Connecticut Tribes, Gov Lamont Clash Over Casino Reopenings

Posted on: May 20, 2020, 07:15h. 

Last updated on: May 20, 2020, 10:18h.

Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans, are itching to reopen their casino doors as soon as possible. Despite promises of “extraordinary measures” to protect employers and customers, the state’s Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont does not share their enthusiasm.

Connecticut casinos reopening
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is not on the same page as the tribes when it comes to casino openings. (Connecticut Public Radio)

On Monday, Lamont told reporters at his daily press briefing that he had met on Friday with officials representing the two casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, and they had agreed to differ.

“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.

“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.

Situation ‘Untenable’

The two properties in southeast Connecticut are the only casinos in the state, and the tribes hold the monopoly on casino gaming. But they’ve been shuttered since March 16 as part of the effort to contain the coronavirus.

A group of lawmakers representing southeast Connecticut wrote to Lamont last week, asking him to assist with the reopening of the casinos, which are among the biggest employers in the region. They said the economic situation in the region was “untenable.”

Meanwhile, Mohegan Chairman James Gessner said in a written statement Monday that the tribe had made “enormous investments in cutting edge technology, as well as new safety guidelines and practices, all of which is based on the recommendations from experts nationally and around the globe.”

“Suffice to say,” he added, “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.”

Lockdown Easing Wednesday

As of Tuesday, Connecticut had 38,430 confirmed coronavirus cases and 3,472 deaths. But with the virus appearing to have peaked in mid-April, the state is now beginning to ease restrictions, with restaurants, malls, and some outdoor activities returning Wednesday.

But casinos remain a bridge too for Lamont, who said last week that he could not foresee the two properties opening this or even next month.

The governor has no legal power to force sovereign tribal governments to keep the casinos closed, because they’re located on reservations, which are removed from the jurisdiction of the state.

But were the tribes to reopen their properties without the governor’s blessing, it could jeopardize years of goodwill between tribal and state governments.

Sooner or later, they may feel they have little choice but to do so.