An Important Update From Chairman Stevens Regarding COVID-19

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March 18, 2020

Dear Tribal Leader,

The National Indian Gaming Association would like to commend each of you for the diligence they are taking to help all of the United States lessen the spread of the COVID-19/Corona Virus pandemic.

As we can all agree, the health, safety, and well-being is a primacy and the steps that are being taken to encourage social distancing will proactively further help in reducing the transmission rate of a highly contagious illness like the novel coronavirus.

These are unprecedented times in our Country. It is important that we, as tribal nations continue to support each other through these times with the critical safety precautions necessary. I commend all tribes for their diligence in taking the appropriate actions to maintain the health & prosperity of not only their tribal citizens but all customers and visitors to their gaming properties.

Our California Indian Nations announced they are working with Governor Gavin Newsom on voluntarily closing their tribal gaming properties until the end of March. California Tribes are full partners with Governor Gavin Newsome after he issued a State Executive Order further enhancing California’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribes are assisting residents to follow public health directives and guidance, including canceling large non-essential gatherings among other criteria.

In a statement, Pechanga Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro said, “As a Tribal Government and major employer of thousands of people, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily close Pechanga Resort Casino for the health and safety of our Team Members, Tribal Members, and guests due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Macarro added, “No matter what, the Pechanga family will rise to this challenge together with the strength, compassion, determination, and resilience that our ancestors instilled in us.”

In New Mexico, the Pueblo Governors and the Navajo Nation decided to temporarily close casinos due to COVID-19 cases popping up in the state. Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham convened a government to government call with New Mexico’s Tribal Nations to help arrive at a mutually agreed upon COVID-19 response. “Our team is committed to creating a safe and healthy environment for all of our customers and our employees,” Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. Joseph M. Talachy said. “Know that as our forefathers always did, we shall flourish and thrive long after this time has passed.”

Precautionary closures of other tribal government casino properties are taking place across the Country as well as Tribal Nation declarations of emergency. On Monday, the Oneida Nation of New York announced that they would be closing their casino properties effective at 5:00 pm (EST) yesterday, the Salish & Kootenai Tribes in Montana announced a temporary closure for their casino operations two weeks and the Forest County Potawatomi’s Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and as I send this communication, many more have closed their tribal gaming properties.

Other tribes are committed to taking extreme precautionary efforts, putting in place protocols to preventing the spread of coronavirus, recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) including wiping down machines and touched surfaces as frequently as every 30 minutes with the highest quality cleaning agents and increasing the number of hand sanitizers throughout their properties and canceling, limiting casino operational hours or postponing large-crowd events, among other precautions.

The Commercial Gaming industry is doing their part as well to help stem the spread of the virus. We are aware of the American Gaming Associations (AGA) request to the Federal Government for financial assistance to their industry. I have talked to AGA CEO Bill Miller to help coordinate efforts, however, I noted that financial assistance to Indian Country is far different than in the commercial setting. I have attached our letter to the House Native American Caucus requesting direct financial assistance to our Tribal Governments. (See Attached Letter). Events are moving extremely quickly and Representatives Cole and Haaland requested our letter by Tuesday morning. Let me be clear, the National Indian Gaming Association needs continuing input from its Tribal Membership, particularly our Tribal Leaders and CFOs, on what it will take to keep Tribal Governments open.

Tribes are urged to visit the following websites to track the governmental response to the coronavirus and NCAI has started a website where Tribes can share where to locate resources to fight the virus:

Last week, the National Indian Gaming Association announced the postponement of the annual Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention driven by the overwhelming critical safety concerns voiced by many tribal governments and the gaming industry. On Friday, the Indian gaming association took further precautions by closing their doors and taking daily operational activities remotely – allowing employees to work from home until the end of March.

The National Indian Gaming Association is committed to working and monitoring issues and legislation related to not only our industry but the COVID-19 and their impact on Indian country; however, we are also committed to assuring the health and welfare of our employees and their families.

To that end, last Saturday morning, the House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, HR 6201. This legislation guarantees free coronavirus testing, establishes paid leave, enhances unemployment insurance, ensures that most federal meal and food programs can operate or continue to operate, and increases federal Medicaid funding. Further, the legislation provides $64 million to IHS for diagnostic testing for coronavirus.

As the Senate takes up the legislation this week, NIGA is fighting hard for Indian Tribal Governments and Enterprises to be directly referenced and included in any and all relief packages being explored by the White House. We will update our member Tribes as often as needed and call on your advocacy to help Congress understand that all economic relief should be distributed fairly to State, Tribal, and local Governments. Please keep all lines of communication open as we enter an unprecedented shut down of our daily lives. Our solidarity and common purpose will carry Indian Country through this crisis just as we have persevered over the centuries in the face of similar obstacles.

Ernest L. Stevens, Jr, Chairman

Download NA House Caucus Letter Here