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.

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Jens Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.

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(14) comments

kyle renfro

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.


kyle renfro

Díí jį́ nihich'į' bee haasdziihígíí bik'ehgo Bóhólníihii nihiDiyin God ayóó'ádeínóh'ní, áádóó bik'ehgo deínóhkááh áádóó bibik'eh ó'oo'níiłii áádóó yee nihwiiz'áanii índa yee nihodii'aahii bik'eh dahonoł'į́įgo dahinohnáa doo; k'ee'ąą nooht'į́įł doo, áko kéyah biih woonáago Bóhólníihii nihiDiyin God nihik'ijidlíigo kéyah ádíí' ádadoohłííł.

Comment deleted.
Philip Taccetta

Pretty sad when a Dr. of who knows what responds like a junior high student.

Peter Romero

Is MLG racist to strongly urge the casinos not to open.

Dr. Michael Johnson


kyle renfro

ACCORDING TO MLG, she is 15th generation Lujan, which were the ones cutting off the feet of the native american, which continues today in her mindset as a different type of abuse

Connie Lopez

How ridiculous.

Connie Lopez

Racist? That like makes no sense, ese.

Amy Earle

NM has finally reached the green zone of cases on the US map. Yes SF has had a disturbing 4 or 5 cases daily recently when we’d previously been flat. Still the cases in our hot spots have gone down dramatically. There is no need to ruin our successes by opening casinos particularly given that our native populations accounted for a large number of our state’s cases. These casinos are on sovereign land so nothing can be done other than hope they don’t cause more cases and people with sense stay away.

Connie Lopez

Sovereign nation's do as they please. Patrons can choose not to frequent local casinos, but they will go anyway. It'll be a huge party.

kyle renfro

glad to see it, people and the economy back to work and not what mlg wants which is her favoritism

Connie Lopez

I knew it it! It was just a matter of time, folks. Economics trump public health concerns. Assuredly, these reopened casinos will be loaded with local patrons. Sovereign nation's do what they please, this is no different. Unfortunately, mlg can do little to prevent reopening of NM casinos. By August 2020, NM public schools will follow suit, despite volume of covid.19 new cases.

Kathy Fish

It seems like you want to see native businesses fail and people get sick. You're not speaking from fact but opinion. Schools will reopen, but it's going to look way different than it ever has before. Insisting otherwise reveals your inability to actually do research, talk to people, and gather accurate information. For example, how many teachers and academic administrators have you actually spoken to? How many native leaders have you interacted with? I've noticed that your comments tend to be fueled by your own personal speculation (and frequent impulses to yawn) and don't ever seem informed by fact.

Connie Lopez


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