Five San Diego Tribal Casinos Temporarily Closing, Critics Say Native American Suspensions Lag Commercial Rivals

Posted on: March 19, 2020, 10:49h. 

Last updated on: March 19, 2020, 11:55h.

Barona, Campo, Jamul, Sycuan and Viejas – San Diego’s five tribal casinos – will begin shutting down Friday morning and will remain closed through the end of March, as some tribes step up efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Barona is one of several San Diego tribal casinos closing through March 31 because of the coronavirus. (Image: Times of San Diego)

Closure announcements from California tribal entities have been increasing in recent days, a ball that got rolling last Saturday when the operators behind Pechanga Casino and San Manuel Casino – two of the largest gaming venues in the southern part of the state – said those properties will be shuttered through April 1.

We will continue to closely monitor updates about this outbreak from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH), as well as state and local authorities,” said Barona General Manager in a statement.

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order banning gatherings of 250 or more people. But Native American tribes are sovereign entities and don’t have to comply with state directives, meaning the groups opting to temporarily shutter Golden State casinos are doing so voluntarily.

Closures Trickling in, but Controversy Lingers

California is home to roughly 70 tribal casinos, so it’s not surprising that temporary shutdown announcements are trickling in and not being made in simultaneous fashion. Tribes in other states are joining the coronavirus closure fray, with Native American operators across Arizona, the Midwest, New Mexico, and Washington State, among others, announcing temporary business halts this week.

However, there is talk that tribes have not been swift enough in closing casinos amid the COVID-19 pandemic. John Brennan of, citing the American Gaming Association (AGA), took to Twitter Wednesday evening, noting that while 94 percent of US commercial casinos have temporarily halted operations because of the coronavirus outbreak, that percentage was just 37 percent for tribal equivalents.

That tweet was posted prior to the Barona, Campo, Jamul, Sycuan, and Viejas announcements. The tribal operators of the Pala Casino, Spa & Resort in northern San Diego County and Cahuilla Casino in Anza, Calif. also said Wednesday those venues will be shuttered through the end of March starting Friday.

Tribes Want Help, Too

Some tribes’ reluctance to halt gaming operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic could make for bad optics at a time when the broader tribal casino community is approaching Congress for financial relief.

As reported on Wednesday, the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) recently sent a letter to members of Congress requesting $18 billion in aid, citing the strain the coronavirus is putting on tribal casinos across the US.

Native American-operated gaming properties account for 700,000 direct and indirect jobs across the US and generated $37 billion in revenue in 2017, roughly $8 billion of which was derived in California.