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California Gaming Association urges Governor Newsom to order all casinos, including on tribal land, to close temporarily

"We believe you have the authority to order ALL casino operations, including tribal casinos, to cease operations in the affected counties," a letter states.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — Thunder Valley Casino has been under fire in recent days from both current and former workers who say the resort is not doing enough to keep employees and guests safe after reopening in June amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A number employees who ABC10 spoke with sought to remain anonymous out of fear of losing their jobs, and one other spoke after quitting her job of 13 years. All of them came to a consensus: The casino should not be open.

"I think we should be sitting back and waiting, especially when the numbers are increasing again," one long-time employee said.

Thunder Valley Casino Resort spokesperson Doug Elmets told ABC10 that the allegations from current and former employees were not true, and that the casino has protocols in place to keep workers and guests safe, including social distancing, mandatory masks, and sanitizing areas in the casino.

Still, following our investigation, ABC10 received several viewer questions asking why the casino has been allowed to stay open despite the public health orders.

"I know they are on sovereign land, but does that law supersede public health," one ABC10 viewer asked.

The California Gaming Association sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom urging him to step in and order all casinos to close temporarily while cases continue to rise. 

"Our position is, if we are all in this together, we are all in this together," said Kyle Kirkland, President of the California Gaming Association. 

The association represents card rooms but not tribal casinos. After 19 counties were ordered to rollback reopenings, the association wrote a letter to Newsom urging all casinos to close including tribal casinos. 

"When public health and safety is at risk there is something you can do about it," Kirkland said. 

In the letter, they point out a part of the tribal compact that 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 Newsom can call upon all casinos to close, citing the compact language above. 

"This is a contract, right? This is an agreement between the state and the tribes to offer gaming within our state," Kirkland said. "So the deal is you need to adhere to he contract and if the Governor feels like there's a real health and safety risk, we need pull this back. My read of it, is that he can do it."

The question is, does the state have control over casinos on tribal or sovereign land? It's complicated.

Newsom addressed the situation during his July 1 coronavirus daily update, saying 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.

Nearly two weeks later, and Newsom has not mentioned whether or not those plans are fruitful.

Still, as reopenings rollback and cases continue to rise, Kirkland hopes the governor will step in.

"The reality is, if bringing people together to socially interact indoors is a real risk to the health and safety of the public, come on we all need to be in this together," Kirkland said. 

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Madison Wade.


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WATCH MORE: Thunder Valley Casino responds to employees' claims of lack of protection from coronavirus

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