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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Tribal Casinos In San Diego County Shutting Down Temporarily Starting Friday

People entering the Barona Resort and Casino in this undated photo.

Credit: Barona Resort & Casino

Above: People entering the Barona Resort and Casino in this undated photo.

Even though schools and businesses have mostly shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus, several San Diego County casinos remained open Wednesday and won't shut down until Friday.

The bright lights outlining the words “Welcome Home” were turned on just above the doors at Barona Casino on Wednesday morning.

Listen to this story by Amita Sharma.

Inside, people — including a number of seniors — played the slot machines and blackjack tables. Many sat next to each other, violating social distancing recommendations.

Over the past week, county officials have prohibited gatherings of 50 or more and on Wednesday reduced the number to 10. Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom is asking seniors to stay at home.

“We specifically included casinos in the examples of places where gatherings are prohibited,” said county spokesman Michael Workman on Wednesday.

Yet, the casinos are owned by Native American tribes that are considered sovereign nations and are not subject to state and county laws. This is why a recently issued county order does not demand, but "respectfully requests the cooperation of the Tribal Governments in ensuring the Public Health Officer’s Order regarding gatherings….”

But the casinos had been ignoring the order. On Wednesday morning, for example, KPBS journalists observed at least 100 people in the Barona Casino.

One of those people was an elderly man, who did not want to give his name. He said he brought his wife to the casino to play the slot machines so she would have “something to do.”

Casino officials did not grant KPBS an interview. However, hours after KPBS’s visit, Barona and other tribal casinos in the county announced they were closing temporarily, beginning Friday.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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