Photo: Liz Teitz / Hearst Connecticut Media
Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino will reopen on June 1, a move Gov. Ned Lamont discouraged and called “incredibly risky.”
The Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which operate the two southeastern Connecticut casinos, announced their reopening plans in a joint news release Wednesday.
Lamont said he’ll urge the tribes against reopening, and that if he’s not able to convince them to change their plans, he would work to discourage people not to go. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we put public health first,” he said.
Both casinos closed in March due to the coronavirus, the first time either had ever stopped operations. Because they are run by the tribes, which are sovereign nations, they are able to open without approval from the governor’s office, outside of his regulations for phased reopening.
“Based on the collaborative guidelines, each Tribal Nation has developed their own policies to address the unique needs of their respective property,” the tribes said in their joint statement Wednesday. “Consistent with or exceeding the State’s phased guidance and safety protocols, each property has incorporated protective equipment and physical distancing in its policies.”
Asked what he could do to try to halt the reopening, Lamont said he would “say you’re a sovereign nation, but you’re also part of the great family we call Connecticut, and we’ve had a great partnership together, going back decades.”
“I’ve got some of the greatest health experts in the world who have said opening up now endangers your customers, endangers your employees and endangers the broader community,” he said. “It’s a good time to slow up. We’re going to work with you to find a way to open up safely together.” If conversations with the tribes don’t result in slowing the reopening plan, “we have a number of options,” he said, including advising people as they drive into the casinos “that the governor said this is not safe.”
Dr. Albert Ko, co-chair of Lamont’s Reopen CT Advisory Group, called the casinos a “proverbial perfect storm,” because they attract people from outside the state to the enclosed areas, where they’ll spend time in close proximity. “I can’t stress enough how we are concerned about that situation,” he said.
Ko said reopening them would put both employees and visitors at risk. “From the public health perspective, the risk of outbreaks in this type of setting is actually enormous and would have large ramifications as people return to their homes in different parts of not only Connecticut but the northeast,” he said.
Concert venues, buffets and poker rooms will remain closed, and restaurants at the two locations will be takeout only, the tribes said. Out-of-state buses, which typically bring visitors to the casinos, will not be accepted.
The new safety measures include the use of infrared temperature scanners at all entrances, and replacing dice, tiles and cards at table games, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation chairman Rodney Butler said in a statement. All guests will be required to wear masks and common surfaces will be frequently cleaned, he said.
The casinos’ guidelines “were shared with state officials weeks ago,” said James Gessner, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe.
Lamont said he had “an inkling” that the tribes were making plans to move ahead with quickly reopening. Butler is a member of his Advisory Group, and had conversations with co-chair and former Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, she said.
“I understand where the casinos are coming from,” Nooyi said. “Many people who come to the casinos are older people who we would call vulnerable to this COVID virus, so we are worried about them.”
“I think they’re exposing themselves to more infection than they need to,” she said.
Lamont said Wednesday that he’s looking to include hotels, which both tribes operate at the casinos, in the second phase of reopening, which is likely to start June 20. The third phase, which would begin “at least four weeks later,” would include indoor event spaces and venues, like the casinos.
“We have spent the past 10 weeks putting extraordinary measures in place including cutting edge technology to protect the safety and health of all individuals who walk through the doors of Mohegan Sun as well as to ensure the safety of our community as a whole,” Gessner said. “As we enter our ‘new normal’ we are excited to welcome back our team members who are an extension of our Mohegan family and to once again begin working with many of our local partners and businesses to help stimulate the Connecticut economy.”