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Despite state warning, thousands try their luck at reopened casinos

Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun reopened as planned Monday morning, admitting the general public for the first time since shutting down 11 weeks ago as COVID-19 storm clouds gathered.

“Our plan is to never close again,” Jeff Hamilton, Mohegan Sun’s president and general manager, said late in the afternoon.

Patrons were waiting in line outside a Foxwoods entrance well before the casino’s 9 a.m. reopening, and by 3 p.m., about 2,500 people had “cycled through,” according to Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods.

By mid-morning, vehicles in both casinos’ parking lots sported out-of-state license plates.

Gov. Ned Lamont, concerned about public health issues surrounding the reopenings, had made sure motorists headed to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun would get the message, directing the state Department of Transportation to place four electronic billboards along Routes 2 and 32 in the vicinity of the casinos.

“DON’T GAMBLE w/COVID,” “DON’T GAMBLE w/HEALTH,” and “AVOID LARGE GATHERINGS,” the signs said.

The DOT moved the signs into place Sunday and activated them Monday, Butler said.

Each of the two Route 2 signs are within a mile of Foxwoods, one east of the casino in North Stonington and one west of the casino in Preston. The Route 32 signs flank the entrance to Sandy Desert Road in Montville, near Mohegan Sun.

“I wanted to be fairly strict,” Lamont said during an afternoon press briefing on the state’s coronavirus response. “We tried to put some good strong advice in place as people are on their way to taking a gamble.”

Paul Mounds, the governor’s chief of staff, said Lamont had called the chairmen of the casino-owning tribes on Friday to discuss details of their reopening plans and recommend changes. In the days before that, members of Lamont’s administration had toured the casinos.

Mounds said the administration would continue to discuss the reopenings with the tribes on a weekly basis. He was asked if the electronic billboards would remain in place indefinitely.

“As of right now, they are up,” he said.

Both Butler and Hamilton took the signs in stride, relieved the governor didn’t take stronger action.

“When you think of all the things he could have done, putting up signs wasn’t such a bad thing,” Butler said. “There was talk about state police blocking the road, pulling liquor licenses. … When his (Lamont’s) team walked through, the larger threats got pulled off the table.”

Butler said Foxwoods’ signage regarding COVID-19 risks and the steps the casino has taken to minimize them far exceed the state’s requirements.

“Do I wish he (Lamont) hadn’t put the signs up?” Hamilton asked. “Yes. But I’m happy we came to a place where we were both comfortable enough to get on with it and do something about the unemployment in the region.”

Mohegan Sun, which opened at 8 a.m. Monday, posted sandwich-board signs bearing COVID-19 warnings inside its entrances.

“Mohegan Sun has implemented new health and safety measures for your protection due to a contagious virus that causes COVID-19, a potentially fatal disease,” the signs said. “The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that older adults and people who have serious underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for COVID-19. There is always an inherent risk of COVID-19 exposure at any public location. By visiting Mohegan Sun you voluntarily assume the risks related to COVID-19.”

The advisory recommends that those over the age of 65 or under 21 refrain from visiting the property.

All employees and patrons observed in the casinos Monday morning were wearing masks.

Coronavirus data updated.

On Monday, the state began breaking down COVID-19 cases and deaths as either “confirmed” or “probable.” Previously, they had been combined. Probable cases of COVID-19 involve persons who have not had confirmed laboratory testing performed, but whose symptoms indicate they are very likely to have a COVID-19 infection. In Connecticut, most of the probable COVID-19 cases involve persons whose death certificates list COVID-19 disease or SARS-CoV2 as a cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death.

Lamont’s office reported Monday that 539 more COVID-19 cases had brought the state’s combined total to 42,770. An additional 20 deaths raised the combined toll to 3,964.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients fell by 27 to 454. The number of tests performed increased by 9,274 to 259,320.

New London County totals included 1,033 confirmed and 58 probable cases, and 66 confirmed and 23 probable deaths. Lawrence + Memorial Hospital had six COVID-19 patients and Backus Hospital three. Westerly Hospital had none.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

 

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