Unhappy New Year for Over 1,100 Workers Temporarily Laid Off by Navajo Nation Casinos

  • Tribe’s gaming board said lack of revenue left it no alternative but to lay off casino staff in AZ, NM
  • 773 Navajo and 172 non-Navajo employees affected, with 165 workers receiving a 20% pay cut
  • $25m in federal COVID-19 relief funding allocated to Navajo Nation casinos has now run out
  • Navajo Gaming Board chairman fears permanent closures could cause a long-term setback
Twin Arrows casino resort property in Arizona
Over 1,100 workers at Navajo Nation casinos in Arizona and New Mexico learned of their temporary layoffs on New Year’s Eve. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Layoffs are COVID-19 related

2021 started on an unpleasant note for more than 1,100 workers temporarily laid off by casinos operated by the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico. The tribe’s Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE) said a lack of revenue, caused by continued COVID-19-related closures, forced it to proceed with the layoffs, which it announced on New Year’s Eve.

some 165 employees will continue to work, but they will see a 20 percent pay reduction”

The NNGE’s interim director Brian Parrish said the gaming board passed the resolution to lay off 773 Navajo and 172 non-Navajo staff following a December 29 meeting, the Navajo Times reported. The newspaper, which serves the Four Corners region, added that “some 165 employees will continue to work, but they will see a 20 percent pay reduction.”

According to its LinkedIn profile, the NNGE has created over 1,000 jobs with the primary aim of hiring and training Navajos. It has also disbursed millions of dollars in revenue to the Navajo Nation and State government.

Hard times call for tough decisions

The tribe runs four casinos in Arizona and New Mexico. These include Twin Arrows Casino Resort east of Flagstaff, the first casino opened by the Navajos in the Grand Canyon State.

The extended closure of the casinos since March 2020 means the tribe’s “business operations have been severely impacted and as a result, we must make very difficult financial and personnel decisions,” Parrish explained in a statement.

Despite the Navajo Council approving a bill in November to allow the tribe’s casinos to resume operations at 50% capacity, President Jonathan Nez vetoed the decision. “Revenues do not outweigh the precious lives of our elders, children, and gaming employees”, the Navajo Times reported him as saying.

Parrish is of the belief that, even during the pandemic, Navajo Nation casinos could safely reopen at reduced capacity.

Words of warning

Following the announcement to lay off employees, officials warned on Thursday that, if casinos do not reopen and new funding isn’t forthcoming, a permanent shutdown of the whole Navajo Nation casino operation could be in the cards.

tribe stands to lose the $460m it invested in its casinos should they shut down

The Navajo Nation has now exhausted the $25m federal coronavirus relief funding it apportioned to its casinos back in August. Parrish pointed out that the tribe stands to lose the $460m it invested in its casino properties should they shut down, with ongoing annual losses of about “$220m in revenue and economic activity.”

Navajo Gaming Board chairman Quincy Natay highlighted the fact that the tribe’s operation took years to build and has been a success. Even if the casinos eventually reopen, “a permanent closure will cause a long-term setback for Navajo economic development,” Natay added.

Job losses across the casino industry have been widespread since the outbreak of COVID-19. In April, Crown Resorts laid off over 11,500 employees. In July, Resorts World let go of 7,700-plus workers worldwide, with Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino following suit in September, terminating the employment of 2,295 workers.