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Lamont wants casinos to defer June 1 reopenings for two weeks

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Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday he hopes to persuade the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to push back their scheduled June 1 casino reopenings “a couple of weeks.”

Either that, he said, or have Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun open “on a safer basis,” without serving alcohol.

Lamont revealed during his daily news briefing on the coronavirus that earlier in the day he’d dispatched members of his administration to Mohegan Sun to review the steps the casino has taken to prepare for reopening. Michelle Seagull, commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection; David Lehman, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development; and Deidre Gifford, commissioner of the Department of Social Services and acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health, made the trip.

The officials are expected to visit Foxwoods later this week.

“I’m probably going to hold back,” the 66-year-old Lamont said. “A 65 and older ... I don’t think it’s appropriate to go into these big, large gatherings right now. But I’m going to get a report back and we’re going to give some constructive observations.”

Though hospitalizations are down, COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to edge up. Connecticut has had 41,303 confirmed cases as of 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, an increase of 430 from Monday. Hospitalizations decreased by 12, from 706 on Monday to 694 on Tuesday. The state saw an additional 54 associated deaths in that 24 hours, bringing the total so far to 3,769.

New London County has had 1,075 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday evening, 32 more than the day before, with 14 people hospitalized with the disease, two fewer than the day before. There have been 78 associated deaths, the same number as on Monday.

The tribes jointly announced their plans to reopen last week, saying they had previously provided the governor’s office with details of the plans and inviting him to tour their properties, which have been closed since March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were very glad to welcome members of Governor Lamont's cabinet today,” James Gessner, the Mohegan chairman, said in a statement. “They were able to see firsthand the many ways Mohegan Sun will go above and beyond protecting visitors and employees once we reopen. We'll continue to work with them in the coming days and hear their ideas. We're confident that when we open, the technology, protocols, and safety measures in place will far exceed what's available or expected in other commercial settings. As always, we remain open and cooperative partners with the State of Connecticut."

Lamont, who has maintained that June 1 is too soon for the casinos to reopen, indicated he believes he can reach an agreement with the sovereign tribes without testing whether he has the leverage to prevent them from proceeding with their current plans.

“If they go ahead on June 1 without taking any of our suggestions in terms of how to do it on a more safe basis, I would warn people about that situation,” he said. “Because it’s a big, large setting that attracts older people from all over the region. It’s not good unless it’s done right. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure it’s done right.”

He said a two-week delay in the casinos’ reopenings would “make a world of difference.”

Asked if he believes he can invoke certain provisions in the tribes’ gaming agreements, or compacts, with the state to prevent them from reopening Monday, Lamont said, “That’s not quite the way I see it.”

“They’ve been good partners for many years,” he said. “They closed down voluntarily. We thought it was the right decision. They did it. They did it at considerable financial cost to themselves. They’re eager to get open. They’ve got economic reasons for doing that, obviously, and we’re trying to work carefully with them.”

Lamont said some casinos in California have decided not to serve alcohol in the first phase of their reopenings. “Makes pretty good sense to me,” he said. “Drinks are not great for social distancing.”

He said he was “looking at” revoking the casinos’ liquor licenses but didn’t describe the circumstances that would lead him to take such action. “You’re serving drinks, you’re inside, people have to take off their masks (to drink), they’re doing a lot of lingering. It’s not necessarily conducive to social distancing. If you want to open up your casino safely, I would put that off a little bit and let’s see how we can manage this for the near term. I would strongly recommend let’s not do alcohol up front.”

Lamont was asked about how he would respond if he considered the scene at the casinos to be unsafe.

“If we have smoking and drinking and 65 years old ... you know, maybe we have some friendly reminders, the state police saying, 'Hey, this is not safe right now.’ I don’t think that’s going to happen. We’re going to work through this collaboratively," he said.

Lamont said he wants to coordinate the casinos’ reopenings with casino reopenings in neighboring states. He said Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has indicated she wants casinos to reopen in mid-June or July. Governors in New York and Massachusetts have not said when they plan to allow casinos to reopen.

A tribal operator in upstate New York, the Oneida Indian Nation, tentatively plans to reopen its Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona on June 10. It is about a two-hour drive west of Albany.


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