Navajo Nation casinos continue welcoming back patrons under COVID-19 restrictions
FARMINGTON — A couple of weeks after reopening two casinos, the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise continues to welcome back patrons and ramp up its offerings in anticipation of the tribe's next tier for reopening.
Brian Parrish, the enterprise's interim CEO, updated the Resources and Development Committee about current operations, which resumed after Northern Edge Casino in Upper Fruitland and Fire Rock Casino near Gallup reopened on March 19.
Both locations are operating under restrictions outlined in the orange phase of the Navajo Nation reopening plan for businesses.
This means having guests go through a screening process and following protocols that set maximum occupancy at 25%, which is 683 people at Northern Edge and 551 people at Fire Rock and includes employees, reduced hours of operation and admitting only Navajo Nation residents.
"Our team has done a very good job of responding to questions about that by non-Navajo Nation residents and we've had very little push back," Parrish said.
However, Parrish warned that gaming will not be sustainable if the orange phase lasts for an extended period.
The current phase is "too restrictive" for the enterprise to market aggressively to clients, but after the tribe's reopening plan is evaluated to the next tier, the enterprise will reopen food and beverage operations at 50% occupancy and start advertising to patrons who are visiting other casinos in the region.
"We believe that we're taking the right steps. We’re being prudent and we're being extra safe, but our competition has a leg up on us at this point," Parrish said.
He added that the enterprise is working with various tribal departments and the Indian Health Service to execute a safety plan once restrictions are eased further by the Navajo Health Command Operations Center.
Meanwhile, the enterprise was preparing for a review of gaming operations by officials from the health command operations center.
Delegate Wilson Stewart Jr. told Parrish that he observed some employees treating customers, particularly those who are older adults, unpleasantly when entering Fire Rock Casino.
"There are some elders that don't talk English and when you ask them for an ID or tell them what it's for, they didn't really understand. Some staff – maybe it was the way they speak, or it was because they were agitated – there was some, I thought, were kind of mean to our elders," Stewart said.
Parrish thanked Stewart for the feedback then said he will discuss the matter with the general managers at both casinos.
"We understand that they're stressed in these situations, but no matter what, there's no excuse for not being kind and patient, especially with elderly," he said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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