ARLINGTON — Stillaguamish tribal leaders are betting on safety precautions and personal accountability in a bid to reopen Angel of the Winds Casino Resort next week — while other entertainment venues remain shuttered under state order.
The casino, which closed in March to help stifle the spread of COVID-19, will welcome back visitors at 3 p.m. May 13, the Stillaguamish Tribe announced Tuesday night. About 800 people will be allowed inside at a time, general manager Travis O’Neil said. That’s half the total capacity.
The governor and local authorities have expressed concern that tribal governments may be moving too fast.
The Arlington resort and casino is believed to be the first in western Washington to reopen amid the pandemic.
“Everybody’s looking for something to do, right?” O’Neil said.
“High-touch” surfaces will be sanitized multiple times a day, he said. Visitors must wear masks and will have their temperatures checked upon entry. Hand sanitizer will be widely available. O’Neil added guests need to take accountability for their health, and stay home if they’re experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, like a fever over 100.4 degrees, shortness of breath, a cough, chills or loss of taste or smell.
“This may not be the time for everybody to visit,” he said. “It will be a process to get in the door. It’s not going to be the same type of atmosphere.”
Last week, management announced another policy — visitors can’t smoke inside the 300,000 square foot resort.
The tribe also has staff monitoring county, state and federal health reports in case there is an uptick in cases and the resort needs to close again.
“We’ve been ready,” said Shawn Yanity, the tribe’s chairman. “In looking at where we’re at in the phases that the governor put out, looking at the budget of our government, we felt we could responsibly open and address the health concerns.”
Some state and local leaders disagree.
In response, they’re asking residents to continue social distancing and limit non-essential activities.
Gov. Jay Inslee speaks weekly with tribal leaders. Last week, he outlined his phased approach for reopening the state.
“The governor has said all along people should stay home, but he also does not have jurisdiction over sovereign tribes and wants to be respectful of those relationships,” said Mike Faulk, the governor’s press secretary. “But, ultimately, the governor would rather people not be going to venues such as casinos right now.”
That sentiment was echoed by Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers and Snohomish Health District health officer Dr. Chris Spitters.
“I strongly believe that we should follow the lead of our public health professionals and maintain social distancing measures,” Somers said in an emailed statement. “Now that the governor has presented his phased approach to re-opening, we need to stay focused on staying healthy and maintaining social distance.”
Across the country, tribal governments rely on casino and resort revenue to fund programs and services for members.
The Stillaguamish Tribe’s annual budget ends in September. Resort revenue lost this year, Yanity said, could lead to scaling back or cutting future services surrounding elder care, education and wildlife restoration.
“That’s not a position we want to be in,” he said.
Reopening also means 400 Angel of the Winds employees will be back at work. When the resort closed in March, 600 employees were furloughed.
The Arlington resort casino shares the same name as Angel of the Winds Arena, which is currently serving as a quarantine and isolation center for COVID-19 patients.
As of Wednesday, three people were being treated at the arena in Everett.
In Tulalip, resorts and casinos account for a majority of the tribe’s revenue, chairwoman Teri Gobin said.
Tulalip leaders are eyeing May 26 as a possible date to reopen the resorts and casinos. That could change.
Statewide, many tribes are looking at May 18 to welcome guests back to gaming floors.
“We’re trying to be very careful,” Gobin said. “We don’t want to jump the gun.”
Because of the pandemic, nearly 3,000 of the tribe’s 3,700 employees are furloughed.
Construction is one of the few activities deemed essential. Projects for a new casino and gathering hall are both underway.
The new Quil Ceda Creek Casino is still expected to open in February.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.