Northern Edge, Fire Rock casinos to reopen March 19

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise announced this week that Northern Edge Casino will reopen under limited capacity and other restrictions on March 19.

FARMINGTON — Northern Edge Casino in Upper Fruitland and Fire Rock Casino near Gallup will reopen March 19, a year after gaming operations stopped as part of preventive measures against COVID-19.

The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise announced on March 16 that both locations will operate under a "soft reopening" for two weeks.

The enterprise will evaluate operations at the end of the two-week period and possibly reopen its other properties, which include Flowing Water Casino in Hogback and Twin Arrows Casino Resort near Flagstaff, Arizona, according to a press release.

For now, Northern Edge and Fire Rock will only be accessible to Navajo Nation residents and operate under temporary protocols, including hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, maximum occupancy at 25%, social distancing enforcement and no food or beverage services.

Fire Rock Casino near Gallup is seen on May 18, 2020. The casino will reopen under limited operations and protocols on March 19.

Customers will be required to undergo temperature screening and provide contact information when entering the facilities. They, along with employees, will be required to wear face masks. Bandanas and neck gaiters are prohibited.

Enterprise officials did not respond to follow-up questions, including whether customers will be asked to show proof that they live on the Navajo Nation.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez and Navajo Department of Health Director Jill Jim explained that the tribal land remains closed to visitors under public health emergency orders and roads owned and maintained by the tribe are still closed to visitors and tourists under a Navajo Nation Council resolution, known as CMA-16-20.

Those documents dictated the phased plan to reopen businesses on the Navajo Nation, Nez and Jim explained during an online town hall on March 17.

In the press release, the enterprise stated a dedicated cleaning crew will sanitize frequently touched surfaces. Customers will be able to request crewmembers to clean slot machines by pressing a service button.

Northern Edge Casino in Upper Fruitland is pictured on May 21, 2018.

Additional safety measures include requiring employees to test negative for COVID-19 before returning to work and undergo testing every two weeks or as required.

The release also announced a new "special access program" for people 60 and over. The casinos will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. for older adults.

"Elders may bring two guests each, subject to available capacity based on occupancy limits. Guests of elders do not need to be over 60-years-old," the release states.

The tribe's health department authorized the reopening of casinos in a public health emergency order on March 10.

According to the release, the health department and casino management will review safety procedures, protocols and practices at the end of the two-week period and determine readiness to further expand the phased opening process.

Northern Edge Casino in Upper Fruitland is pictured on March 11, 2015. The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise announced the location will reopen under limited capacity and other restrictions on March 19.

"We have an extensive reopening and workplace safety plan and it is our hope that after the two-week soft opening period, the NNGE will be in a position to welcome back all of our patrons and also reopen the Flowing Water Navajo Casino and the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort," Brian Parrish, the enterprise's interim CEO, said in the release.

Board Chairman Quincy Natay explained that in order to open again, the enterprise developed a comprehensive reopening and workplace safety plan, which was reviewed by tribal government officials.

"The top priority of Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise is the health and safety of its team members, patrons and Diné people," Natay said.

The release further explains that the enterprise's plan is accordant with the reopening plan by the health department and guidelines from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Indian Gaming Commission and state governments.

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.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription to The Daily Times.