Harrah’s Southern California GM Who Resigned Amid COVID-19 Commits Suicide

A former senior vice president and general manager of Harrah’s Southern California who alleged he was forced to resign amid the COVID-19 pandemic for not reopening the casino resort as promptly as his bosses wished, is dead at the age of 52. His obituary listed suicide as the cause of death.

Harrah's Southern California Darrell Pilant
Darrell Pilant, a former vice president and general manager at Harrah’s Southern California outside of San Diego, committed suicide on June 14, 2024. Pilant disagreed with his employer, Caesars Entertainment, as to when it was appropriate to reopen the tribal casino during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image: Casino.org)

Darrell Wayne Pilant took his life on June 14, 2024, while visiting Georgetown Lake in Montana. Pilant’s suicide comes a little more than four years after Caesars Entertainment allegedly forced him from his roles at Harrah’s Southern California after more than 22 years with the casino and hospitality firm.

Pilant’s obituary said he enjoyed cheering on his beloved Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas Jayhawks. He was also a “Parrot Head,” or a member of Jimmy Buffett’s fanbase.

Pilant graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation. After serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a lieutenant commander, Pilant took a job at Harrah’s Casino and Hotel in Kansas City. He never looked back, as he found the casino hospitality business most enjoyable.

Over the decades, Pilant climbed the corporate ladder with Caesars to eventually become vice president and assistant general manager at Harrah’s Kansas City. In September 2016, he was promoted to lead Harrah’s Southern California, one of the most profitable tribal casino destinations in the U.S.

Harrah’s Southern California is an hour’s drive northeast of San Diego. 

COVID Dispute 

Harrah’s Southern California is owned by the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians. The integrated resort has over 1,000 hotel rooms and an 86,000-square-foot casino floor with 1,500 slot machines and 50 live dealer table games.

The resort amenities include an outdoor pool with a swim-up bar and lazy river, a full-service spa and fitness center, and 17 restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and grab-and-go options highlighted by Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. Harrah’s Southern California also has a 23,000-square-foot events center with a capacity for 2,300 seated guests, as well as nearly 74,500 square feet of meeting and convention facilities.

Being tribally owned on the Rincon Tribe’s sovereign land, Harrah’s Southern California was not obliged to adhere to state COVID-19 orders. Pilant alleged in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed later in 2020 that he and Caesars Entertainment brass disagreed on when it was appropriate to reopen the resort following the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Pilant, among other things, alleges that Caesars constructively terminated his employment because he opposed and refused to carry out Caesars’ directive to reopen Harrah’s Southern California,” his complaint read.

After shuttering operations in mid-March 2020, Caesars and the tribe sought to reopen the facility in a limited capacity on May 22. The case, according to California’s U.S. Southern District docket, shows the lawsuit is still active.

Reopening Disagreement

On May 19, just three days before Harrah’s Southern California reopened, California had recorded its deadliest coronavirus day to date with 132 deaths. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) subsequently wrote the Rincon Tribe and other tribal casinos prepping their reopening plans to reconsider.

Pilant refused to side with his employer and said his hand was forced to resign. In his obituary, his family, including his wife, Jenna, said he struggled to recover from the pandemic.

When 2020 came, it was a difficult time for everyone, but for Darrell, it was especially challenging,” his obituary read. “He lost his why and his long-time casino career due to COVID politics.”

“His wife Jenna and friends tried their best to help him during this time, but ultimately, his mental health took its toll not only on his career and marriage but his life,” the obituary concluded.

The post Harrah’s Southern California GM Who Resigned Amid COVID-19 Commits Suicide appeared first on Casino.org.

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