Navajo Gaming Employees to Stop Getting Paychecks, Coronavirus Continues to Impact Indian Country

Posted on: July 29, 2020, 04:28h. 

Last updated on: July 30, 2020, 09:53h.

Close to 1,000 employees who had been on leave with the Navajo Nation’s gambling operation will stop getting paid after Monday, Aug. 3, as the tribal community continues to struggle with lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fire Rock Casino remains closed
Fire Rock Casino, a tribal casino located in Church Rock, New Mexico, remains shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image: Farmington Daily Times)

Some 900 workers were alerted to the salary stoppage this past weekend. An additional 125 workers will get their salary for one more week.

Individuals in security, human resources, management, and finance functions will continue to receive a full salary, according to the Associated Press.

It had been hoped the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise would continue paying its 1,180 workers their salaries and benefits. But the Navajo gaming enterprise has gone through its cash reserves and cash from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, the AP said. It can no longer afford the salaries.

However, employees, even if they stop getting salaries, will continue to receive health insurance benefits.

The tribal gaming operation had planned to reopen three casinos in New Mexico, and a resort casino near Flagstaff, Ariz. They closed on March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Essential Revenue Down

Payrolls are some 70 percent of fixed costs for the Navajo gambling enterprise, according to Brian Parrish, Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise interim chief executive officer, in a statement to the AP.

Nobody’s employment has been terminated. Nobody’s job has been eliminated. None of those things has occurred,” Parrish told the Farmington Daily Times, a New Mexico newspaper, on Wednesday, July 29.

Gaming revenue from tribal casinos also typically funds key reservation operations such as health care.

In March, the American Gaming Association reported that at least 97 percent of the country’s 524 tribal gaming properties were closed because of the pandemic.

Tribal casino closures have been causing “significant detriment to Native American tribes,” according to Alan Meister, CEO and principal economist of Meister Economic Consulting. Since many tribes rely on gaming-related revenue for government operations, infrastructure, and social and economic programs.

Tribal governments do not collect property taxes the way local governments do to fund local programs.

Coronavirus Outbreaks Lessen

The financial challenges come after the Navajo Nation saw among the highest rates of COVID-19 in the US, but more recently, the number of COVID-19 cases has somewhat fallen.

As of Sunday, there were 8,891 cases of coronavirus on the Navajo Nation reservation. There were 439 deaths linked to COVID-19. Some 6,547 on the reservation recovered from coronavirus.

The Navajo Nation plans to continue weekend lockdowns for at least the next two weekends on the reservation, the AP said. Tribal leaders may announce further details about reopening plans later this week.

The Navajo Nation is spread across a 27,000-square-mile reservation. It covers northeastern Arizona and areas in New Mexico and Utah.