Morongo and other Coachella Valley casinos to reopen Friday, despite plea from Newsom to stay closed

Local News

Several casinos in the Riverside County desert will reopen Friday for the first time in months, albeit with some change in place to promote social distancing.

Spotlight 29, Tortoise Rock and the Morongo casinos this week will become the first to reopen in the Coachella Valley. Others will join next week, including the Pechanga Resort Casino near Temecula, Soboba Casino near San Jacinto and Cahuilla Casino Hotel near Anza.

The move comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom last week sent tribal leaders a letter, urging them to align their reopening plans with local and state orders. But as sovereign nations, tribal groups are not required to follow the guidance.

“The virus does not recognize jurisdictional boundaries, and it is in the best interest of public health to move toward reopening in concert,” the governor wrote. The letter was sent after Win-River in Redding became the first casino to reopen in the state.

The resorts had voluntarily shut their doors in March. Since then, Riverside County’s coronavirus outbreak has grown to the second largest in California, after Los Angeles County. As of Wednesday, there were more than 6,000 confirmed cases and 270 deaths reported across Riverside County.

Casinos are considered higher-risk workplaces under the governor’s reopening plan, due to the number of people they draw from various distances. They’re slated to open in Stage 3 of Newsom’s plan, but the state is still in Stage 2.

That means card clubs — such as The Bicycle in Bell Gardens, Commerce Casino, The Gardens Casino in Hawaiian Gardens and Hustler Casino in Gardena — will stay closed for some time.

Morongo Casino Resort and Spa

Both the resort hotel and original Casino Morongo in Cabazon are set to open their doors at 2 p.m. Friday. But capacity will be limited, and visitors’ temperatures will be screened upon entering.

People at the casino are also required to wear a mask, and other social distancing rules will be enforced, officials said.

Cleaning crew will remain on site to sanitize the facility “long after our doors close,” Richard St. Jean, its chief operating officer, said in a video message.

The reopening comes after the casino completed a 65,000-square-foot expansion that added more slot machines, table games and bars, according to St. Jean.

Spotlight 29 and Tortoise Rock

Spotlight 29 in Coachella and Tortoise Rock in Twentynine Palms will reopen at 10 a.m. Friday, the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians said.

Changes at the properties will include temperature screenings at entrances, and half of the slot chairs were removed to create more space. Visitors are also required to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Hand sanitizer stations will be set up throughout the casino floor, and all contact surfaces will be cleaned at least once per hour, the owners said.

Casino employees will be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work, and will continue to be tested periodically throughout the course of the outbreak.

The Jem Café at Spotlight 29 and Oasis Grille at Tortoise Rock will reopen with a lower capacity, but all other restaurants will remain closed.

The casinos will close from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. each day for cleaning.

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