MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) — Electronic signs warned travelers to two of the world's largest casinos about COVID-19 on Monday, the first day they partially reopened to the general public over the governor's objections.
Four portable signs installed by the state Department of Transportation near Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun flashed “Avoid Large Crowds, Don't Gamble With COVID” as cars — many with Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York license plates — passed by.
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont had asked the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, owners of the Foxwoods Resort Casino, and the Mohegan Tribe, owners of Mohegan Sun, to delay their reopenings, to no avail.
Both casinos, which have been hit hard economically by the pandemic, reopened some areas over the weekend to invited patrons.
“We tried to put some good, strong advice in place as people are on their way to taking a gamble,” said Lamont, who acknowledged he “wasn't happy” about the tribes' decision to push ahead with their partial reopening plans.
Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, conceded the signs were “kind of catchy" and credited Lamont with not taking stronger action. At one point, the governor, who has limited power when it comes to sovereign nations, suggested pulling the casinos' liquor licenses.
“All in, when you think about everything that we were talking about, between he and I and the Mohegans, I think he really did a great job in managing the situation, all things considered. There was a lot of pressure for him to do things that were a little bit more aggressive," said Butler.
He said he believes Lamont “got comfortable” with the safety steps the tribes were taking after having his commissioners walk through the properties and hearing from state legislators, who also received tours.
Butler said the tribes implemented some of the recommendations made by Lamont's team, including more signs warning people 65 years and older, and patrons with preexsiting conditions, of the dangers of the coronavirus. Foxwoods also swapped out two remote indoor smoking areas with an outdoor space.
Over the weekend, about 200 invited players turned out each day at Foxwoods. Butler said a couple players who didn't want to wear masks were asked to leave the property.
He said over 1,000 visitors had visited Foxwoods by midday on Monday, about what had been anticipated. He said there was a line of cars 50 deep on the state road leading to Foxwoods, early Monday morning.
Chef Bruiser was one of them. He left his home in New Jersey at 7 a.m. to visit both casinos. He was one of the first people to enter Mohegan Sun when the doors opened to the public at 9 a.m. After spending about an hour-and-a-half there, he planned to try his hand at Foxwoods after buying coffee at a local Dunkin Donuts. He saw the state's signs, but wasn't fazed by the warnings.
“I'm not worried because I'm doing social distancing,” he said. “The secret is boost your immune system.”
Jeffrey Bowen, a real estate broker from Chelsea, Massachusetts, was among the first patrons to walk through the doors at 9 a.m. at Foxwoods. Bowen, who owns another home near the casino, also downplayed the state's warnings.
“Let's face it. We live in the United States of America. Our Bill of Rights have been taken away. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," said Bowen, who believes steps can be taken to make sure people are safe from the virus while still providing freedom for enjoyment.
On Monday morning, Bowen said he saw only about 40 to 100 other people walking around the sprawling complex, which still remains partly shuttered. He doesn't expect there will be large crowds until all the gambling and amenities reopen.
“Let's face it, no one is going to touch chips anymore. Then you have to stand so far apart at the dice table, only a maximum of three people per table,” said Bowen, who said he likely won't return to Foxwoods until the shows, spa, hotels, and poker tables reopen. It remains unclear when that will happen. Lamont's office plans to keep in touch with the casinos on a weekly basis about their ongoing reopening plans.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, or death.
In other coronavirus news in Connecticut:
NURSING HOME WORKERS
Lamont plans to sign an executive order that requires all nursing home staff and assisted living staff in Connecticut to be tested weekly for COVID-19, phased in over this month. Some of the long-term care facilities have already begun to perform such testing.
“We will be among the first to require that now on a weekly basis, given that that is really going to be so critical to protecting our most vulnerable citizens going forward,” said Josh Geballe, Lamont's chief operating officer.
Required testing of staff comes after test kits have now been delivered to every nursing home in the state in order to test all of the residents, Lamont said. More than half of Connecticut's COVID-associated deaths — 3,964 as of Monday — are nursing home residents.
This story has been updated with new comment from Lamont about casinos reopening.