A number of New Mexico tribal casinos are reopening their doors to gamblers, even as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is urging them to remain closed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Isleta Casino & Resort in Albuquerque, Ohkay Hotel Casino in Ohkay Owingeh and Taos Mountain Casino in Taos all have reopened to the public, according to their websites and phone calls with casino operators.
The casinos are taking coronavirus-related precautions. At Isleta, for instance, shields and Plexiglas dividers are being placed between slot machines, and all patrons are required to wear face coverings, according to the casino’s website.
Still, the casinos are reopening at a time when the governor is specifically calling for them not to, and Lujan Grisham’s office says that could increase the spread of COVID-19.
“All casinos are strongly, unequivocally encouraged to remain closed at this time, just like other entertainment facilities, due to the risk of COVID-19 spread,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said Tuesday. “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.”
The state cannot prohibit tribal casinos from reopening, given they are controlled by sovereign nations. Nontribal casinos, such as state-licensed racinos, are still closed as part of Lujan Grisham’s public health restrictions.
Lujan Grisham on June 1 said large venues such as theaters, nontribal casinos, museums and zoos would be allowed to reopen at some point in the future.
The Governor’s Office did not respond when asked whether it had dialogue with tribal governments about their plans to reopen casinos, or whether it had asked them not to reopen.
Casino managers were anything but talkative about the changes Tuesday.
Zeke Perez, director of slot operations at Isleta, declined to speak about the reopening, referring calls to another manager, who did not return a request for comment.
“You’re talking to the wrong person,” Perez said.
Ohkay Hotel Casino’s general manager said he couldn’t talk, referring calls to Ohkay Owingeh Gov. Ron Lovato, who did not return a request for comment.
“We’ve been instructed by the government of Ohkay Owingeh to send all press inquiries to them,” manager Jake Pierce said. “They’ve asked us not to speak.”
Taos Mountain Casino general manager Jennifer Welty did not respond to calls, either.
The Taos casino, which reopened Monday, is requiring guests to have their temperature taken before entering, to maintain 6 feet of distance from others and to wash or sanitize their hands.
Other tribal casinos around the state remain closed, such as Tesuque Casino and Pojoaque Pueblo’s Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino outside Santa Fe.