Three Oregon casinos re-opening this week; Ilani opening May 28

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

According to their websites, three Oregon Tribal casinos are re-opening to some degree this week.

The Coquille Indian Tribe’s Mill Casino in Coos Bay re-opened on Monday, May 18, while the Siletz Tribe’s Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln City will re-open on Thursday, May 21, and the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians’ Three Rivers Casino in Florence and Coos Bay will welcome customers starting on Friday, May 22.

The Cowlitz Tribe's Ilani Casino north of the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area will be re-opening on Thursday, May 28. In a Monday, May 18, press release, Ilani stated that it would resume operations with enhanced safety protocols that include reduced and distanced seating at its restaurants, guest temperature checks at the entrances, face masks for team members and frequent sanitizing of high-touch surfaces.

Casinos that are still closed include the Grand Ronde Tribe’s Spirit Mountain Casino, the Umatilla Tribe’s Wildhorse Casino outside of Pendleton, the Klamath Tribe’s Kla-Mo-Ya Casino in Chiloquin and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians’ Seven Feathers Casino near Roseburg.

The Grand Ronde Tribe cautiously re-opened its Tribal government on Monday, May 18, bringing back almost 500 employees who have been idled since mid-March. Tribal governmental employees continued to receive their salaries and were granted 320 hours – eight weeks – of extra paid time off to ensure they all continued to receive paychecks.

Employees underwent a temperature check when they arrived for work and social distancing and mask wearing are encouraged when interacting with other employees.

Spirit Mountain Casino employees also were idled in mid-March and have been receiving their usual paychecks plus consideration for lost tips during the closure. Casino employees were granted 400 hours – 10 weeks – of extra paid time off to ensure they continued being paid.

According to agendas distributed last week, the Grand Ronde Tribal Council and Spirit Mountain Gaming Inc. Board of Directors have a busy week.

Tribal Council met with Spirit Mountain Casino General Manager Stan Dillon on Monday, May 18, and later that day the SMGI Board of Directors met. Both meetings were held in executive session.

On Tuesday, May 19, investment bank Goldman Sachs is sponsoring a teleconference titled “The Gaming Industry and Approaching the Re-opening of Casinos” and the Oregon Tribal Gaming Alliance is meeting on the same day.

Grand Ronde Tribal Council Vice Chair Chris Mercier, who serves as vice chair of the Oregon Tribal Gaming Alliance, said he was not “hugely surprised” that other Tribes decided to start opening.

“Who knows what kind of pressures other Tribes are under,” Mercier said. He also acknowledged that the Siletz Tribe’s re-opening of Chinook Winds “might” put added pressure on the Grand Ronde Tribe to re-open Spirit Mountain Casino. The two casinos are approximately 25 miles apart.

Publicly, Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy said during a Wednesday, May 13, Facebook Live event that the Grand Ronde Tribe does not yet have a definitive opening date for its principal economic entity, which has now been shuttered for two months.

Spirit Mountain Casino is located in Polk County, which is not one of the Oregon counties Gov. Kate Brown gave permission to begin re-opening on Friday, May 15. Nearby Yamhill County was granted permission to start re-opening.

However, casinos are not subject to state law. Brown has previously acknowledged that Oregon Tribal casinos are operated by sovereign nations and that she does not have control over when they open or close.

Grand Ronde Station, the Tribally owned convenience store adjacent to Spirit Mountain Casino along Salmon River Highway, has remained open because it sells essential items like food and fuel.