Casinos Announce Reopening
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe announced Wednesday that they will begin reopening portions of their reservations on June 1.
Portions of both Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun will reopen on that date with new safety guidelines in place, including the wearing of personal protective equipment and social distancing guidelines.
The tribes said they collaborated to create new safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic, and said that their policies are "consistent with or exceeding the State's phased guidance and safety protocols."
Concerns From the State
The casinos are on sovereign land and not subject to the governor's executive orders. Both tribes agreed to close their properties back in March, in line with business closures in Connecticut, to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday that he was very concerned about the announcement.
"I think that’s incredibly risky and it's risky for the people that work at the casinos, it’s risky for the people that go to the casinos, it’s risky for the region because you have a lot of employees who go back out through the region," he said.
Dr. Albert Ko, professor of Epidemiology and of Medicine at Yale School of Medicine who co-chairs the reopening advisory board, said the indoor nature of the space, paired with the amount of time people tend to spend at a place like a casino, are significant concerns. He also pointed out that those who work there who may have underlying conditions are at great risk.
“I can’t stress enough about how we’re concerned about that situation,” Ko said.
Lamont said he wanted to discuss the plan with tribal officials again, and was hoping to coordinate with other regional governors to come up with a safe reopening plan.
"I'm going to do everything I can to make sure we put public health first," he said.
Lamont spoke at a press conference Thursday, doubling down on his position.
“I urge them to think about the broader community as they make that decision," said Lamont.
"I think we are very comfortable with the plan that we have put together here at the casino. The tribal government asked our senior executives to go out and put a gold standard together," said James Gessner, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, told NBC Connecticut during a media tour of the facility on Thursday. "I think we are doing more than anybody in the region, especially in the casino industry. I can tell you we are doing more than any business in the State of Connecticut."
Gessner said that his team worked alongside medical professionals and the National Guard to develop their phase one reopening plan. He said that his team has discussed the risk of bringing people back into the casino and the possibility of an outbreak, but they are comfortable with reopening on June 1 as planned.
"I think that is on everybody's mind as far as, no one wants to see that happen," said Gessner. "We will monitor with all the numbers and the doctors that we are working with and our health officials. They will constantly be monitoring those things and advising us on a daily basis."
Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Rodney Butler, had a similar response.
"It is a controlled volume and that is the key. It is really controlling access, touch points, volume and making sure that we are cleaning every surface. Again, there are simple things like everyone wearing masks and the nonsmoking on the property. Those things all add up and matter," said Butler. "We feel incredibly confident that what we are doing really addresses the health concerns that Dr. Ko and others are speaking to."
Gessner and Butler also said that if an employee does not feel safe coming back for a phase one reopening, they will work with him/her to keep his/her job and bring the employee back at a later phase.
The leaders of the casinos said that they are also advising people who are at a higher risk of contracting a serious case of the coronavirus, COVID-19, to stay at home. They are also asking that people who do not live in Connecticut or Rhode Island stay away. They will not be allowing buses from out of state.
When asked if Gessner would reconsider or postpone a June 1 reopening, he said that as of right now June 1 is the date they are going to open. He added that the lines of communication are open for the governor to reach out.
"We have invited the governor and his staff to come. We have invited him to come on tours. We have not heard any response to come on that tour," said Gessner. "We hope that he takes that invite and comes down to take a look at it."
Butler said the governor was also invited to tour Foxwoods Casino Resort, but they have not heard back.
"Walk us through the science. Walk us through how a mall could be open for 50 percent capacity, but that same logic does not apply for us at 25 percent with all of the precautions we are putting in place," said Butler. "We invite the governor the medical professionals, that we have already had come down, but the ones the state is using, come down walk through, look at our plan and critique the plan. Tell us how we can make it better."
Inside Foxwoods Casino Resort
"It is going to be incredibly different. It is not the Foxwoods of old," said Rodney Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe during a media tour of Foxwoods Casino Resort Thursday.
Butler said that they will be operating the resort at 25 percent capacity. Everyone will be required to wear a mask and have their temperatures taken before entering.
Physical distancing signs and signs with reminders to disinfect are placed through the property. On the gaming floor, less than one third of slots will be in operation. Every other slot machine will be turned off and furniture pulled away to maintain proper social distancing between machines.
There will be hand sanitizing stations and wipe throughout the property that people can use to wipe down their own machines, however employees regularly clean and disinfect high-touch areas.
Photos: Inside Foxwoods Casino Resort Ahead of June 1 Reopening
Plexiglass partitions are set up across the resort at all transaction points including the concierge and hotel check-in counter. There will also be plexiglass partitions in place at table games. Chips will be sanitized nightly. Dice will be cleaned after every roll and cards will be taken out of circulation every four hours, according to the leadership team at Foxwoods.
Guests will not touch cards, only the dealer. The dealer will ask all guests to use hand sanitizer when they sit down and before they leave the table. Table bars and other touchpoints will also be cleaned often.
Foxwoods shared these additional details:
- All employees entering the property should undergo a daily COVID 10 checklist questionnaire as suggested by the CDC.
- Initially, restaurant outlets will be limited to take out. The Rainmaker Buffet will be closed.
- No spa or gym facilities will be open until permitted by the CDC.
- Entertainment and the nightclub will resume when it is determined safe to do so.
- Phase one of the reopening will extend to the Grand Pequot and Great Cedar casino floors, the Grand Pequot Hotel, Tanger Outlets, and select food and beverage venues.
- Grand Pequot Hotel will only open a limited number of hotel rooms, and will begin taking new reservations starting Monday, June 8, 2020. Additional parts of the property will reopen as authorized by the Tribal Council.
- The poker room and bingo room will be closed until further notice.
Financial Impact on Casinos
In a joint press release from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe, Rodney Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation wrote, “We are proud to partner with the Mohegan Tribe to ensure we develop the most responsible plan for helping the state of Connecticut recover swiftly and safely from the crippling economic impact of this pandemic."
When asked about the financial impact to Mohegan Sun on Thursday, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe James Gessner did not share specific numbers, but said, "I can tell you, obviously it has been tough and it has been very expensive for us. To reopen is obviously a big thing on our mind financially, but it is just something that is important to us to get back open so we can continue to pay our employees and provide health benefits and stuff like that.
We also toured Mohegan Sun's property. You can see what it will look like here.