The state has announced its move to Phase 3 on Thursday, Oct. 8, but with COVID-19 numbers flaring up again around the country (and in nearby Norwich Thursday), Mohegan Sun isn’t rushing to reopen entertainment venues or all of its restaurants and bars yet.
Foxwoods, meanwhile, said Friday in an emailed statement that it’s been working on “a strategic plan to safely reopen live entertainment in our theaters and across the resort” and that it has developed a plan “considered as an industry standard aimed at mitigating safety risks to our guests, team members, and performers.”
The huge facility in Mashantucket said stay tuned for more updates on that return to live shows, starting this month with comedian Bob Marley kicking off the Grand Theater’s reopening Oct. 16.
Foxwoods said its Red Lantern and Shrine nightclub are now opening Thursday-Sunday from 5-10 p.m. with Shrine offering VIP table reservations only for its Sushi & Sounds event every Friday-Saturday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
But later Friday, Foxwoods announced that “In response to the increased COVID-19 infection rate across eastern Connecticut, Foxwoods ... will continue to operate at 25 percent capacity, as it has since reopening in June. The resort maintaining its current capacity limit is also directly related to the successful safety track record Foxwoods has seen from its existing operating plan.”
Gov. Ned Lamont has given the green light, after a previous postponement of Phase 3, for the plan that includes an increase from 50 percent to 75 percent capacity indoors — subject to COVID-19 safety requirements — for restaurants and other services such as salons. There are 47 bars and restaurants at Mohegan Sun and 54 at Foxwoods.
Phase 3 also allow indoor performing arts venues to open at 50 percent capacity with masks and social distancing requirements. But issues extend to more than every-other-row seating, such as restrooms, crowd handling, mask-wearing and concourse traffic.
Jeff Hamilton, president and GM of Mohegan Sun, said this week that officials including Mohegan sports/entertainment President Tom Cantone have been consulting with the Mohegan Tribal Health Department about a broader return to entertainment events, but it’s still being discussed. He did offer a few plans, possibilities and successes so far in an email.
“It is possible that our smaller venue, the Wolf Den, may ramp back up this fall with limited capacity though we will providing an official update at a later date,” said Hamilton. “Concerts and other public events in Mohegan Sun Arena are not likely until sometime in 2021, when it is safe to do so.”
One venue, the comedy-and-country music venue Comix Roadhouse, already is offering reduced-capacity comedy shows and country bands a few nights a week.
Hamilton said while the arena is closed to fans, “we have been really excited about the work we have done with both Bellator MMA and Showtime Boxing, as these two major fight promoters have now held multiple televised events from Mohegan Sun Arena, with great success.”
The fanless, televised fights have strict health and safety policies in place for all fighters, staff and other personnel, he said. “One of the highlights of these residencies came just this past weekend, when the Charlo twins took home wins in a special co-headlining Showtime Pay-Per-View Boxing event.”
Hamilton said Mohegan Sun is holding viewing parties for some of these fights at Bow & Arrow Sports Bar and VISTA Lounge at Wombi Rock.
In that same vein, he said it’s possible that additional sports will follow the residency model, including the potential for Mohegan Sun to soon play host to multiple non-conference Division 1 NCAA basketball tournaments.
Asked about meetings and conventions, Hamilton said staffers overseeing the Sky Convention Center and the 175,000-square-foot Earth Expo & Convention Center “have also built their own health & safety resource center for clients, and have started to ramp back up with these comprehensive guidelines in place.”
Hamilton did announce two live-event dates this fall:
Hot Import Nights, described as “a unique automotive festival featuring hundreds of Japanese, European and domestic modified vehicles,” will take place in Earth Expo on Oct. 31 at 4 p.m., with distancing and safety protocols in place. There will be auto aftermarket and lifestyle exhibitors, multiple entertainment zones, merchandise stands, a main stage with headliner DJ talent and other festival attractions.
In the probable category, “A slightly scaled down Vets Rock event is also potentially returning in Earth Expo on Nov, 6,” Hamilton said.
As for dining, the website lists 34 of 47 restaurants on premises are open. Hamilton said the new (and COVID-delayed) Pan-Asian restaurant TAO Asian Bistro & Lounge will open in late 2020 or early 2021. The Foxwoods website lists 37 of 54 food and drink locations open on its property.
Mohegan Sun’s restaurants and venues that do have dine-in service, such as SolToro, Ballo Italian Restaurant, Comix Roadhouse, Game On, Bobby’s Burger Palace and more, do not exceed 50 percent capacity, Hamilton said, but with the Oct. 1 move to 75 percent capacity, “it is possible that Mohegan Sun venues increase limits as well, though this will vary by location. For example, Comix Roadhouse and Comix Comedy Club are not expected to increase capacities by more than 10% of their current protocols.”
One of the officials instrumental in implementing the new and current safety protocols (temperature sensors, plexiglass, signage) at Mohegan Sun, Dan Webster, has been promoted to senior vice president of resort operations, Mohegan Sun announced Thursday. Webster began at the casino as an HVAC mechanic.
At Foxwoods, the late Friday release quoted Jason Guyot, Foxwoods’ Interim CEO, saying, “Gov. Lamont is doing a fantastic job keeping Connecticut safe and swiftly addressing hots spots as they flare up, and we applaud his strong leadership during this crisis.” The casino also announced it had “conducted a mass community-based testing event and a second is tentatively scheduled for next week (Oct. 5-9).”