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An eerie silence falls over the casinos

When it comes to shutting down their casinos, Connecticut's gaming tribes sure mean business.

I couldn't help but think Wednesday morning, looking at the makeshift barricades at all roads leading into the sprawling Foxwoods Resort Casino, what a difference a day makes.

It is hard to imagine, looking down the empty roads, across deserted parking lots and into all the multi-level parking garages with no cars, that this vast resort, which on a good day welcomed tens of thousands of visitors, putting them up in thousands of hotel rooms, has gone suddenly dark.

The last bets were placed Tuesday night before an 8 p.m. closing. And then everyone left.

It is, after all, a city of sorts where no one actually lives. As the big sign boards at each entrance now boldly announce: Closed.

"Strange, huh?" offered a state Department of Transportation truck driver, who, like me, had pulled over to the side of the road, at the barricades, to look across the strangely empty Grand Pequot tower entrance, where the lines of cars would be five deep on a normal day.

There were no cars passing us on Route 2, either. I imagine this was what a post-accident Chernobyl felt like.

I couldn't help but recall the day Foxwoods opened in 1992, a cold Saturday in February, when the original 1,700-car parking lot quickly filled up and customers abandoned their cars alongside surrounding cornfields and made their way to the first legal East Coast casino outside Atlantic City.

Some 2,500 people passed through the doors the first hour. More than 15,000 visited that day.

I caught up that morning with Al Luciani, the casino's first president, while he was eating lunch in his office with some top managers, all ebullient. The television in the office was showing a video feed from the count room, where the money, cash, was literally pouring in.

Luciani joked that the crowds of people who had walked across muddy fields to get there were ruining the new carpets.

Foxwoods was supposed to close that night. It never did, until this week, when the coronavirus brought it all, for the first time in 28 years, to a hard stop.

The scene at Mohegan Sun on Wednesday morning was the same: big "closed" signs, long empty roads and parking lots, no cars anywhere.

From the crest of a hill at Mohegan Sun, you can see across the Thames River at what's left of the derelict buildings of the former campus of the long-abandoned state psychiatric facility, Norwich Hospital. 

The casino complexes are instantly almost as eerie.

Strange, huh?

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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