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Susan Haigh and Pat Eaton-Robb

Associated Press

HEBRON, Conn. (AP) — Plans to partially reopen Foxwoods Resort Casino on June 1 are still moving ahead despite opposition from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, the chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said Thursday.

Chairman Rodney Butler told The Associated Press in an interview that Lamont is welcome to tour Foxwoods and see firsthand the safety precautions being taken to prevent spread of the coronavirus, ranging from fewer open slot machines to air filitration systems. But he said Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have been working with experts and following federal and industry safety guidelines to begin reopening parts of the resorts in two weeks.

"We'll modify it. If they point out opportunities that we've missed on being safe from a health perspective, if they think that there's something that we're doing in operations that we can do for the better, we're certainly open to those conversations," Butler said. "But we're definitely focused on reopening that first week of June."

More than 10,000 casino workers are currently out-of-work and hundreds of suppliers have been impacted in eastern Connecticut, which has seen huge spikes in unemployment numbers during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Lamont said he hoped to talk with leaders of the sovereign nations and persuade them to delay their planned partial reopenings, but acknowledged the state might have to reach out to unions representing some casino workers, as well as patrons driving to the casinos, and warn them about the potential health dangers.

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On Thursday, Lamont noted the state controls the casinos' liquor licenses, and while the possibility of pulling those licenses is "premature," it's one option in the state's toolbox that's been suggested to him. 

"I talked to my fellow governors and they feel very strongly that this should be put off," Lamont said, referring to reopening casinos. "So, we're going to work collegially, I hope, with the tribes. They want to do everything they can to keep their people safe, keep their customers safe, keep the broader community safe."

Lamont, a former businessman, also said it could be a terrible business decision for the casinos to open up too early. 

"One of two things happen," he said. "People don't show up because they know it's not safe or they show up and there is an infection."

But Butler said the casinos are taking smaller reopening steps than shopping malls, which were allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity starting Wednesday. Their occupancy will be closer to 25 percent and restaurants will be limited to take-out orders. 

Butler takes issue with one of Lamont's informal medical advisors who opposes reopening casinos now and warned this week there's a predominantly older clientele that could be at a greater health risk.

"There's an inherent bias towards gaming and what our employees look like and what our patrons look like," Butler said. "It's just like, oh, my god, they really don't understand gaming and what we are. They're stuck in these movies of what the casinos in the '70s looked like. And that's just not who we are now."