(3/17/2020) Gone viral: Spirit Mountain Casino closing

03.17.2020 Dean Rhodes Spirit Mountain Casino, Health & Wellness
Spirit Mountain Casino closed to the public on Thursday, March 19. Preliminary estimates project having the casino and its approximately 1,100 employees being idle through Wednesday, April 1. (Photo by Timothy J. Gonzalez/Smoke Signals)

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

In an unprecedented move, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde announced the two-week closure of its primary economic engine, Spirit Mountain Casino, beginning at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, March 18.

Preliminary estimates project having the casino and its approximately 1,100 employees being idle beginning at midnight Thursday, March 19, through Wednesday, April 1.

The move follows a Monday, March 16, announcement by the Cowlitz Tribe that it was closing its Ridgefield, Wash., casino, Ilani, through the end of the month. The Cowlitz announced that they will comply with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s order shutting down restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced similar restaurant and bar restrictions during a press conference held Monday, March 16, in Portland. When asked about the state’s Tribal casinos, she said that she did not have the authority to close them because they are operated by sovereign nations.

“I would ask that our Tribal leadership of our nine federally recognized Tribes be working with their local health authorities in making the appropriate decisions to protect the health and safety of Oregonians,” Brown said.

“We pride ourselves as being a caring community that views every individual that walks through our doors as a member of the Grand Ronde family,” General Manager Stan Dillon said. “The casino staff has done an outstanding job protecting everyone through preventive measures, but the continued growth of COVID-19 in Oregon has made this closure necessary.”

“These unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and we all have to do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy, who spent her main career in health care.

Spirit Mountain Casino opened in October 1995 and since then has been the primary funding source for Tribal governmental operations and myriad benefits to Tribal members. It also was Oregon’s No. 1 tourist destination for a time and became one of the largest employers in Yamhill and Polk counties.

Tribal Council has authorized an additional 120 hours – three weeks – of paid time off for all casino and government employees. For casino employees, the Tribe will pay their standard rate with additional consideration for tips.

The Grand Ronde Tribal Council and Spirit Mountain Gaming Inc. Board of Directors will revisit the closure as necessary.

Tribal Council is scheduled to approve a suspension of Spirit Mountain Gaming Inc. loan payments to the Tribe at its Wednesday, March 18, meeting, as well as a $20 million use of its line of credit to ensure account liquidity in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.