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Lamont commissioner seeks details of casino reopening plans

In an apparent escalation of the rift between Gov. Ned Lamont and the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, Lamont’s consumer protection commissioner this week asked the tribes for details of their plans to reopen Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, “respectfully but formally” requiring them to “cooperate with the state.”

The tribes indicated Friday that they’re responding, noting that they’ve previously shared their reopening plans with state officials.

The tribes had jointly announced Wednesday that they intend to reopen their casinos June 1, a date Lamont has said is too soon. The casinos have been closed since March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In separate letters to the tribes’ leaders, Michelle Seagull, commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection, wrote Thursday that the governor has issued executive orders “intended to protect health and safety during the pandemic” and citing a provision of the tribes’ gaming agreements, or compacts, with the state.

A compact section titled “Application of State regulatory standards,” says “health and safety standards applicable to the gaming facilities shall be no less rigorous than standards generally imposed by the laws and regulations of the State relating to public facilities ... The State gaming agency may require the Tribe to cooperate with any State agency generally responsible for enforcement of such health and safety standards in order to assure compliance with such standards.”

The Department of Consumer Protection’s Gaming Division oversees the state’s regulation of the casinos, including the granting of casino liquor licenses.

In general, however, the tribes — sovereign nations whose casinos are located on federal trust land — are not bound by state law.

Seagull asked that by Friday the tribes provide details of their reopening plans and their plans “to protect the health and safety of people working at and patronizing the tribal casinos and all related enterprises.”

Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket chairman, said in a statement that the chairman of the Mashantucket gaming commission responded to Seagull’s letter, offering to sit down with state officials “to share our thorough policies and protocols for the approaching re-opening and hear their feedback, which is consistent with the cooperation between MPTN (Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation) and the State as called for in our gaming compact.”

“We look forward to discussions that demonstrate how Foxwoods' plans place the highest priority on guest and employee health and safety in connection with the re-opening,” Butler said. “We are also inviting them to tour our facility next week for a firsthand look at our efforts.”

He said the tribe originally invited Lamont to Foxwoods weeks ago.

“We have received correspondence from the state and will respond officially to the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection,” said Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegan chief of staff. “The Mohegan Tribe offered as early as April to be a resource to the state during this pandemic and have shared our reopening plans with them on multiple occasions beginning in early May.”

The first phase of Lamont’s plan to reopen nonessential businesses commenced Wednesday, with restaurants able to provide outside dining, and retail businesses, offices and some attractions allowed to operate at half-capacity. Large indoor facilities won’t be allowed to reopen until the third phase of the plan, which is scheduled to begin in late July.

Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have hosted media tours this week to showcase new safety features.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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