GCA is stating public health issues about what casinos are doing during a pandemic, this is also part of a way to get casinos to close while card rooms are closed. Cardrooms and casinos have been battling since the early 2000s when the California casino industry exploded with new laws surrounding them.

Casinos have been the big brother to card rooms, and nothing in the near future is going to stop that. Especially if casinos can stay open for business while card rooms are closed, this situation also comes during a time when sports betting legislation has become more intense. Casinos do not have to follow California regulations as the NIGC regulates them. This is why casinos are staying open while everything else closes.

A sports betting bill proposed by Senator Bill Dodd was pulled last month, as lawmakers tried to rush the bill through to the November ballot. Now, tribal casinos were granted an extension to get enough signatures to get their sports betting bill on the November ballot.

The tension between the two remains high, and 2020 has not helped it. Newsom has yet to announce what casinos should do in the state. In May, casinos opened up after a self-imposed lockdown, which the Governor was not in favor.