Foxwoods poised for reopening as governor softens stance
Mashantucket — When Foxwoods Resort Casino reopens Monday, the wonder of it all may be how much is still closed.
Only two of its five gaming areas — the Grand Pequot and Great Cedar casinos — and fewer than half the rooms in one of its three hotels — the 800-room Grand Pequot Tower — will be open. The Bingo Hall, the buffet and many of the shops in the Tanger Outlets indoor mall will remain shut. So will the theaters and spas, not to mention every other position or so at the slot machines and gaming tables.
Seven of the sprawling property’s 42 food-and-beverage outlets, ranging from Subway to David Burke Prime, will be open, though only to serve takeout — and no alcohol.
In fact, the only place booze will be served is from the Spin Bar in the Grand Pequot Casino, which, as always, will dispense it free to gamblers as well as for a price to nongamblers, according to Jason Guyot, Foxwoods’ interim chief executive officer and senior vice president of resort operations.
Guyot, pressed into service as interim CEO after John James abruptly departed in April, about a month into Foxwoods’ coronavirus-induced shutdown, joined Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket Pequot tribal chairman, in leading a tour Thursday of the new Foxwoods.
“We’re prepared to open Monday,” Guyot, a tribal member, asserted. Foxwoods, he said, is not waiting on a high sign from the governor.
Earlier Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont’s resistance to the casino's plans seemed to be waning. After days of urging the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans to push back their reopenings of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the governor dispatched lieutenants to each of the casinos the previous two days.
“We’ve gone out and visited both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun,” he said at a mid-morning news conference in Hartford. “Our health care team looked at some of the protocols they’ve put in place and we’ve given them, in written form, some very specific suggestions that we think could potentially save lives and up the health care protocols a lot.”
“I saluted them,” he said of the sovereign tribes, noting they voluntarily closed just as the coronavirus was threatening to spread. “Back in March, at considerable financial hit to yourselves, you did shut down those casinos. Here we are two months later, we have some of the lowest (COVID-19) infection rates not just in the state but the entire region in eastern Connecticut in part thanks to the incredible sacrifice the tribes made.”
The casinos' shutdowns are linked to highest-in-the-state unemployment rates in many towns in the region.
Lamont said he wanted the casinos to take more time to open, but short of that, “stricter protocols.”
He again raised the issue of alcohol, which he has said interferes with social distancing and requires drinkers to continually remove their face masks. He said some casinos in California were voluntarily deferring alcohol service while casinos elsewhere were capping the number of people they admit and limiting the geographic area from which they attract customers.
Both tribes say they have addressed such matters.
“In the first phase, we’re opening about a third of our property, bringing back about a third of our team,” Guyot said. “Every guest, every employee will have to wear a mask at all times. We’re limiting smoking to two designated areas, not on the gaming floors or on the concourse. Everyone is going to pass through thermal temperature scans. If your temperature’s above 100.4 degrees, you’ll be retested. If it’s still too high, you’ll be given some COVID-19 information and escorted off the property.”
More than 300 hand sanitizing stations are located throughout the casino and sanitizer flows freely at the gaming tables.
“We were one of the cleanest industries to begin with, before (COVID-19),” Butler said.
State Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who toured one of the casinos this week, responded to the Democratic governor’s remarks.
“After seeing what the tribes are doing, Governor Lamont appears to have softened his stance on casinos reopening, now saluting the tribes for closing down early on and talking about their exchange of ideas on safety precautions,” he said. “My question is this: If casinos in eastern Connecticut are going to be open on June 1 with proper protections in place, why couldn’t other smaller businesses also open at the same time, especially in that region?"
Fasano said the casinos have shown that private businesses “can set clear and strong safety precautions when given the ability and flexibility.”
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