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Local lawmakers ready to assist as casinos reopen

As state senators, we were given the opportunity to tour both the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes' casinos in advance of their Monday, June 1 re-opening. We came away encouraged by the safety protocols implemented at both facilities. The cautious and deliberative approaches we saw instill a great deal of confidence and inspire a sense of renewed optimism that our economy is on the road to recovery.

From temperature checks and high-quality air filtration systems, to plexiglass separation shields and sophisticated sanitation procedures, it appears that Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have checked and rechecked every box. The tribes have gone above and beyond the general standard of care that has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and instituted by similar facilities such as malls.

Moreover, with their state-of-the-art surveillance systems, the casinos are better positioned than most to enforce mask and social distancing requirements as well as contact tracing if the need arises. Considering the casinos are not allowing buses, valet parking, buffets, and bingo and the facilities will be operating at only 25% capacity, with major shows and other attractions postponed indefinitely, it would be hard to argue that the casinos should have remained closed. Extraordinary steps have been taken by both tribes at great expense to keep the public and the employees as safe as possible.

It should come as no surprise that the tribes have set the bar for safety in the face of COVID-19. Tribal members occupy positions at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun — from the executive suites to the gaming floors. While the casinos are two of the state's largest employers and taxpayers, they remain, at their core, family-run businesses. As Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council Chairman Rodney Butler noted, “This is my family going to work here.” We take comfort in knowing that the protections the tribes have put in place for the public are the same as those they would put in place for their own families.

Likewise, the stakes for the tribes couldn't be higher. Their past, present, and future are tied to the success of the casinos. Gaming has provided the venue by which the Mohegans and Mashantuckets have been able to reclaim their history and reconstitute their populations. We tend to forget how much we have appropriated their Native American culture as our own over the course of centuries. One striking example: the name "Connecticut" is derived from the Algonquin word meaning "long tidal river."

It’s unfortunate that Gov. Ned Lamont and the tribes were unable to reach a compromise that would have led to the gaming giants' reopening in full cooperation with the state. But in the last several days, there have been beginnings of a conversation going on between the governor’s office and the casinos. The governor should involve the local elected legislators to assist in these discussions. We stand ready to assist. The challenge of policy decisions that balance the health and safety needs of Connecticut residents, along with the importance of restarting our economy and helping people get back to work, is as much the responsibility of the legislature as it is for the executive branch.

It's time to respect the sovereign status of the tribes and fully support their efforts to reopen Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. We wish them the best of luck.

The four senators represent the towns of southeastern Connecticut. Sen. Heather Somers represents the 18th District, Sen. Cathy Osten the 19th District, Sen. Paul Formica the 20th District and Sen. Norm Needleman the 33rd District. Somers and Formica are Republicans, Osten and Needleman Democrats.



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