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Layoffs loom at gaming enterprise

Navajo Times | file
The Navajo Nation’s casinos, like Northern Edge, shown here, have been shuttered since March.

WINDOW ROCK

Having exhausted its cash reserves, Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise will be laying off 1,110 employees on Friday.

During a Tuesday meeting with members of the Navajo Nation Council, Brian Parrish, interim director for Navajo Gaming, said the gaming board passed a resolution that same morning to lay off over a 1,000 employees. Of these,  773 are Navajo workers and 172 are non-Navajo employees.

Some 165 employees will continue to work, but they will see a 20 percent pay reduction.  There have been 97 resignations.

“We believe this layoff will intensify the fears and lead to increased resignation,” said Parrish, “due to the fact that the enterprise may not be able to get funding and recover from this extended closure.”

For nine and half months the tribe’s casinos have been closed because of COVID-19 and the Navajo Nation public health mandates. Last month, the Navajo Council passed a bill to permit Navajo casinos to re-open at 50 percent capacity, but President Jonathan Nez vetoed the resolution.

“We cannot put a price tag on the health, safety, and lives of our Navajo people,” stated Nez at the time. “Revenues do not outweigh the precious lives of our elders, children, and gaming employees.”

Since this attempt to open casinos the number of COVID-19 cases increased exponentially on Navajo. Approximately 94 percent of casinos across the country have reopened, and this means Navajo gamblers are gambling somewhere else. 

The Navajo Nation has invested $275 million in the enterprise and gaming has since given $210 million back to the Nation. Believing they’ve exhausted all funding avenues, Parrish said it makes sense to pursue a bridge loan, which will carry the enterprise through until they can reopen. The loan agreement would need to be approved and funded by the end of January. If there is no funding by the end of January the enterprise will start to take steps to shut down. 

“If we were able to get additional CARES funding that would be ideal,” said Parrish. “Or some other grant from the Nation. A loan is going to be a challenge because the enterprise will be open to a limited capacity and having to repay a loan, it will put that much more pressure on the enterprise to recover more quickly.”

The recently enacted Payroll Protection Program isn’t an option for the enterprise because of a new stipulation that categorically eliminates casinos. But if the Navajo Nation gives Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to the enterprise it can cover payroll and benefits cost that has already been incurred. 

Council Delegate Herman Daniels said he thinks of the possibility of Navajo casinos closure “every day” and “it won’t happen,” because “we have our children that work for Navajo Gaming Enterprise.”

Budget and Finance Committee Chair Jamie Henio said decommissioning the casino would be a blow to the Navajo economy. He said once the vaccines are distributed and COVID-19 flattens out then they can open the doors back up.

“Money isn’t going out one way, it’ll come back,” said Henio. “It’ll come back in the form of smaller percentage. We need to look out for Navajo employees. We don’t want to leave them out there stranded. Let’s do all we can.”


About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council and Office of the President and Vice President. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com. Follow her on Twitter at @abecenti

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