t appears pent up demand and lack of competition played right into the Connecticut casinos’ hands.
“People hadn’t had entertainment options for nearly three months,” said Mario Kontomerkos, president and chief executive officer of Mohegan Sun’s corporate parent, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment. “We were in the middle of places to open around the country and we got reports that a lot of casinos saw strong figures soon after they reopened. But I don’t think we anticipated this level of strength.”
In the first two weeks after its June 1 reopening, Mohegan Sun did more business at its slot machines and table games than it did in the same 14-day period the previous year, the Day reports.
Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket Pequot chairman, informed Gov. Ned Lamont and state lawmakers last week that Foxwoods already had accumulated $4 million toward the state’s monthly share of the casino’s slots revenue.
Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods had closed March 17 as the coronavirus pandemic was spreading across the state.
In a filing late last week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, MGE apprised investors that Mohegan Sun’s gaming revenue from June 1 to June 14 was up about 10% over the same two weeks in 2019. MGE also reported that Mohegan Sun’s net revenues for the first two weeks of June were down 20%, an indication that a lot of the casino, including its arena, much of its hotel and restaurant capacities and some gaming remain closed.
But there’s no mistaking that gamblers came back.
“When we started planning to reopen, we made safety an important topic, and I do think there’s a connection there,” said Kontomerkos. “Right from the beginning, we wanted to make sure we exceeded minimum standards. We went ahead with the thermal temperature checks, the UV air-handling, the use of disinfectants and making masks mandatory … I think folks are feeling safe here, and that’s why they’re coming back and coming back and telling other folks it’s safe.”
“It’s only two weeks,” Jeff Hamilton, the Mohegan Sun president and general manager, said of the early numbers. “I think some of it was there wasn’t much else to do. Usually, there are festivals, weddings, graduations and the beach in June, and much of that just wasn’t available.”
Jason Guyot, Foxwoods’ interim CEO, said he was “very pleased but not surprised” by the casino’s early returns.
“I think it’s a combination of pent up demand, and Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun being the only casinos open in the region,” he said. “That’s going to change in the next four to six weeks.”
Rhode Island’s Twin River casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton have reopened on a by-invitation-only basis, while Massachusetts’ casinos remain closed. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that Atlantic City’s nine casinos can partially reopen July 2.
Guyot said Foxwoods patrons have reacted positively to the new protocols in place at the casino. Only one person has been turned away because of a too-high temperature while “a handful” have been ejected for violating Foxwoods' “zero-tolerance” policy requiring employees and patrons to wear facemasks at all times, he said.
Butler told the governor and lawmakers that Foxwoods’ plan to mitigate health risks “has thus far proven effective.”
“Our guests have often gone above and beyond what’s required by wearing their own gloves and utilizing their own hand-sanitizing wipes in addition to wearing masks and keeping the appropriate social distance,” he wrote.
Both casinos have expanded the scope of their initial reopenings to include inside dining at restaurants, additional gaming space, more hotel capacity and the reopening of more retail outlets. Mohegan Sun has reopened its Comix comedy club, and Foxwoods has reopened its bowling alley and indoor go-kart track and is planning to show drive-in movies in a parking lot near the casino.
Guyot said Foxwoods has recalled nearly 2,000 employees, about a third of its total workforce. The casinos’ shutdowns and partial reopenings have been a major factor in the rampant unemployment in southeastern Connecticut, the highest in the state.
“It’s been heartbreaking to see the number of unemployment claims filed in the region and to know that so many of those facing job losses are members of our own extended family,” Butler wrote. “… Now is the time for bold, forward-thinking action and building on our solid structural foundation. The tribal casinos are a stable infrastructure upon which we can modernize the state’s gaming economy. We are optimistic that we can collaboratively outline a path forward that brings sports betting, iGaming, and iLottery to fruition as we emerge from this economic downturn and can easily expand on our partnership in new ways that benefit our mutual constituencies.”
It’s unclear whether lawmakers will consider gaming matters during an upcoming special legislative session.