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Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise halts casino operations

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise will temporarily close its casino operations in New Mexico and Arizona over concerns about the coronavirus.

Northern Edge Casino in Upper Fruitland, Flowing Water Casino in Hogback, Fire Rock Casino near Gallup and Twin Arrows Casino Resort near Flagstaff, Arizona, closed at noon on March 17, according to a press release from the enterprise.

The release states the board of directors approved closing the four facilities. Gaming operations will resume on April 6.

Read more:Navajo Nation president, vice president order partial government shutdown

"To ensure the safety of our guests and employees, we have made the decision to close our casinos temporarily to help slow the spread of COVID-19. I want to thank members of our community for their support during this time," Brian Parrish, interim CEO for the enterprise, said in the release. 

Northern Edge Casino is one of two gaming facilities near Farmington.

SunRay Park and Casino closed on March 16, following a request by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to limit large groups of people gathering in one place.

"We're looking at returning to normal operating hours as soon as possible," SunRay Park and Casino management said in a statement posted on its website.

Northern Edge Casino in Upper Fruitland closed at noon on March 17 as part of a temporary closure by the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise over concerns about public health and safety.

The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise had increased cleaning efforts across its casinos, limited certain services and reduced hours of operation but faced calls from two Navajo leaders and the public to close its buildings.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer urged the enterprise to close its doors as part of preventative measures against COVID-19, a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person.

Keep reading:Navajo Nation closes its parks, recreation due to coronavirus concerns

"I commend the gaming enterprise board members for their unanimous support to prioritize the health of our Navajo people, especially our respected elders, by temporarily closing gaming facilities. While we understand that there will be economic impacts, the well-being of our people should always be at the forefront of any issues," Nez said in the enterprise's press release.

New Mexico has 23 positive cases for COVID-19 as of March 17, according to the state Department of Health.

Hostess and cashier Calandra Begay serves a customer on Jan. 20, 2016 at Northern Edge Casino in Upper Fruitland.

The Arizona Department of Health confirmed on March 17 a positive test result for an individual from Chilchinbeto, Arizona – the first confirmed case on the Navajo Nation, according to a press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.

According to the release, the 46-year-old person reported symptoms to the Kayenta Health Center in Kayenta, Arizona, then was taken to a hospital in Phoenix where testing by the state health department was completed.

Health and emergency personnel are taking precautions to screen and isolate the individual's family members, the release states.

Casinos halt activities in New Mexico

Several casinos have closed for the time being due to heighten concern about public health.

The Pueblo of Pojoaque announced over the weekend a two-week closure of its Buffalo Thunder Resort Casino, Cities of Gold Casino and Jake's Casino.

Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel was closed on March 15 for 30 days by the Pueblo of Santa Ana and the Tamaya Enterprises Board of Directors.

Isleta Resort and Casino announced on its Facebook page that it, along with Isleta Fun Connection and Palace West Casino, will temporarily close on March 17.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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