Fire Rock shut down, evacuated

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

GALLUP, Feb 9, 2012

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N avajo Nation Gaming Enterprise officials shut down the Fire Rock Navajo Casino and evacuated a large crowd at about 11 p.m. on Wednesday.

Security staff ushered out customers, telling them to leave immediately and to cash out or, if they had money in a machine, to "remember where it is."

Security and other casino staff would not answer questions, although one said the evacuation was due to an "incident."

As the crowd gathered in the parking lot, the staff told everyone to get in their vehicles and leave immediately.

Several patrons complained that they had money in machines that were still running with bonus spins featured in many of the slot machines.

The feature is triggered when a spin produces three of a certain icon and the machine awards the customer with anywhere up to 18 free spins.

When told to cash out by security, these individuals couldn't because the bonus spin feature is automatic. Staff later took down the names of people in this situation.

Other customers complained that they had just ordered food, and one elderly woman said her family had dropped her off, expecting her to stay for a few hours, and she had no ride to leave the facility.

Security staff told the crowd to return the next day at 8 a.m. However, the casino did not reopen until about 4 p.m. on Thursday.

After the evacuation, the parking lots were barricaded and no one was allowed to enter.

A Navajo Times staffer observed an ambulance arrive after the evacuation but no information was available as security and staff refused to answer questions.

On Thursday morning, Bob Winter, CEO of the gaming enterprise, said the evacuation was ordered to take care of a water main problem.

"The water main wasn't busted but it was compromised," Winter said, adding that this was the main that was connected to the casino's fire repression system.

Winter said that the casino could have remained open while the main was fixed, which would have required the casino's security staff to take special precautions, but officials decided that it would be best to close down the casino.

Winter said there was no real emergency that required a speedy evacuation but staff followed procedure.

Winter said that people who were using player's cards would have their playing recorded which would allow the casino to compensate them.

As for those who weren't using player's cards, they could contact casino personnel the next time they come in and explain the situation and would be taken care of.

Winter said he didn't know anything about an ambulance that was seen arriving after the evacuation by a Times staffer.

"We have ambulances come here periodically," he said. "If they came Wednesday, it had nothing to do with the water main problem."

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