International edition
September 18, 2020

The enterprise has twice set a reopening date and twice pushed it back

Navajo gaming workers face layoffs as coronavirus cases keep rising in Arizona and New Mexico

Navajo gaming workers face layoffs as coronavirus cases keep rising in Arizona and New Mexico
Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise's Twin Arrows Casino Resort in Arizona.
United States | 07/28/2020

The tribe's three casinos in northwestern New Mexico and one in northern Arizona have been shuttered for months because of the coronavirus. Over 900 gaming workers were laid off at the end of business Monday and gaming officials warned that up to 140 additional employees would begin receiving phone calls or letters informing them they will be laid off as well.

"We’re in the process of notifying them now," said Brian D. Parrish, CEO of Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise. "We’re doing that with phone calls from their supervisors. And if we can’t get ahold of them, we’re also sending them letters, so they have the information."

Parrish announced Sunday more than 900 gaming employees would be laid off at the end of business Monday in the enterprise’s first phase of layoffs. After that, in approximately a week, he added, up to 140 additional employees would begin receiving phone calls or letters informing them they would be laid off.

Parrish said all 1,180 of the enterprise’s employees would be affected by the layoffs because the casino’s cash reserves were nearly exhausted. All four of its casinos —three casinos in northwestern New Mexico and one in northern Arizona— have been closed since March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time, Parrish said, they did not anticipate the impact the novel coronavirus would have, KNAU reports.

Originally, the NNGE Board of Directors issued a letter stating the casinos would temporarily close for a period of three weeks. Since then, the enterprise has twice set a reopening date and twice pushed it back as cases continued to rise in Arizona and New Mexico.

In a July 3 Navajo gaming news release, NNGE Board Chairman Quincy Natay stated the board stood with its employees even as the gaming enterprise was feeling “financial strain.”

“We continue to believe taking care of our employees must be our focus. The pressures and worries from the pandemic are already affecting our people, we couldn’t add to their burden by instituting layoffs, unless there was no other option,” Natay was quoted as saying.

Parrish said he hopes the tribal leadership will appropriate funding for the gaming enterprise through the CARES Act that will be discussed at the Naabik’íyáti’ Committee meeting on Tuesday at 9 a.m.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Mark Freeland said, “The debate continues under (Legislation No.) 0144-20. I know there was some language listed in there for Navajo gaming.”

Parrish said if the gaming enterprise gets CARES funding, it would help them “get back on our feet,” as well as stabilize and rebuild the business.

“When we go to reopen, we’re going to have to spend a bunch of money on food and beverage supplies and operating equipment,” Parrish explained. “To get the buildings ready to reopen – they’ve been closed for over five months now – there’s a lot of prep and things like that, that needs going through it. We’ll need to pay for all those things up front.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the decision to reopen was in the hands of gaming board, but added they were advised to prioritize “the health of their employees and casino patrons.”

“We’re relying on the data and the advice of health care experts, and the states of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico are still seeing very high daily numbers,” Nez said on Sunday. “In Arizona, a number of tribal-operated casinos reopened too early and ended up having to close again due to spikes in new cases.”

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