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Returning to the casino

Prairie’s Edge Casino reopens doors with a new look, guidelines

Photo by Sam Thiel A couple of guests play on a machine at Prairie’s Edge Casino Resort. The casino reopened on Monday after closing two months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

GRANITE FALLS — Once Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz decided to lift the stay-at-home order and begin to relax state restrictions last week, it didn’t take some places very long to decide to reopen. On Monday morning, the first day of the state’s newest look at a return to normalcy, Prairie’s Edge Casino Resort pushed its chips into the pot and reopened nearly two months after it had voluntarily closed.

Upper Sioux Community Tribal Chairman and Public Information Officer Kevin Jensvold was pleasantly surprised with the turnout and level of support from their tribal nation and guests.

“There’s a lot of support from the tribal nation and we really appreciate all of the support from our neighbor as well. We’re a very small casino and people are very happy to come back and support our tribal nation,” Jensvold said. “Some thought no one would be here, some thought we would be overwhelmed, but it’s a happy medium and enough of an opportunity to test all of the things that we have put in place without being overwhelmed.”

Prairie’s Edge wasn’t the only casino that will be reopened in the coming days. Royal River Casino in Flandreau, S.D. announced a soft opening over Memorial Day weekend to a small number of invited guests before fully reopening on May 29.

As to why their casino decided to reopen now, Jensvold said they have exceeded all of the safety guidelines that have been put in place and are taking every precaution to ensure the safety of their employees and guests.

“We chose to reopen our facility based on the simple fact we believe we have incorporated and put into place practices and protocols that have ensured the safety of our employees and guests who choose to come to entertain themselves at the Upper Sioux Community,” Jensvold said. “We believe we exceed all of the federal and state guidelines that we adhere upon and reference many times throughout the day, that is a credit to our Chief of Police Chris Lee who serves as our emergency manager for the tribe. It is also a testament to the willingness and the expertise of the casino staff who have worked very diligently and with much enthusiasm to be able to help restart our tribal economy. For that, I want to say to Barry Joannides, the general manager, and the staff our heartfelt thanks from the Upper Sioux tribal members.”

“We chose today because it wouldn’t matter 2-3 months down the road if those same protocols and practices we have in place would be the same by then so it only makes sense to choose today so that tomorrow we can become better, those things that we do we can refine to better ensure the safety that is so critical to everybody,” Jensvold added. “We don’t underestimate or diminish the dangers that are part of our new society; there are more than 1,500 lives that depend upon this one facility, so that their families can put food on their tables and roofs over their heads and we all understand the dangers and the risks associated with what we are doing. We are not ignorant in the fact that this has changed our world, we are not arrogant to believe that we are any better suited than anyone else, we are only the first to do so. We are most likely the first tribal nation that has chosen to take this step within the borders of the state of Minnesota and that is the sole reason you have expressed interest to be here.”

Despite some businesses such as bars, restaurants, gyms and salons remaining closed, tribal land and their casinos are sovereign nations.

“A lot of times people say, ‘How did the government give the Native Americans this land?’ If you look at the term reservation, this land was reserved for my mother’s people and my children’s people, reserved those rights to these lands by our ancestors, not by a gift of an arrogant immigrant,” Jensvold said. “So when I hear those things, it is troublesome because I’ve served my people 15 years in this position and it’s not the first time that question has been asked. It was a gift from our creator, not from the European. Up here the rules are ours, not to be discussed or negotiated, they simply are the laws of our land and the governing of our people.”

Jensvold added he extended an invitation to Walz to attend the press conference on Monday, but was met with silence and a lost opportunity.

“I made it known to Gov. Walz that we would be reopening on the 18th of May. I had, on that phone call, made a direct invitation for him to be here today, to see how we were going to accomplish the things that he had desired for his own state but also to see how a competent tribal nation was going to achieve these outcomes,” Jensvold said. “That invitation was met with silence and because of that, I have to decide myself what that intent meant. If he seeks guidance in how he is going to reopen his own bars and restaurants, he had that opportunity today; that opportunity is now lost to the state but he would have had the opportunity to see our plans and be able to have discussions with our emergency manager and our general manager.”

Jensvold added that there is a misconception that Minnesota overlords on a sovereign nation, but that’s not true.

“Our laws are not the laws that were created by the state of Minnesota in their entirety. We closed our casino on March 18 because the state of Minnesota had requested our assistance to do so. The governor on that day asked if we could do this so that he could start to gather the necessary supplies and the ICU beds for an expected pandemic that would tax the systems of the hospitals and infrastructure,” Jensvold said. “According to the data that we have available to us at the tribal nation, he has achieved those goals, but he doesn’t talk about that anymore as well. We didn’t do it because the governor of Minnesota ordered it, we did it out of courtesy to our neighbor because we understood the dangers that it represented.”

While the casino and resort are now open, there are several and constantly updated guidelines that will be in effect. There are only two entry and exit points and all guests and employees will have their temperature taken, with any temp over 100.1 keeping that individual from entering and they will be asked to leave the property. Masks will be worn by every employee and guests are encouraged to wear a mask, which will also be available for those who don’t have one.

On the gaming floor, all public areas and back of house, social distancing protocols will be enforced and Plexiglas will separate the slot machines. Table games such as blackjack and poker will stay closed until further notice, but video blackjack and video roulette are available. With each game, the casino is asking guests to press a call/service button when they are finished which will notify the casino’s cleaning specialists to come and sanitize the machines and chairs.

Roughly 50% of the casino will be reduced in capacity. Jensvold added that only 780 people can be in the casino, which will equate for roughly 90 square feet per person. As for food and beverage service, the food outlets will have spaced-out seating and no more than six people to a table. Disposable menus will be issued for one-time use and there is no standing or gathering allowed in the bar. Beverage stations will be either closed or staffed by an employee.

While guests of the hotel won’t see things such as the pool, sauna and exercise room, Jensvold said they will see all of the dedication and work their employees are doing to ensure the guests’ safety.

“One of the great things about what we’re doing is the guest does get to see what we are doing to achieve those goals to ensure their safety. As far as the hotel rooms, we have three separate teams to turn those rooms over,” Jensvold said. “I said to our staff when we started walking this path to reopening, we can either be the laughing stock or we can be the shining example, we chose to be the shining example. We will conduct ourselves accordingly and we have confidence in the casino and our staff and the emergency management staff to make this a reality.”

Joannides said they returned nearly all of their employees from before the pandemic, adding all of the departments had to attend meetings every day for four and a half days to learn about proper equipment and procedures.

“As far as day-to-day procedures, we’ve had every department at the casino rewrite their protocols to address sanitizing their work areas, social distancing and how to pay jackpots, serving food, etc.,” Joannides said. “We had four and a half days of meetings two weeks prior to opening with every one of our employees to go over how to put on PPE equipment and training. We had about 25 people for four meetings a day and the focus of the meetings was not only their protection but also the guests.”

Looking down the road, Jensvold said while they’re not sure what the future will bring, they remain optimistic and hopeful that they can provide a safe environment for people’s entertainment.

“There’s hope on the horizon and life goes on and we have to make sure that we move forward accordingly,” Jensvold said. “With the expertise and influence of our emergency management and casino staff, I think we can provide a tremendous and safe entertainment environment for all of those who choose to come here and be a

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