Slot machines at Viejas Casino & Resort
Slot machines at Viejas Casino & Resort in Alpine. Courtesy of the casino

San Diego County’s Public Health Officer said Wednesday plans by several tribal casinos to reopen in the coming week create a health risk amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Opening up casinos will cause a risk to our public’s health. That is very clear,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten at the county’s daily briefing.

She said health officials are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and talking with the casinos in an effort to reduce the risk of infection.

Viejas Casino & Resort in Alpine has announced plans to reopen May 18, while Sycuan Casino Resort plans to reopen May 20. Pechanga in nearby Temecula is targeting June 1.

The casinos have committed to enforcing social distancing guidelines and other safety practices, with guests and employees required to wear masks and agree to temperature scans before entering. For example, Sycuan plans to turn off every other slot machine and limit the number of players at table games.

As operations of tribal governments, the casinos have significant independence from county requirements.

Wooten said that if the casinos do reopen, the county will demand “they put stringent practices in place” to protect the health of patrons and employees.

“We do not agree with the reopening. I think I cannot be more clear than that,” she said.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.