Three major casinos in the Sacramento region — Thunder Valley in Lincoln and Red Hawk in Placerville and Harrah’s in Ione — joined other California gambling halls in announcing plans to shut down temporarily because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Red Hawk said it would close at 6 a.m. Wednesday and remain shuttered through the end of March.
“We’ve made this difficult decision to voluntarily close casino operations temporarily for the health and safety of our team members, guests and surrounding community,” said Regina Cuellar, tribal chairwoman of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. “During this temporary closure, all casino team members will receive their base pay and benefits.”
Red Hawk said it will waive co-payments and co-insurance for screening and testing for COVID-19 at Kaiser Permanente facilities and that it would update workers and patrons on when the casino may reopen.
Harrah’s also will close at 6 a.m. Wednesday and plans to pay employees for the next two weeks.
“This decision was not made lightly as it comes with great impact to our team members,” said Rhonda Pope-Flores, Buena Vista Rancheria Chairwoman. “However, given the call for aggressive containment and mitigation efforts and to do our part to protect our team members, guests and community, we felt a suspension in operations was the responsible thing to do.”
Thunder Valley said it would close Friday night for an indefinite period.
None of the three casinos have reported confirmed cases of coronavirus, the companies said.
The latest announcements come a day after Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort said it would close temporarily, a move that Cache Creek Casino Resort and other gambling operations already have made.
Lake tahoe poker. Thunder Valley to pay health benefits
Thunder Valley had said on Monday that it was cutting back operations and laying off 85 workers — but remaining open. But after federal officials by evening warned the crisis will worsen, management decided to close.
“This was not an easy decision, but it is absolutely the right decision at the right time,”said Tribal Chairman Gene Whitehouse.
The Lincoln venue said it would continue to monitor conditions before deciding when to reopen.
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“While the resort has experienced no reported cases of COVID-19, the United Auburn Indian Community believes the temporary closure is a responsible step demanded by the growing public health emergency,” the tribe said in a statement, adding that the casino will remain closed as management monitors the situation and “will reopen the resort to the public when it is safe to do so.”
The casino has 2,500 full- and part-time employees and Thunder Valley said it would continue to provide health benefits for its workers during the shutdown. The casino said it also would donate perishable food and other items on-site to charities.
“These are extraordinary times, and our industry’s first priority must be to protect the wellness of our guests, employees, and surrounding communities,” Whitehouse said. “We have closely monitored this rapidly changing situation, and we believe this action is the best measure we can take to help contain the spread of this pandemic.”
But Thunder Valley’s statements about paying health benefits spurred some pushback on social media by people posting a copy of a letter sent to employees that said employees could use their paid time off balances to continue being paid or take unpaid leave.
The letters also said that management would “allow Team Member contributions for health care to be paid back on a payment plan upon return to work.”
“Pay your employees like the other casinos are doing,” one Twitter user demanded.
Thunder Valley spokesman Doug Elmets defended management, saying no final decisions have been made about employee benefits during the closure.
“Thunder Valley management is still working on the details and it’s a fluid situation with things changing literally by the hour,” he said. “We haven’t ruled out anything and will do everything in our power to take care of our team members.
“Thunder Valley’s employee benefit package is far superior to the coverage of many casinos in the region.”
The casino in Lincoln includes a hotel, 270,000 square feet of gaming space and 3,500 slot and video machines. Officials initially said Monday they had closed the buffet and bars and would increase the amount of space between gaming tables to stay open.
“The tribe and management of Thunder Valley believe this is the socially responsible action to take and strongly encourage others in the market to do likewise,” Elmets said.
Customers wanting to reschedule or cancel reservations or concert tickets should visit thundervalleyresort.com or call 916-408-7777.
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