The Ute Mountain Casino and Hotel might be closed, but it’s still been a busy space.
The casino and hotel announced its temporary closure March 18 in response to the threat of coronavirus. But although the casino business is closed, it’s been providing room to store goods and supplies, and supporting efforts to provide food to tribal community members.
“It’s great to see how the tribal community’s come together,” said Rick Scheer, general manager of the Ute Mountain Casino and Hotel and the travel centers in both Towaoc and White Mesa, Utah.
The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent social distancing efforts have had a widespread impact on all aspects of life, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council has been working to provide food to its community members in both Towaoc and White Mesa – about 675 households total.
To assist the council with these efforts, the Casino and Hotel turned its bingo hall into a grocery storage area for the first delivery on March 30.
“We took our bingo room, where we have the space, and actually laid that out so the tribal members could come down, and some of the casino staff helped as well, with portioning out the food and doing the separations for the deliveries,” Scheer said.
Casino purveyors helped provide many of the bulk supplies portioned down for the households, he added.
The supplies were distributed by tribal members to the different households, and included some fruits, potatoes, beans, rice, lard, and frozen chicken, said Tribal Chairman Manuel Hart in an announcement posted on the Weenuche Smoke Signals Facebook page.
“We are still working on another distribution for both communities,” Hart said, adding that they are also working on a process to also get some food for tribal members living in Cortez or elsewhere in Montezuma County.
Other groups have been collecting dog and cat food for distribution, along with hay for horses, Scheer said.
Although the Casino and Hotel is closed, both the Towaoc and White Mesa Travel Centers remain open, with adjusted hours. The travel center in Towaoc is open daily from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., while the center in White Mesa stays open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Scheer said they have installed plexiglass shields for the cashiers, and are limiting the number of people who can enter the centers at a time, to comply with social distancing efforts.
Because the center is no longer open 24 hours a day, porta potties and hand sinks have been set up outside for truckers to use at night.
At the Casino and Hotel, there are about 130 staff members still working, with the rest of the approximately 400 employees are on paid furlough, Scheer said. Staff are currently deep cleaning the building thoroughly.
“We’re doing everything we can to make it as good as it can be,” Scheer said. “We even brought in an extra truckload of toilet paper, because we knew early on that it was such a commodity, and we didn’t want to see our tribal members have to drive out of state to go get toilet paper or even drive into Cortez to get it. Or go there and not find it.”
They’re planning a festive celebration for the casino’s reopening, whenever that may be, he said.