Connecticut tribes open to suggestions but still plan to reopen casinos
A team member adjusts the machines at the Mohegan Sun casino, Thursday, May 21, 2020, in Uncasville, Conn. Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes, Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, said they’re planning to reopen parts of their southeastern Connecticut casinos on June 1, despite Gov. Ned Lamont saying it’s too early and dangerous. MARY ALTAFFER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
HEBRON, Conn. (AP) – Plans to partially reopen Foxwoods Resort Casino on June 1 are still moving ahead despite opposition from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, the chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said May 21.
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 filtration 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 acknowledged the state might have to reach out to unions representing some casino workers, as well as patrons driving to the casinos, and warn them about the potential health dangers.
On Thursday, 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, referring to reopening casinos. “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, 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 takes issue with one of Lamont’s informal medical advisors who opposes reopening casinos now and warned this week there’s 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,” Butler said. “It’s just like, oh, my god, 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.”
In other coronavirus-related developments around Connecticut:
Newly released numbers show Connecticut lost a historic 266,300 net jobs in April, due mostly to the coronavirus pandemic. While all industries experienced signifcant declines, the leisure and hospitality, retail trade and education and health services sectors were hit the hardest, according to the Department of Labor.
Andy Condon, the agency’s director of the Office of Research, said Thursday it’s too soon to tell how many of the jobs were suspended and will return as more of the state’s economy is allowed to reopen, and how many were permanently lost.
“If you talk about on a percentage basis, the Stamford area was hit very hard. The pandemic issue there was very difficult,” Condon said. “The southeast part of the state on percentage basis was hit very hard, perhaps a little worse on a percentage basis that other parts of the state. But everyone was significantly damaged.”
While the federal government’s statistics indicate Connecticut now has a 7.9% unemployment rate, state Labor Comissioner Kurt Westby said that’s inaccurate and the figure is more likely 17.5%.
BY THE NUMBERS
Connecticut’s coronavirus infection rate continues to drop as do hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients as the state prepares for people to head outside during the Memorial Day weekend.
Lamont reported Thursday that just 191 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Thursday, bringing the total in the state to 39,208. The state’s hospitals were treating 817 patients, 71 fewer than they reported on Wednesday.
“Our infection rate was below 5%, more like 3%, that’s extraordinary good news,” Lamont said.
The state death toll, however, rose by another 53 people on Thursday to 3,582.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
The governor is urging people who plan to be outside during the Memorial Day weekend to explore some of Connecticut lesser-used parks.
Speaking at Gay City State Park in Hebron, the governor said Thurdsay he suspects the more popular parks and shoreline beaches will quickly reach capacity.
“I used to say stay home, stay safe, now I say go to a little-used park,” the governor said.
The state has set up a website to update residents on the status of parks and beaches.
Katie Dykes, the commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the state will be closing parks for the day once their parking lots reach capacity, which in some parks has been reduced to about 25% of what is was before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, CT Trails Day, which is traditionally held on the first weekend in June and features hundreds of organized group events across the state, will be a do-it-yourself event, The Connecticut Forest & Park Association is encouraging people to visit its on-line directory which features more than 200 trails to explore.