It appears Indiana’s 13 commercial casinos will not reopen for at least three more weeks as the state continues through its phased-in approach to the Back on Track plan. But will this include Indiana’s only casino operated by a Native American tribe?
If all goes as planned, the state enters Stage 4 on June 14, but that may or may not include casinos licensed by the state.
“That is something we would expect nothing before stage 4, as we talk about sports and entertainment,” said Dr. Kristina Box, commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health. “That’s a very close space with a lot of people touching the same surfaces, so that’s a little more difficult.”
What is also unknown is if the federal sovereign rights of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi will supersede the state’s authority, allowing it to reopen the Four Winds casino in South Bend earlier than other casinos.
The Pokagon Gaming Authority of the Michigan-based tribe last week issued a statement regarding its reopening.
“The Pokagon Gaming Authority would like to thank everyone for their patience and continued support during the closure of our Four Winds Casinos. We are working on our plans for reopening with the Pokagon Gaming Commission and great care is being taken to ensure that we resume our operations in a manner that will not only protect the health and safety of our guests and employees, but also provide an enjoyable entertainment experience. We look forward to announcing these details, along with an opening date, very soon.”
In September 1994, President Bill Clinton signed legislation that federally recognized the Michigan-based Potawatomi.
Sovereignty enables the governments of federally recognized Native American tribes to self-govern their people and lands. Tribal governments, like state governments, can build and maintain infrastructure and provide a variety of services and programs to their citizens.
That same authority allowed the Pokagon Band to enter the gaming business.
The Pokagon Band’s 10-county service area includes four counties in southwest Michigan and six in northern Indiana, including St. Joseph County where Four Winds casino is operating.
During Governor Eric Holcomb’s coronavirus media briefing last Friday, he was asked whether he had asked the Pokagon’s to follow the same guidelines and timelines as the state’s 13 commercial casinos.
“‘Happy to talk with them. I have not, to date,” said Holcomb.
Joe Herron, the general counsel to the governor, said the sovereignty issue, in this case, must still be researched.
“It’s my understanding, without confirming it, they are technically not subject to the state’s restrictions in this respect. They can follow their own,” said Herron. “But they have been cooperative with the gaming commission in the past. Again, we’ll need to look into it.”
The Back on Track plan indicates casinos would not open before stage four. Even when they do reopen the occupancy rates would be more in line with bars and nightclubs.
The Indiana Gaming Commission issued standards to the gaming facilities, allowing for 50% capacity, and adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Customers will be required to remain six feet apart from other patrons. The number of people allowed at table games will be limited to three players.
The gaming commission said it may require some electronic games to be shut down to allow for social distancing. Employees will be required to wear masks on the casino floor.
The casinos will also be required to institute strict cleaning policies that include disinfecting dice for each new shooter and cleaning chips at least every two hours.
Click here to view the preliminary guidelines from the Indiana Gaming Commission.