The COVID-19 pandemic has affected businesses across the world.

Rim Country business owners haven’t escaped the impact and that includes the Tonto Apache Tribe’s Mazatzal Hotel & Casino.

“We’ve struggled when it comes to our COVID situation,” Tribal Gaming Office Executive Director Hubert Nanty told chamber members during the monthly luncheon at the casino on Sept. 21.

The chamber had to cancel in-person luncheons for a time and switched to holding Zoom talks for several months before returning to in-person gatherings at the casino. They changed from one big luncheon in the main banquet room at the casino to breakfasts and luncheons of fewer members in each in a smaller room.

“The tribe, before COVID, was struggling with which direction do we want to go until the governor shut down everything. The council kind of followed suit after that. It didn’t have to, but it did, just out of respect (for) our community, that we don’t want to be the center for all that.”

The casino closed from March 19-May 20, 2020. It closed 11 days ahead of the state of Arizona’s stay-at-home order to be proactive in response to COVID-19.

The Tonto Apache Tribal Council reopened the casino on May 21, 2020 under new hours and with enhanced safety measures including physical distancing, aggressive cleaning and sanitation guidelines and mandatory face-covering protocols for all team members to protect the health and safety of everyone and strongly encouraged guests to wear face masks and with required temperature screening prior to entering the casino.

About half of the machines were operational and about half of the table games were available.

John Giles, marketing director, said at the time of the re-open that the casino was re-opening in three phases based on official guidelines.

Nanty told chamber members that finding employees continues to be a challenge.

“So, what we did for a month and a half was develop a safety protocol, a safety plan,” he said. “Three phases went into it as to what we would do and how we would operate at 75%, 50% and 25%.

“And we’re back to Level 3, or everything is open and available, but our gift shop’s still not open. Our grill is open at about 50%. Our restaurant is at almost 100%, but just like everybody else, we’re struggling for team members, for employees. And it’s hard. It’s really difficult to get people to come up and sign up and so forth and of course that’s nothing new to all of you, but it’s something that we’re struggling with.”

But he said they continue to serve customers.

“We’re at 50% of the staff, the cooks and servers and so forth,” Nanty explained. “So, we’re doing our best to provide not only the entertainment but also our food venue and all that service has maintained itself. So, we pride ourselves on that.”

Sports betting

He talked about Mazatzal Hotel & Casino’s new sports betting services, which started five days earlier.

On Sept. 16, the Tonto Apache Tribe became the first Indian tribe in Arizona to launch a live onsite retail sportsbook at Mazatzal Hotel & Casino. In partnership with TwinSpires Sportsbook owned by Churchill Downs. Mazatzal Hotel & Casino now offers onsite retail sports wagering on the results of professional, college and international sports and athletic events.

They also launched mobile sports betting statewide through the TwinSpires app.

Tonto Apache is one of 10 tribes that applied for and was recently awarded sports betting licenses under new legislation (HB 2772).

“Over the last several years, we have worked diligently to secure our sports wagering license and today marks a significant milestone for Tonto Apache,” said Tonto Apache Chairman Calvin Johnson in the press release. “In conjunction with our world class partner, we look forward to offering a dynamic sportsbook, supporting the local community and bringing more visitors and sports fans to the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino. This opportunity will also present great opportunities and economic benefits for our people.”

Nanty spoke about the new sports betting service Mazatzal Hotel & Casino now offers.

“I just want to update you on some things that are happening here at the casino,” Nanty said. “Of course, the big thing is event wagering, or what you might refer to as sports wagering.

“It’s very interesting. We have 15 kiosks on the floor in different places and it doesn’t cost you to learn. Don’t feel obligated that you have to put a dollar (in), not unless you want to, or $300, not unless you want to.

“There are different sports leagues that are on there. What fascinated me, because that’s a new kiosk for me, I went up to it and I just pressed on soccer because I’m interested in soccer and it’s international. But the number of countries that are listed that have soccer teams is amazing.

“It’s just a very, very interesting part of what the casino offers for gaming entertainment. It’s awesome.”

It was Nanty’s birthday and chamber members sang “Happy Birthday” to him.

“You sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” Nanty joked. “Thank you very much.”

The Mazatzal Hotel & Casino is a Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce sponsor.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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