Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos have closed their doors amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Connecticut Public Radio spoke with Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.
Foxwoods has closed its doors for the first time ever. What’s that like?
Simply unimaginable. When we first opened Foxwoods 28 years ago, we originally had scheduled to close at 2 a.m. that first day. And it was a split [second] decision by the council and the management team at the time when they realized at 2 a.m. there were still hordes of people driving down Route 2, coming into the building and backed up behind every slot machine and table. So they decided, ‘You know what? We’ll call in more hands, and we’re going to keep this thing open.’ And we’ve never closed since.
But now thousands of your employees are out of work. What’s next for them?
That’s the part that just really hurts my heart. What we’ve done with closure -- we’ve allowed for our extended team members to utilize their sick and vacation time, and then they’ll migrate to unemployment. And then after that, it’s really unknown.
If this is a prolonged shutdown, do you expect that Foxwoods might ask for emergency financial help from either the state of Connecticut or the U.S. Congress?
Absolutely. And I want to make clear right now, we’re looking at it from not only a gaming perspective but from a tribal perspective. There’s requests now for tribal support.
In addition, the hospitality industry at large is pushing for legislation for casinos, hotels and airlines and the like. We’re following both of those closely. We’re also working directly with the state to see how we can navigate through this. Again, 5,000 employees that are now migrating to the state’s unemployment system.
And everyone focuses on the employees that we have here at Foxwoods and at Mohegan. What they fail to appreciate is the number of businesses that are supported indirectly. They’re going to have to shut their doors.
It’s really just mind-blowing. I don’t even have words to describe it. The trickle-down effect that that’s going to have in the regional economy and the statewide economy is absolutely devastating.
All this is coming as you’ve been in the middle of conversations with the state over the future of online gaming and sports betting in Connecticut. How does this closure intersect with that?
Well, a couple of things. First and foremost, it’s all about the health and safety of the community, our team members and the general public. The focus now is making sure we’re financially solvent moving forward and then third, and most important, is realizing that this too will end. And what are we going to do about it, to get this economy back on its feet? For us, that’s really getting some movement on the economic initiatives that we’ve been talking about, i.e., online gaming, sports betting and internet keno -- one of the few opportunities that we have immediately for the state of Connecticut to generate revenue.