Tribes open to suggestions but still plan to reopen casinos

Tribes open to suggestions but still plan to reopen casinos

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A modified strategy to partially reopen Foxwoods Resort Casino on June 1 is still moving ahead despite opposition from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, the chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said Thursday.

Chairman Rodney Butler told The Associated Press in an interview that Lamont is welcome to tour Foxwoods and see firsthand the safety precautions being taken to prevent spread of the coronavirus, ranging from fewer open slot machines to air filitration systems. But he said Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have been working with experts and following federal and industry safety guidelines to begin reopening parts of the resorts in two weeks.

“We’ll modify it. If they point out opportunities that we’ve missed on being safe from a health perspective, if they think that there’s something that we’re doing in operations that we can do for the better, we’re certainly open to those conversations,” Butler said. “But we’re definitely focused on reopening that first week of June.”

More than 10,000 casino workers are currently out-of-work and hundreds of suppliers have been impacted in eastern Connecticut, which has seen huge spikes in unemployment numbers during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Lamont said he hoped to talk with leaders of the sovereign nations and persuade them to delay their planned partial reopenings. But he acknowledged the state could reach out to the unions representing some casino workers and the patrons as they’re driving to the casinos and warn them about the potential dangers of contracting COVID-19.

During a Thursday visit to a state park in Hebron, Lamont noted the state controls the casinos’ liquor licenses, and while the possibility of pulling those licenses is “premature,” it’s one option in the state’s toolbox that’s been suggested to him.

“I talked to my fellow governors and they feel very strongly that this should be put off,” Lamont said. “So, we’re going to work collegially, I hope, with the tribes. They want to do everything they can to keep their people safe, keep their customers safe, keep the broader community safe.”

Lamont, a former businessman, also said it could be a terrible business decision for the casinos to open up too early.

“One of two things happen,” he said. “People don’t show up because they know it’s not safe or they show up and there is an infection.”

But Butler said the casinos are taking smaller reopening steps than shopping malls, for example, which were allowed to operate at 50% capacity starting Wednesday. Their occupancy will be closer to 25% and restaurants will be limited to take-out orders.

Butler said there’s an “inherent bias” against gambling, noting comments made this week by one of Lamont’s informal medical advisors who opposed reopening casinos now and there was a predominantly older clientele that could be at a greater health risk.

“There’s an inherent bias towards gaming and what our employees look like and what our patrons look like,” he said. “It’s just like, oh, my Mod, they really don’t understand gaming and what we are. They’re stuck in these movies of what the casinos in the ‘70s looked like. And that’s just not who we are now.”

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