In Northern Michigan, employees of a trio of casinos owned and operated by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB) will continue to receive paychecks through April 29, 2020, while the properties remain temporarily closed as the COVID-19 virus continues to infect people across the Great Lakes state.

Employees at all Grand Traverse Resort & Casino properties have received full wages and benefits since normal operations shut-down on March 16.

According to the April 8 post on Facebook

…the extension was approved “as unemployment policies related to the ongoing battle with COVID-19 continue to remain unresolved for many Michiganders.

Time of uncertainty:

Chief Executive Officer for Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos, Michael Schrader, said, “We understand that this is a difficult time for everyone, and the health, safety and well-being of our team members has always been our top priority.

“We want our employees to know that we value their dedication and loyalty, and we hope this action helps to ease their burden during a time of such uncertainty.”

Of the state’s 26 tribal casinos, three are owned by the GTB, including the federally-recognized tribe’s flagship property in Acme, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, along with Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel in Williamsburg and Leelanau Sands Casino & Lodge located 20 miles north of Traverse City.

The two casinos remain closed due to the virus but Grand Traverse Resort and Spa continues to operate with essential staff offering one hundred Tower Guest Rooms, while all other amenities are closed.

Initial closing:

Upon closing, CEO Schrader said

“While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at any of our properties, we will be closing our casinos and hotels today at 5:00pm until further notice. The protection of our guests, employees, and vendors is paramount. During the temporary closure, all casino employees will be placed on leave status and fully compensated, and a deep clean of the facilities will be conducted.”

MI stay-at-home:

Extending an initial order that went into effect on March 24, 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new order on Thursday that requires businesses in “non-essential” industries to close and for their workers to stay home with the exception of essential trips.

The governor’s first stay-at-home order was due to expire April 14, but the number of cases have continued to increase since it went into effect. As of Thursday, there were 21,504 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,076 total deaths from the virus. On Monday, April 6, those numbers were 18,970 and 845 respectively. 

Tribal sovereignty :

While most of the state’s businesses have temporarily closed, federally recognized tribes are not required to follow the same guidelines. Per federal law, they are semi-sovereign nations and as such exercise governmental powers and sovereignty over their members and territory. And while state governments have limited jurisdiction over tribes and their activities, tribal law and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) require that each tribe that conducts gaming ensures that its gaming facilities adequately protect public health and safety, thus the voluntary shut-downs.