Special to Indian Country Today
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians plans to reopen its casinos to the public Thursday at 30 percent capacity.
The two casinos — Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee, North Carolina, and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel in Murphy, North Carolina — opened by invitation-only last week with little fanfare after closing March 18 due to the pandemic.
Together they employ nearly 3,700.
The casinos have a management contract with Caesars Entertainment, which owns the Harrah’s brand.
Employees have been given the option of waiting 30 days to return to work without compromising their seniority, said Harrah’s Cherokee Regional Vice President for Marketing Brian Saunooke. That follows policies for recalling workers set by Caesars and the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise Board, the agency charged with overseeing casino operations.
The casinos did not respond to requests for information on how many employees have returned to work or taken the 30-day pass.
Tribal Council Wolfetown Rep. Bo Crowe said he heard from one employee who said he was told he’d lose his unemployment if he didn’t return to work. Crowe said he expressed his concerns to the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise Board but didn't hear back.
However, Jim Owle, board chairman, said in an interview that employees won’t lose their jobs if they’re not ready to come back to work.
“We’re not looking at firing anybody,” he said.
Owle said numerous precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of guests and employees. Those have included cleaning surfaces, ensuring social distancing, requiring masks for workers and hiring a company to sanitize the casinos' interior.
Reopening has gone well, Owle said.
“We had a lot of good response back from people,” he said. “We tried to take every precaution.”
Joseph Martin is a former editor of the Cherokee One Feather in Cherokee, N.C. and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.