Gov. Ned Lamont wants the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos to remain closed but talks have not progressed, he said Monday.

“We had our first conversation, and let’s say it’s an ongoing conversation,” he said. “I feel strongly and my regional governors feel strongly, because I’ve talked to all of them, that it would be premature to open the casinos in the very near term.”

The governor met with unnamed officials from the tribes on Friday, days after Mohegan Sun said it was planning an imminent reopening with significant protections for customers and employees.

“Obviously they feel some urgency to get going, and our reopening committee and frankly the governors in the region just think that’s not the right way to go right now,” Lamont said.

Lamont said online gaming did not come up in the initial phone conversation. That issue has been a sticking point for years, as the tribes’ insistence that they own exclusive rights to online and sports betting has led to a stalemate.

Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff for the Mohegan Tribe, said in a statement, “Online gaming has not been a part of our discussions. The focus has been on how each of our governments is planning our phased openings.”

The casinos, operated by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan sovereign nations, said last week that they did not anticipate reopening until after Memorial Day, and that they did not have plans to reopen on specific dates.

“We’ve been hard at work for many weeks putting extraordinary measures in place that will protect our employees and our visitors once we reopen,” James Gessner, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, said Monday in a written statement. He pointed to “enormous investments in cutting-edge technology” and “new safety guidelines and practices” developed with experts.

“While we undertake those preparations, we also continue to engage in ongoing communication with the State of Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequot Nation, and other tribes in the region and nation,” Gessner said. “In those meetings we are sharing updates on our progress and thinking about when we will make a decision to reopen. Suffice to say, reopening will not happen until we achieve the highest possible levels of safety and preparation. At this time we have not announced any firm dates to open.”

Lamont said last week that even a June opening would be too soon, let alone reopening in May.

Two state senators and nine representatives from the southeastern part of the state wrote to the governor last week calling the continued closure of the casinos “untenable,” citing widespread economic impact in the southeastern part of the state. “Stores, restaurants, hotels, museums and more are all heavily reliant upon the casinos for their own prosperity. So, too, are municipalities around the state” that receive money from the casinos’ revenue, they wrote.

The legislators called on Lamont to “personally engage with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes to determine how the State can best assist the Tribes, support laid-off employees and foster a platform for reopening Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun as soon as possible.” They also asked for an executive order authorizing the tribes to operate online gaming and sports betting.

Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Norwich, the two tribes’ most vocal backer in the General Assembly, criticized Lamont’s lack of movement on the issue, especially on the prospect of online gaming, which could help the tribes recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

“I have not seen a plan that he has that would in any way deal with the stalemate with the tribal nations,” she said.

Osten, who in January proposed a plan that would increase the amount of gaming revenue provided to cities and towns in exchange for giving the tribes rights to run online gambling, said Monday that “if he cares about the eastern Connecticut economy, he needs to go ahead with it.”

At a press briefing last week, Lamont rejected the suggestion of an executive order to authorize that. “No, I think that’s going to take a little more discussion right now,” he said. “There are a lot of players involved in that who have strong feelings and I would like to see this get done in a way that saves us from endless litigation.”

Osten pointed to lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Connecticut Citizens Defense League over other actions Lamont has taken during the pandemic, and called his fears of a lawsuit over online gaming “an excuse.”

“The governor has not done anything for eastern Connecticut to get beyond this time frame,” she said.

Connecticut Media Group