Three of Gov. Ned Lamont’s top agency leaders on Wednesday got first-hand looks at the preparations for a partial reopening at Foxwoods Resort Casino on June 1.

While the trio of commissioners was non-committal toward the early reopening and declined comment, Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, took the visit as a positive sign in the tribe’s nearly 30-year relationship with Connecticut.

“There’s definitely a conversation going on,” Butler said later in the afternoon, following the inspection by the leaders of the Department of Public Health, the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Consumer Protection.

Butler said that shopping malls, which were allowed to reopen last week at 50 percent of capacity, do not have the health monitoring controls and sanitation procedures that the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans have planned.

Butler said 1,000 workers, mostly from Southeastern portions of the state where unemployment rates have skyrocketed over 30 percent, have recently gone back to work at Foxwoods for training in the new protocols.

“We feel we’ve put the right safeguards in place,” Butler said. “I have tribal elders working at Foxwoods. This is my family going to work here.”

The three agency heads visited the Mohegan Sun on Tuesday as part of the administration’s assessment of the tribes’ plans to reopen ahead of the June 20 target date for the Phase 2 economic restart set by Lamont, who seemed to back away this week from a confrontation with the tribes, which are sovereign nations.

“If they decide to go ahead on June 1 and not take any of our suggestions in terms of doing it on a more-safe basis, I would warn people about that situation because a big, large congregate setting that attracts older people from all over the region is not good unless it’s done right,” Lamont said Tuesday, after his commissioners visited the Mohegan Sun. “And right now we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it’s done right. We’re trying to work this together. Even a couple weeks makes a world of difference.”

Any feedback from the commissioners will be welcomed, Butler said, but his team has studied best practices around the country, including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have implemented an abundance of safety measures that fit within the state, CDC, and industry guidelines,” Butler said.

Butler noted that early in the coronavirus pandemic and well before the closure of non-essential businesses, Foxwoods stopped accepting busloads of visitors. The reopened resort will continue to prohibit buses, will have only partial hotel occupancy and no buffets or bingo, which was the Mashantucket Pequots’ first business venture back in 1986. It added table games in 1992 and slot machines a year later.

The state receives 25 percent of the betting handle on slot machines, which has declined in recent years to about $265 million between the two casinos.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, a major legislative supporter of the casinos who was among state and local lawmakers who participated in tours of Mohegan Sun on Tuesday and Foxwoods on Wednesday, said in a phone interview that she’s convinced that the two attractions are ready to reopen, stressing that at 25 to 30 percent of capacity, it will be essentially a slow-motion event over time.

“I am satisfied that there will be people who come back to the safe environment that will be provided the two tribal nations and their casinos,” Osten said. She doubts they can regain their prepandemic business for another year to a year-and-a-half.

“I think that we’ve got to start getting some businesses back, bring back the local vendors, bring in some taxes,” Osten said.

State Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, D-Bethel, a member of the General Assembly’s Public Safety and Security Committee, which oversees Connecticut’s gambling programs, said after his tour of Foxwoods on Wednesday that both sides want to do the right thing.

“The governor is right to push for every precaution and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler is right in prioritizing reopening the casino, which employs thousands of our neighbors,” Allie-Brennan said. “I was able to see firsthand today Foxwoods’ comprehensive safety measures being put in place to protect staff and guests. I’m hopeful that the tribes and the Governor can work together to ensure the health and safety of Connecticut residents.”

He stressed that the issues aren’t simple.

“These are the types of public policy decisions that we are confronted with during this pandemic,” Allie-Brennan said. “The challenge is in balancing the health and safety needs of Connecticut residents, with the importance of restarting our economy and helping our people get back to work.”

Connecticut Media Group