Since 1992, when Foxwoods debuted, the casino had remained open, weathering “hurricanes, blizzards, power outages … the  financial crisis…” Rodney Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, told ABC’s Nightline. That is until March 17, 2020, when one of the largest gaming resorts in the nation temporarily shuttered due to COVID-19.
The toll of Foxwoods’ closure is not minor — “it’s costing us a couple of million a week just to stay closed,” Butler said.
That’s because the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, like all Tribes, doesn’t collect tax. “Nobody’s paying rent, so we have no gaming income. No lease income,” Butler said. “There’s no tax base here on the reservation.”
Meanwhile, unemployment on the Tribe’s reservation in southeastern Connecticut has risen to 99% of the population. Most residents rely on jobs affiliated with the casino, which furloughed 5,000 of its employees six weeks ago. Work-from-home is not an option for the vast majority of the jobs, which are in-person and service-based.
Foxwoods is faced with a tough decision: reopen — or continue burning a couple million dollars per week?
Foxwoods’ Strategic Reopening & Guidelines
Foxwoods is preparing to welcome patrons once again, cautiously and with strict measures in place, such as social distancing and consistent decontamination. The resort has canceled reservations through May 24, reported Casino.org, leading us to believe that’s when the casino will also reopen. Neither Foxwoods.com nor its Facebook page, populated with comments from players eager to return to their “favorite place,” list an official reopening date.
Foxwoods’ new “normal” looks like body temperature checks at the door, and ample amounts of hand sanitizer and wipes, with every other slot machine open to adhere to physical distancing.
Blackjack will rely on a large sheet of plexiglass separating the dealer from players — 3 max at a table. Cards will be swapped more frequently, and each individual chip will be cleaned on the regular.
But Foxwoods’ entertainment venue that seats 4,000 and plays host to headliners like Janet Jackson and Jerry Seinfeld will remain closed for the foreseeable future (right now that looks like cancelling shows until, tentatively, July 10), Monique Sebastian, vice president of entertainment, told ABC’s Nightline.
Presumably spearheading Foxwoods’ reopening is Jason Guyot, a Tribal Member and senior vice president of resort operations, who started acting as interim CEO after the April 14th resignation of then-CEO John James. After just eight months at Foxwoods’ helm, James stepped down in the heat of the pandemic. In a statement to employees, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said that James left effective immediately “to spend more time with his family and focus on his overall health and wellness in a time that it is critically important for all of us to do.”
Just prior to his resignation, James expressed how Foxwoods’ temporary closure due to the coronavirus was “a difficult decision for us to make, because Foxwoods has been open 28-plus years, and they never closed before. It’s very heartfelt for us…,” James said during an interview with Tino Magnatta, host of GTradio, a show that explores the life journey of the casino executive through the casino business.
On April 13th, James commented on Magnatta’s LinkedIn post featuring the video interview: “These difficult times will not last. Our industry is loaded with the finest and most passionate people willing to sacrifice to make it bigger, better, faster, stronger and smarter in all that we do to rebound from this challenge. It will make us better.”