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‘Soft reopening’ of 2 casinos set for Friday

LOS ANGELES

The wait is finally over.

Officials for the Navajo Gaming Enterprise announced this week that two of the tribe’s four casinos will reopen for business on Friday under special rules that will limit the hours they are open and how many patrons will be allowed to enter.

Both Northern Edge Navajo Casino in Upper Fruitland and Fire Rock Navajo Casino in Church Rock will have what is being called a “soft reopening.”

They will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. with each casino allowed to operate at no more than 25% capacity.

Another new rule is that during the soft reopening only Diné residents of the Navajo Reservation will be allowed to enter the casino. That means that Navajos who live in Gallup will not be admitted and non-Indians who live on the reservation will not be admitted.

Brian Parrish, interim CEO of the gaming enterprise, said this is not discrimination. What the enterprise is doing is complying with tribal rules now in effect that restrict travel on the reservation by non-residents.

The soft opening was approved by the enterprise’s board of directors and is expected to last two weeks.

Proposed plans call for the reopening of Flowing Waters Casino in Hogback and the Twin Arrows Casino near Flagstaff but that will depend on how well the soft opening goes with these first two casinos.

Discussions continue with President Jonathan Nez and tribal health officials.

No food or beverages will be served. Smoking inside the casinos will not be allowed. An area outside the casinos will be designated as a smoking area. The use of smokeless tobacco is also prohibited inside the casino.

Special arrangements have been set up for the protection of elders since they are the age group that has been most affected by the current pandemic. The enterprise has set two hours aside for the special benefit of those 60 years of age or older.

Elder hours will be on Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

While staff will be working every night cleaning all surfaces that employees and patrons come into contact with, elevated safety procedures will be put in place on Monday and Tuesday nights.

Elders will be allowed to bring two guests with them. These guests can be under 60 years of age. The 25% occupancy limitations will remain in effect.

During all hours when the casinos are open, employees and patrons will be required to wear masks and follow the rules of social distancing. Patrons who wear a mask to enter and then take it off will be required to put it back on. If they don’t comply, they will be escorted off the premises.

Bandanas and neck gaiters will not be allowed to replace masks. Navajo Nation guidelines require the mask to cover both the mouth and nose to prevent the wearer from breathing unfiltered air.

CDC guidelines recommend the use of medical masks. These contain two or three layers of tightly woven breathable fabric that does not allow light to shine through.

This requirement to wear a mask to enter a business has caused confrontations in other parts of the U.S. with customers refusing to wear masks and causing disturbances.

Parrish said he did not expect this to happen here because in the past casino patrons have been respectful and have followed the rules.

A dedicated “Navajo Cares” cleaning crew will be working throughout the hours the casino is open sanitizing all surfaces within the casino using special disinfectants approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for use in destroying the COVID-19 virus on surfaces.

Customers playing the slot machines can have them disinfected by the cleaning crew by pressing the service light button.

Again because of safety, both employees and customers will be required to have their temperatures taken. Persons who do not pass the temperature test will not be allowed in the building.

Employees will also be required to have a negative virus test before being allowed to return to work. They will also be tested every two weeks and are required to report to their supervisors if they begin experiencing any symptoms associated with the virus.

Because the Navajo area has been affected more than others by the virus, the Indian Health Service has managed to provide more vaccines here and as a result some 40% of the casino’s employees have received vaccinations.

“We are encouraging employees to get vaccinated but it is not a requirement to be allowed to come back to work,” said Parrish.

Employees who test positive for the virus are required to have a note from a doctor saying they are negative for the virus before they return.

By opening the two casinos, the enterprise brought back on board some 500 of the employees who were laid off recently. The remaining 400 will be brought on with the opening of the other two casinos, Parrish said.

The travel center located at the Twin Arrows casino will not be affected by the decisions made by the casino board. It will continue to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Asked if the casinos will be able to generate a profit with a 25% occupancy limit, Parrish said no.

That is expected to occur, however, once the casinos are allowed to go up to 50%.

Parrish said the safety precautions established by the enterprise board go beyond what other tribal casinos have implemented.

An outline of the safety precautions set in place by the enterprise board was praised by a leading expert in these matters.

Jordan Schermerhorn, a senior research associate at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, said the enterprise “has pulled together a plan that really shows the Navajo Nation leading the entire country on a smart, careful plan to return to normalcy.”


About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.

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