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Tribal casinos are starting to reopen

Isleta Resort & Casino opened Monday. The casino is operating at 25% capacity. (Courtesy of Isleta Resort & Casino)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Tribal casinos are slowly reopening around New Mexico.

The reopenings are taking place despite the recommendations of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“Tribal casinos are sovereign, which the state has no control over,” said Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett. “Nontribal casinos remain closed under the current public health order.”

Isleta Resort & Casino opened Monday. Patrons were excited to return.

A patron told the Journal there was a two-hour wait to get inside at 11 p.m. Tuesday and a one-hour wait when she returned at 1 a.m. Wednesday. Guests were told the casino was allowing only 25% capacity inside. But patrons waited patiently in line to play their favorite slot machines and table games.

Calls and emails requesting comment from Isleta were not returned.

According to its website, Isleta has made a number of changes to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including adding face shields and Plexiglas dividers in close-contact areas, such as between slot machines.

All areas of Isleta Resort & Casino are nonsmoking. Guests must smoke in a designated area outside the casino. All patrons also must wear masks while on the property and may remove them only to eat or drink.

A new Players Club Card system has also been implemented, requiring every guest to be a Players Club cardholder or sign up for one. The patron told the Journal that the system will help with contact tracing.

Cleaning and sanitation of the property have increased greatly. More information about the measures Isleta is taking to protect its guests can be found on its website, isleta.com.

Taos Mountain Casino on Taos Pueblo announced on its website that it is now open. The website says the casino has made changes to protect its patrons and employees, including requiring guests to wear face masks and have their temperature taken at the door.

Ohkay Hotel and Casino on Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo also announced it’s now open but did not provide much more information on its website.

Route 66 Casino Hotel on Laguna Pueblo has plans to reopen soon. An official announcement is expected on Monday, June 22.

“From an operational standpoint, we feel like our casino, restaurants, hotel, everything is ready to go,” said Skip Sayre, chief of sales and marketing for Laguna Development Corp., owned by Laguna Pueblo. “We’re still working on making sure that we are appropriately staffed and that all of our staff are COVID-19-tested and are appropriately trained on all of the new health and safety protocols that we put in place.”

Many other casinos are closed and do not have a reopening date yet, including Sandia Resort & Casino, Santa Ana Casino Hotel, Tesuque Casino, Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, Sky City Casino Hotel and Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino. Casinos on the Navajo Nation, which has been hit severely by COVID-19, also remain closed.

Nontribal casinos, such as The Downs Racetrack & Casino in Albuquerque and Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino in Sunland Park, must remain closed until Lujan Grisham gives the green light for them to reopen.

Lujan Grisham, through her public health orders, has allowed other businesses, including breweries, restaurants, salons and gyms, to reopen in limited capacities.

The reopening of casinos around the state poses concern for the Governor’s Office.

“All tribal casinos are strongly, unequivocally encouraged to remain closed at this time, just like other entertainment facilities, due to the risk of COVID-19 spread​,” Sackett said. “The administration is in regular contact with tribal leadership and has conveyed its concern about opening casinos at this time.​ Any entity opening a casino right now is exposing patrons and the community in which it is situated to enormous risk of infection and spread.”

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