Connecticut: Tribes Plan To Partly Open Casinos; Gov. Lamont Opposes The Move

Foxwoods Casino Debt
AP Photo / Jessica Hill, File
– Foxwoods Casino

Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes on Wednesday announced plans to begin reopening portions of their sprawling Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun attractions on June 1, despite calls from Gov. Ned Lamont to remain shuttered to prevent another wave of infections from the coronavirus.
The Democratic governor said it’s “too early and dangerous” to reopen the casinos and hopes to persuade the sovereign nations to hold off in order to protect their employees, patrons and the greater community. But when pressed, Lamont said Connecticut has “a number of options,” including talking to unions that represent some of the casino workers about the potential dangers and warning casino patrons.
“We could always advise people driving into the casinos, ‘Hey, do you know that the governor has said this is not safe? Especially if you’re over 65. He has said stay safe, stay at home.’ These are the type of warnings I think I’m obligated to tell people before they take part in risky behavior.”
Responding to Lamont’s remarks, Mohegan Tribal Chairman James Gessner said the tribes’ plan makes it clear they’ll advise older customers to take specific precautions and to stay home if they are part of an at-risk group.
Under the state’s reopening plans, large venues would not reopen until possibly late July.
In a joint statement, the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans said they’ve collaborated on new safety protocols and operating procedures to mitigate risks, such as infrared temperature scanners, ongoing disinfection, required face masks and the replacement of dice, tiles and cards used in table games. The tribes said their policies are consistent with or exceed the state’s rules.
Neither property plans to immediately open concert venues, buffets or poker rooms. Tenant restaurants will only be open for take-out. Also, no out-of-state buses will be accepted and the casinos will only market to Connecticut and Rhode Island residents.
Late Tuesday, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler bristled at comments made by an informal advisor to Lamont who expressed concern about reopening casinos and suggested the state focus on “employment, economic impact and reduced public health impact” when deciding the “sweet spot” for what to reopen.
Butler said that “one need only look at the tragic map depicting the disproportionate share of unemployed in eastern and southeastern Connecticut” to understand the economic impact of closing the two casinos, which employ more than 10,000 people.
“We, too, have the best and brightest advising us on how to safely and responsibly restart our facilities,” he said. “To suggest otherwise conveys a level of disrespect that is insulting.”
In other coronavirus-related developments around Connecticut:
The state kicked off its phased reopening of its economy Wednesday, with restaurants allowed to serve at outdoor tables and malls welcoming masked customers amid strict guidelines.
While some communities worried Connecticut might be rushing into reopening, some, including Cromwell’s town council, complained the state was not moving fast enough. The body voted unanimously Tuesday night to draft a resolution asking Lamont to allow all businesses in town to open immediately.
Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo said he believes most people are looking forward to getting back at least a little sense of normalcy.
“It’s not just, ’Let’s reopen and flip the switch,'” he said. “But business owners are itching to open up and I think people are itching to get out and grab something to eat outside and maybe buy something from a vendor.”
The second phase of reopening is expected to begin around June 20. That’s when hotels, gyms, fitness clubs, outdoor arts and entertainment events, movie theaters, bowling alleys, social clubs, pools, outdoor amusement parks, indoor restaurant seating and all personal services be allowed to restart. The third phase could occur at least three weeks later, with bars, indoor event spaces and venues, indoor amusement parks and arcades and outdoor events with up to 100 people reopening.
As of Wednesday, there have been nearly 40,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and 3,529 COVID-19-associated deaths in Connecticut.
Corrections officers, nurses and other prison workers say not enough is being done to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside those facilities.
During a video news conference, unionized workers described a tense atmosphere inside the prisons in which inmates are blaming staff for bringing the coronavirus into the system.
They also said cleaning is inadequate, temperature checks are often inaccurate, too few inmates are wearing masks, social distancing is not being enforced in many locations and is not possible in settings such as dormitories.
“These inmates are still allowed to congregate, play basketball games, shower with each other. There’s no way these guys are being kept separate at all,” said Sean Howard, a corrections officer at the Cheshire Correctional Institution.
Lindsay Petralito, a medical records clerk at the Hartford Correctional Center, said much of her work could be done at home, but the department has not given clerical staff that option.
The Department of Correction said it has been working collaboratively with the unions to provide adequate protective equipment and has hired additional staff, including heath care workers.
“I hear, understand and share the unions’ frustrations, and I am doing everything within my power to address them,” said Commissioner Rollin Cook. “However, we are operating during an unprecedented crisis, and collaboration is vital.”
As of Wednesday, 684 inmates 373 staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Six inmates have died.
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.
Lamont signed an executive order Wednesday allowing all eligible, registered voters to vote absentee in the August 11 primary, citing concerns about voters becoming infected with the coronavirus. State law only authorizes the use of an absentee ballot for limited reasons. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said polling places will still open that day.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced swimming will be allowed at state beaches on the shoreline when they reopen Friday, but swimming areas at inland state parks will be closed. Officials cited the limited size of the beach and swim areas at inland parks and social distancing rules.
Visitors to shoreline beaches must keep their blanket and chair areas a minimum of 15 feet from other beachgoers, allowing for a 6-foot radius around each person and a 3-foot walkway between groups.
Campgrounds will remain closed until at least June 11.