TAHLEQUAH – Face masks are now optional for casino guests, according to the Cherokee Nation Businesses boss.

“On Friday, we did adopt a ‘masking optional’ policy for our patrons,” CNB CEO Chuck Garrett said during his May 17 Tribal Council report. “Our employees continue to have a mask mandate. But our guests are now able to make that decision on their own. Whether they’ve been vaccinated or not, they can take into consideration their own personal situation.”

The Cherokee Nation operates 10 gaming venues throughout northeast Oklahoma. When COVID-19 began spreading in early 2020, CNB casinos were closed for several months, followed by a “careful, phased process to responsibly reopen,” a facet of which was mandatory masks, according to CNB.

Garrett thanked Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. for supporting the optional-mask policy at a time that “reflects the downward trend in both the positive cases and hospitalizations across the reservation.”

“I’m very excited about that,” Garrett said. “I think we are going to be rewarded for our safety and care that we took, but also really looking forward to regaining our dominant position in gaming in northeast Oklahoma.”

Poker was also recently “reintroduced” at the tribe’s casinos in West Siloam Springs and Catoosa, Garrett said.

During his April report, Garrett told councilors that CNB operations were “inching” their way back to pre-COVID activities and operations, and that “gaming activities have improved substantially.”

On another financial front, the Tribal Council tabled the addition of $33.4 million to the CN’s $1.48 billion operating budget. The additional funding, from the Indian Health Service, would be used in part to retrofit health-related equipment.

“It wasn’t anything we applied for necessarily,” Chief of Staff Todd Enlow said. “Our health team has been working on a list of projects and trying to prioritize those.”

At least two councilors requested a spending breakdown. All agreed to table the budget modification until a later date.