Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise lays off 1,120 employees, blames prolonged pandemic
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE) laid off 1,120 employees, 776 of whom are Navajo, Jan. 1 because of the prolonged impact of COVID-19; the layoffs include employees at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort.
“Due to the extended closure, since March 17, 2020, our business operations have been severely impacted and as a result, we must make very difficult financial and personnel decisions,” said Brian Parrish, Interim CEO of NNGE.
NNGE leadership said it had repeatedly warned, if Navajo casinos were not allowed to re-open, even at a reduced capacity, layoffs would be necessary. One hundred sixty-five employees will remain to ensure that essential functions are performed during this time.
Additionally, Navajo Gaming faces the possibility of permanent closure by the end of January if not allowed to partially reopen, or receive alternate funding.
“We remain focused on seeking every viable option to stabilize the salary and benefits of more than 1,000 Navajo families and to protect the $460 million investment the Nation has made in gaming facilities and resources,” Parrish said. “We intend to recall staff as soon as practicable, either by approval to reopen, or approval by the Board of Directors to return team members to administrative leave with pay.”
What does permanent closure mean?
Permanent closure would come at a cost of $460 million to the Navajo Nation for the first year. Subsequent years will reflect continued losses of approximately $219 million due to the elimination of interest revenues, gaming distribution fund revenues, tax revenue payments, and business site lease income, as well as, the economic output currently shared across the Navajo Nation reservation. A permanent closure would also hurt communities by the immediate loss of more than $807,000 that NNGE provides each year for local police, fire and emergency services.
NNGE leadership remains focused on finding a resolution before the end of January.
“We believe we can responsibly reopen, at a reduced occupancy with the implementation of first-in-class safety protocols,” Parrish said. “We have studied the science and reviewed the best guidelines at each stage. We have consistently laid out our step-by-step plans to strike the right balance and have detailed the catastrophic consequences of continued closure.”
Quincy Natay, chairman of the Navajo Gaming Board said the Nation’s vision took years to build.
“If it allows its gaming industry to fail, a permanent closure will cause a long-term setback for Navajo economic development, even if it eventually reopens,” Natay said. “COVID-19 has had devastating costs and, without Navajo leadership it, no doubt, would have been worse; however, we are a resilient and adaptable Nation. We rise to the occasion, sacrifice and find a balance.”
Information provided by Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise