Martin Harvier, President, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community

Martin Harvier, President
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
Talking Stick Resort and Casino Arizona in Salt River, AZ /

COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of the Community – everything from economic activity, community activity, to managing the public health crisis. Overall, there have been 23 deaths and nearly 588 individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. Although the tribal government remains in ‘essential services only’ mode, it continues to provide the necessary services to Community members to ensure their health and welfare.

In March, the Community Council enacted an emergency declaration to prioritize the public health and safety throughout the Community. This had the effect of closing most business activity in the Community. Over the following months, the Community leadership has focused on public health measures such as testing, contact tracing, a face mask requirement, curfew, and significant community communication activities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. To date, the emergency declaration remains in place, and is evaluated on a daily basis.

For the gaming enterprise, the strategy was not to reopen as soon as possible. Instead, it would reopen only after a broad range of health and safety programs based upon extensive research had been developed and implemented to ensure the safety of guests and employees.

When gaming operations reopened on June 1, 2020, many safety measures were implemented. Upon entering the facility, all guests and employees must undergo a temperature check, and those who have a temperature at or above 100.4 degrees are not permitted to enter. While on property, all guests and employees are required to wear a mask. Both Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort reopened as non-smoking facilities, however, designated outdoor patio locations are available for smokers. Hotel guests receive a gift bag containing masks, hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes.

Intensified cleaning of high-touch, high-traffic areas and hand sanitizing dispensing stations are placed throughout the properties. Slot machines, gaming tables, and gaming chips are cleaned on a daily basis. Plexiglass barriers between each player and between dealers were installed on all blackjack and poker tables, and the number of playing positions were reduced for both game types. Plexiglass dividers were also installed between all slot machines. While there is a total of 13 restaurant venues, only one restaurant was reopened at each property, and each is set up on a grab-and-go basis only – dine-in service is not available. At bingo, players are seated on the same side of the table, six feet apart. Plexiglass barriers have been installed between hostess/cashier and customers at all cashier stations. On the hotel floors with rooms available for sale, every other room is kept locked. All entertainment bookings have been cancelled through March 2021, and spa operations have been temporarily closed.

Initially, customers did not react favorably to these strict safety measures.  However, when COVID-19 cases significantly spiked in Arizona in July and August, guest sentiment changed, and overall feedback is that customers now appreciate the stringent safety measures in place.

It is critical to prioritize the health and safety of both Community members and the general public and to effectively communicate all activities that are occurring.