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.
Mohegan Sun Responds to Concerns
"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 the 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."
Gessner 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 casino 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."
Inside Mohegan Sun Casino
General Manager of Mohegan Sun Jeff Hamilton said that their safety measures start as soon as guests walk through the doors. All guests and employees are required to wear a mask at all times.
Mohegan Sun has also installed thermal temperature checks at all six of their entrances. When people walk into the building, their temperature will be checked without anyone having to stop. A security guard will watch as a thermal scanner checks temperatures. A red box will appear over anyone's head with a temperature higher than 100.2 degrees. The technology will also send an alert across the entire system. If someone registers a temperature higher than 100.2 degrees twice, they will not be allowed inside the casino.
Some of the safety procedures in place at Mohegan Sun are hard to miss. There are signs posted throughout the building that remind people to practice social distancing, "be social, be safe," and asking people to disinfect chairs, machines and table rails before they sit.
Plexiglas was installed at points of contact, like the concierge station and at all table games. Elevators are limited to four people per ride and people are asked to stand only in the corners of the elevator. Every other sink in bathrooms is blocked off.
Sky Casino is the only casino opening. The gaming floor will be at 50 percent capacity and, according to Hamilton, once the floor reaches 90 percent of that 50 percent, they will close the entrances until it becomes less crowded again. Physical distancing practices are in place on the gaming floor to include significant distancing between table games and slot machines. Some slot machines are turned off and chairs are removed in order to make sure people keep their distance.
Hamilton said that dice will be disinfected after every roller. They will be changing out cards frequently and have set up a chip cleaning device. People will be encouraged to disinfect their own machine and use hand sanitizer before sitting down to play and as they get up to leave.
"It goes back to making sure people's hands are clean when they are touching stuff," said Hamilton. "We believe that the way you combat this is making sure people are wiping down their area, we are doing the necessary cleaning with the misting and the spraying."
Mohegan Sun Unveils Casino Safety Measures
Two less visible safety features that Mohegan Sun is implementing: air handler UV lighting and air duct disinfecting.
"All of the air that is going through here is going through UV light," said Hamilton. "We have gone through extraordinary measures to make sure that the air that is filtered through our property, 100 percent out air and every bit of air that is coming through our property is going through UV light."
Tuscany, a restaurant inside of the casino, will be open for dining with proper social distancing, according to Hamilton. Several other food establishments will be open as well for takeout meals.
Mohegan Sun provided these additional details:
- The gym, pool, spa, entertainment venues, nightclubs, Seasons Buffet, spa, poker room, valet and coat check will remain closed.
- All shuttle buses will be eliminated.
- No self-service food offerings.
- The hotel will be opened with limited capacity, no turn down service. They will only be cleaning empty rooms.
- Team members will be receiving safety/CDC/disinfecting training and will be made to maintain a disinfecting log.
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.
Foxwoods Casino will be walking NBC Connecticut through their safety plans tomorrow, Friday May 22. We will share their updates on air and on our website.