Lamont, tribes reach agreement on casino closings

Shortly after announcing that 15 more coronavirus cases had upped Connecticut's total to 41, Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday night the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes had agreed to close Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, the resort casinos located on sovereign reservation lands in southeastern Connecticut.

Earlier in the day, Lamont joined Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Phil Murphy of New Jersey in announcing that restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms in their states would be required to close at 8 p.m. Monday until further notice.

From that point on, the governors said, restaurants and bars that serve food would be required to move to takeout and delivery services only.

The casinos will close at 8 p.m. Tuesday for a two-week period, the governor's office said. Neither casino had closed since opening, Foxwoods in 1992 and Mohegan Sun in 1996.

"This is an important cooperative agreement between sovereign nations and the State of Connecticut," Lamont said in a statement. "We all share the same goal toward ensuring our residents are safe and keeping public health at the top of our minds during this public health emergency. I applaud the tribes for their collaboration and partnership."

Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler said the decision to close Foxwoods to the public was the right thing to do.

"This is a humbling reflection on the ongoing public health crisis and it is the right decision," Butler said. "Our concern is for health and safety of the community and of the public. The coronavirus is a threat to each and every one of us, and we believe shutting our doors will keep our visitors, employees and the public more safe."

"Connecticut and our respective tribes have worked collaboratively for decades and this moment in our history is no different," James Gessner, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, said.

The additional coronavirus cases in the state include 13 in Fairfield County, one in Hartford County and one in New Haven County. Fairfield County has 29 of the total cases, and Hartford, Litchfield and New Haven counties each have four.

Lamont and Cuomo, whose state also has tribal casinos, acknowledged that due to federally recognized tribes' sovereign status, they could not force them to close.

"We're urging the tribes in the strongest possible way that they ought to be closing down their casinos. We understand there are legal and jurisdictional issues, but we hope they'll do the right thing," Lamont said during the governors' joint press call Monday morning.

Mohegan Sun responded in the afternoon, saying in a statement that the governor's office and the Mohegan Tribal Council were in discussions. The Mashantuckets also said they were communicating with the governor's office while giving no initial indication they planned to close Foxwoods.

New York and New Jersey are closing their commercial casinos, and off-track betting facilities in Connecticut closed at 5 p.m. Monday.

Sportech Venues, Connecticut's OTB operator, said it was closing its Winners and Bobby V's Restaurant & Sports Bar venues through at least the end of the month.

"We are not aware of any employees or guests having tested positive, however, we have decided this in the interests of the health and well-being of our staff, our customers, and the communities we operate in across Connecticut," Ted Taylor, the Sportech Venues president, said in a statement.

Sportech's online site remains available as does its telephone betting operation.

Dan Meiser, who owns the Engine Room, Grass & Bone and Oyster Club restaurants in Mystic, said he and his partners made the decision Sunday afternoon to close the Oyster Club and to only provide takeout from Grass & Bone and Engine Room. On Thursday, both restaurants will be offering delivery through the website Grubhub.

Meiser, who is chairman of the board of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said Lamont's decision "was the right move, no question."

He said the association has been in daily contact with the governor's office, "who've been keeping us in the loop and consulting with us every step of the way."

"In a situation like this we've got to see the long term. If we're able to hunker down for a couple of weeks then hopefully we can get a sense of normalcy sooner rather than later," Meiser said.

He said his management and human resources departments are helping hourly employees at the restaurant go through the process of getting unemployment benefits from the state to make up for anticipated loss in income. He said that like many owners of other establishments, he is encouraging customers to buy gift certificates to use "once the dust settles," and that 50% of all gift card sales from his restaurants will be put into a fund and distributed to hourly employees to offset their lost income.

Meiser said he and his business partners have decided not to take a paycheck until their staff is back working a full-time schedule.

The three governors, who have worked jointly on other issues, said they believed their states were the first region in the country to take this approach in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Lamont, pointing to the large number of those infected with the virus in New Rochelle, N.Y., and Westchester County that "came right through to Fairfield," said "this is a virus that knows no borders."

"We have to work together on a united basis, to send a message, to give people a sense of urgency that we're doing what we can," Lamont said.

All three states are also limiting social and recreational gatherings to 50 people, a recommendation made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The ban on gyms also includes fitness centers and similar public workout facilities and studios. Supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies will remain open, the governors said.

The governors called on the federal government to do more, such as dispatching the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary health care capacity. All three governors said they do not have enough hospital beds in their states to treat the large number of people who are expected to contract the virus.

"The federal government should set up a uniform set of rules. Absent that, regional coordination, at a minimum, is imperative," Cuomo said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

j.bergman@theday.com

 

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