A California casino could become the new home of UFC mixed martial arts events for as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues its rear naked choke on public gatherings.
Earlier this week, UFC boss Dana White claimed to be actively looking to acquire a private island somewhere that would allow him to stage UFC 249, which was originally scheduled to take place in New York City on April 18 before the coronavirus called a halt to most public sports events.
On Tuesday, White told ESPN that he’d “secured” the island in question and “the infrastructure is being built right now” to make the island the new hub for all UFC international fights. White also alluded to securing an unspecified US location to host UFC 249 that he’d “locked up for two months, so I’m going to continue to pump fights out.”
Later Tuesday, the New York Times reported that the Tachi Palace Resort Casino in Lemoore, California will serve as the UFC’s new US staging ground. On Wednesday, White played coy at the mention of the Tachi venue, saying the only place the fight was happening was on ESPN.
White apparently doesn’t see any issues with staging UFC events with no in-person spectators. So long as the fighters and the technical crews are game, White believes the UFC’s pay-per-view broadcasts should be able to continue through the pandemic.
The tribal casino suspended its gaming operations on March 20 “to mitigate any potential spread of the virus,” part of a nationwide shutdown of tribal and commercial casinos in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The appeal of the Tachi venue – which boasts a 45k-square-foot live entertainment room – reportedly lies in its operators’ status as a sovereign nation. The casino is located on land owned by the Santa Rosa Indian Community of the Santa Rosa Rancheria, part of the federally recognized Tachi Yokut Tribe.
That sovereign status gives the tribe the ability to ignore the edicts of state and federal authorities, including the California State Athletic Commission, which last week extended its cancellation of all combat sports events until the end of May.
Thing is, the Tachi casino’s March statement regarding the closure of its gaming floor said “resort officials will continue to follow directives from the Centers for Disease Control and local public health authorities and will make additional adjustments to its policies as needed in the future.”
Then again, with no clear sign that California intends to lift its COVID-19 restrictions anytime soon, the tribe may be keen for any way to replenish its lost gaming revenue. The March closure announcement stated that casino staff would receive “15 working days of pay and health benefits for the next month,” but nothing was guaranteed beyond that.