Relationship Between Connecticut Tribes and Governor Continues Souring, Liquor Licenses Threatened

Posted on: May 28, 2020, 01:32h. 

Last updated on: May 28, 2020, 02:01h.

Connecticut tribes are moving forward with reopening their casino resorts June 1, much to the chagrin of Governor Ned Lamont (D).

Connecticut casinos Ned Lamont Feud
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont is urging the state’s two tribes to delay reopening their casinos. (Image: Cloe Poisson/CT Mirror)

Lamont and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe relations have been strained for many months. It’s not getting any better during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mashantucket Pequot’s Foxwoods and Mohegan’s namesake Mohegan Sun are both scheduled to welcome back guests on Monday. Lamont said this week he remains opposed to the tribal casinos ending their suspensions. While he cannot force them to remain closed, he does have certain powers that could impact their operations.

One such authority he possesses is to revoke or suspend their liquor licenses. Lamont confirmed he’s considering doing just that, but hopes he doesn’t have to take such action.

You’re serving drinks, you’re inside, people have to take off their masks (to drink), they’re doing a lot of lingering. It’s not necessarily conducive to social distancing,” expressed Lamont.

“If you want to open up your casino safely … I would strongly recommend let’s not do alcohol up-front,” the governor continued. During a coronavirus press briefing Tuesday, Lamont said he remains opposed to the casinos opening next week.

“June 1 is too early. I’ve said that pretty clearly,” the governor declared. “Even a couple weeks makes a world of difference. You know how long two weeks is in COVID years.”

Tribes, Governor at Odds

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are both implementing numerous health and safety measures for their reopenings. But they aren’t adhering to the governor’s calls regarding alcohol, as both casinos will begin serving booze on June 1.

They are, however, limiting capacity, reconfiguring their casino floors and restaurants to promote social distancing, and increasing cleaning protocols. Face masks are to be worn at both locations.

Indoor smoking will not initially be permitted at Mohegan Sun, while Foxwoods will allow people to light up their cigarettes inside in designated areas.

Media Spats

The tribes have grown increasingly frustrated with Lamont over the last few months. The governor and tribes failed to reach a deal to allow them to operate sports betting, and their joint satellite casino in East Windsor remains on hold. Lamont also refused an executive order to allow them to operate online casinos during the pandemic.

Now, they’re bickering with the governor over an appropriate time to reopen their casinos.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a medical official on the governor’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, said recently regarding Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, “The state should be hesitant about rushing in to opening those. I personally am very nervous about casinos. You can’t go outside, you have a high concentration of elderly people.”

The doctor added, “And the economic benefits are not large to the state, either in terms of employment or in terms of the number of GDP. But the risks to people’s health are very, very high.”

Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler called Emanuel’s remarks “profoundly offensive and uninformed.” Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun employ approximately 12,000 workers, most of whom are currently not working.

Under their gaming compacts with the state, the tribal casinos share 25 percent of their slot win with Connecticut. That figure totaled more than $433 million in 2006. In 2019: $245.5 million.