Tribal Casinos in North Carolina Defy Shutdown Order

North Carolina

Two Harrah’s Cherokee casinos in North Carolina are not shutting down after a government order was mandated as they are tribal owned and not subject to traditional laws.

In the United States, there are commercial gaming properties and tribal operated venues. Casinos that are owned and operated by tribal groups are not subject to the laws and regulations of the traditional US government as they function on sovereign lands. Because of this, tribal casinos do not technically have to shut down in states where orders have been mandated due to the spread of COVID-19. However, most will shut down to keep employees and players safe. In North Carolina, two Harrah’s Cherokee casinos have opted to stay open during the nighttime hours despite a nightly shutdown order issued by the governor.

Stay at Home Order

On December 11, Governor Roy Cooper issued a stay-at-home order for the nighttime hours. Only people who are essential workers or require emergency travel should be out from 10pm through 5am. Commercial businesses like bars, restaurants, retail stores, and other types, must close at 10pm. Alcohol sales on-site at a business must end by 9pm.

For the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, they are not heading to the order when it comes to their casinos. Because the tribe is federally recognized and operating on sovereign land, they do not have to follow state orders.

When December 11 came, the casinos continued to offer drinks after 9pm and they will not stop servicing customers on the gaming floor. Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed, said that after research and consideration, the tribe concluded they would not adopt the measures within the newest executive order.

The tribe will continue to review the impact of the virus and ensure social distancing is taking place inside the two casinos. Both venues require players and employees to be screened for a temperature before they are allowed inside. A face covering must also be worn at all times.

Restaurants and bars are only offering services at 50% capacity. However, the casino floor is not limited in this manner. Instead, the casino has implemented social distancing measures. Slot machines have been rearranged along with table game player positioning to ensure enough space is available between players.

More Restrictions to Come

In North Carolina, the number of positive COVID-19 cases has increased drastically. Daily new cases have increased by over 50% in the last month. Governor Cooper says the situation is alarming and residents will face more mitigation efforts if the numbers do not improve.

The governor is prepared to take more drastic steps if the trends do not improve. Additional action may be taken, but what that might be is anyone guess. It could be a full shut down order depending on how the state trends over the next few weeks or just certain businesses would be unable to offer services. It is unclear how the governor plans to proceed if a change is not seen.

The governor is undoubtedly unhappy with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as they continue to function during his overnight shut down order. However, there is nothing he can do to stop them from operating except trying to talk it out.

In early December, the governor and the tribe were in agreement as an amendment was approved by the governor to change the tribes gaming compact to allow sports betting. The secretary of state and attorney general must still approve the change along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Perhaps the governor could use the fact that he signed the amendment to get the tribe to see things his way regarding the virus but that is highly unlikely as the deal is already done. We shall see what happens in the coming weeks and if any cases pop up due to the casinos being in operation or if they decide the numbers are too high regarding case counts and they close on their own.

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