San Diego’s Casino Pauma content to wait out a reopening, even as the competition moves forward Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports · May 22, 2020 at 7:15 am Rather than outlining detailed plans and procedures for reopening its tribal casino, Southern California’s Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians is taking a different approach. The tribe said Thursday that there were several reasons why it won’t reopen its Casino Pauma in North San Diego County this week, even as neighboring tribes in the area restart their operations. Casino Pauma, along with all other California tribal gaming facilities, shut down business in mid-March in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. “Our slogan is ‘where people come first,’” Jay Tindall, Casino Pauma’s director of finance, said Thursday. “We put safety in front of everything else, and this is one way we can keep our patrons and our employees safe.” Casino Pauma’s two closest competitors off California Highway 76, Pala Casino-Resort and Harrah’s Southern California, are reopening Friday. To the north, in Temecula, Pechanga Casino Resort is expected to reopen sometime in early June. Tindall said Casino Pauma hasn’t yet targeted an opening date. The tribe is choosing to follow the advice of California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the guidance of government and health officials on when to reopen. In a statement, Casino Pauma General Manager Jim Thomson said the tribal government, “in the spirit of our sovereign-to-sovereign relationship,” will accept the governor’s “recommendations or until we are more confident it is safe for us to reopen.” Last week, Newsom, in a letter to tribal leaders, asked that casinos remain closed. “I understand that some tribal governments are planning on reopening casinos on their lands,” Newsom wrote. “This deeply concerns me, and I urge tribal governments to reconsider and instead make those determinations based on how they align with the current local public health conditions and the statewide stage of reopening.” The governor said he understands that partial reopening of casinos is crucial to the tribes’ ability to raise government revenue, which enables them to take care of their communities. “However, I cannot stress enough that the risk of COVID-19 transmission remains a serious threat for all Californians,” Newsom wrote, adding the state health officer has not authorized entertainment businesses that draw large crowds to operate. Casino Pauma is one of a handful of properties waiting to reopen in the San Diego area. In East San Diego County this week, Viejas Casino & Resort, Sycuan Casino Resort, Valley View Casino & Hotel, and Jamul Casino all reopened. Tindall said Casino Pauma operators were aware of the long lines of customers waiting to get into the casinos. Meanwhile, in Riverside County – just north of San Diego – three casinos, including the large Casino Morongo, were planning to reopen on Friday. Tribal casinos have also reopened in Northern California. Casino Pauma, which does not have a hotel, but operates three restaurants and a 40,000 square-foot-casino with 1,050 slot machines and 16 table games, is not in a rush. The casino employs 350 workers. Tindall said the casino’s call center had been logging roughly 100 phone messages a day from customers wondering when the property would reopen. The casino’s team is already implementing various health and safety protocols in preparation for welcoming back customers. The slot floor capacity has been reduced to roughly 700 operational games to reflect social distancing efforts, including a reconfiguring of the floor’s layout, utilizing tripods, to create space, along with quads of games so there is space in between customers. “Our team has done a tremendous job of spacing out the floor,” Tindall said. “I think it’s safe to say our slot floor (will look) much different for a while.” Casino Pauma’s customer base is primarily in the Pauma Valley, an area of San Diego populated by citrus tree groves. In the interim, the tribe has sought to help the local community. During the closure, Casino Pauma assisted employees with filing unemployment and navigating the red tape. Additionally, the Tribal Council directed Casino Pauma to open the Pauma Store, where employees, neighboring tribes, and the surrounding community could order goods online, such as dry, bulk, and canned items, COVID-19 safety products, and other hard to find household essentials. A drive-through pickup area was created at the Pauma Pavilion. “(Tribal) Chairman Temet Aguilar, the Tribal Council, and Casino Pauma leadership do not believe in gambling with the health and safety of our guests,” Thomson said in a statement. “We encourage everyone to be safe, patient, and compassionate. (We) look forward to welcoming our guests back once the restrictions have been lifted.” Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.