By Pat Eaton-Robb And Susan Haigh
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
HARTFORD, Conn-Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes on Wednesday announced plans to begin reopening portions of their sprawling Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun attractions on June 1, despite calls from Gov. Ned Lamont to remain shuttered to prevent another wave of infections from the coronavirus.
The Democratic governor said it’s “too early and dangerous” to reopen the casinos and hopes to persuade the sovereign nations to hold off in order to protect their employees, patrons and the greater community. But when pressed, Lamont said Connecticut has “a number of options,” including talking to unions that represent some of the casino workers about the potential dangers and warning casino patrons.
“We could always advise people driving into the casinos, `Hey, do you know that the governor has said this is not safe? Especially if you’re over 65. He has said stay safe, stay at home.’ These are the type of warnings I think I’m obligated to tell people before they take part in risky behaviour.”
Responding to Lamont’s remarks, Mohegan Tribal Chairman James Gessner said the tribes’ plan makes it clear they’ll advise older customers to take specific precautions and to stay home if they are part of an at-risk group.
Under the state’s reopening plans, large venues would not reopen until possibly late July.
In a joint statement, the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans said they’ve collaborated on new safety protocols and operating procedures to mitigate risks, such as infrared temperature scanners, ongoing disinfection, required face masks and the replacement of dice, tiles and cards used in table games. The tribes said their policies are consistent with or exceed the state’s rules.
Neither property plans to immediately open concert venues, buffets or poker rooms. Tenant restaurants will only be open for take-out. Also, no out-of-state buses will be accepted and the casinos will only market to Connecticut and Rhode Island residents.
Late Tuesday, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler bristled at comments made by an informal advisor to Lamont who expressed concern about reopening casinos and suggested the state focus on “employment, economic impact and reduced public health impact” when deciding the “sweet spot” for what to reopen.
Butler said that “one need only look at the tragic map depicting the disproportionate share of unemployed in eastern and southeastern Connecticut” to understand the economic impact of closing the two casinos, which employ more than 10,000 people.
“We, too, have the best and brightest advising us on how to safely and responsibly restart our facilities,” he said. “To suggest otherwise conveys a level of disrespect that is insulting.”