Published May 18. 2020 3:13PM | Updated May 18. 2020 8:14PM
By Brian Hallenbeck Day staff writer
Mohegan — Mohegan Sun, closed amid the coronavirus pandemic since March 17, developed a plan to launch a phased reopening June 1, which is too soon for Gov. Ned Lamont.
Speaking at his daily press briefing, Lamont said Monday he feels strongly it would be “premature” for the casinos — Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun — to open “in the very near term.”
“Our reopen committee and frankly the governors in the region just think that’s not the right way to go right now given the nature of the casinos — indoors, older populations, food and alcohol. It’s time to wait a little longer.”
He did not say when he thinks the casinos should open, and has previously suggested it should be later than June. The casinos, operated by sovereign tribes on land held in trust by the federal government, are not bound by the governor’s edicts.
On Friday, the same day Lamont and the chairmen of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes discussed reopening the casinos on a conference call, a Mohegan Sun official informed Mohegan Sun tenants that the casino was reopening June 1.
“Mohegan Sun is pleased to announce that the property will formally re-open to the public on Monday, June 1st with a soft opening scheduled for Saturday, May 30th, 2020,” Kimberly Doubleday, Mohegan Sun’s vice president and general counsel, wrote in a letter obtained by The Day. The letter said the casino was putting numerous restrictions in place in an effort to comply with Lamont’s rules regarding the reopening of certain businesses, a process scheduled to start Wednesday.
Mohegan Chairman James Gessner issued a statement late Monday afternoon in which he said Mohegan Sun has not yet determined a reopening date. Last week, the casino extended its shutdown through at least May 26, and Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket chairman, indicated it was unlikely Foxwoods would open before Memorial Day, which is May 25.
“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,” Gessner said. “That includes 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. 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. In those meetings we are sharing updates on our progress and thinking about when we will make a decision to reopen.
“Suffice to say,” he continued, “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.”
Doubleday’s letter says Mohegan Sun’s Casino of the Sky will open June 1 while gaming options in the Casino of the Earth will be curtailed. Restaurants will be limited to providing takeout service, and employees and patrons will be required to wear masks at all times. The Sky Hotel will open. The Earth Hotel will remain closed, as will Mohegan Sun Arena, the Wolf Den, the poker room and the Sunburst Buffet.
The letter says access to Mohegan Sun on June 1 will be limited to the Winter Entrance of the Casino of the Earth, with parking available in the Winter Garage or the Earth surface lots. Masks will be provided free at the Winter Entrance.
“Tenant restaurants may only provide take-out. There will be no dine-in option available in the initial phase,” the letter says.
Physical distancing guidelines “must be followed.”
Doubleday notes in the letter that Mohegan Sun has implemented a number of other safety measures. Everyone entering the casino will submit to a temperature scan. Every other seat at slot machines and gaming tables will be closed to maintain distancing; Plexiglas will be in place at points of contact, such as the hotel front desk and on retail countertops; floor markings will be in place wherever patrons form lines; and disinfecting wipes will be readily available in all gaming locations and entrances.
Hand-sanitizing stations will be located throughout the property. In restrooms, every other stall and sink will be disabled.