John James has a long history in the gaming industry from working in Las Vegas casinos to multiple leadership positions in Indian Country. James took over at Foxwoods Casino Resort in July 2019, and has made progress moving the property forward, which came to an abrupt halt when Foxwoods closed in March in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus. James has bene one of the most proactive of gaming executives and that didn’t change in this crisis. He and his senior management team immediately worked up ideas about how to maintain contact with the many constituencies of Foxwoods. He spoke the GGB Publisher Roger Gros on April 6 to talk about how Foxwoods is approaching the situation.
GGB: Tell us how you reacted when the virus hit and all casinos across the country eventually closed down.
John James: Working in partnership with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, we monitored the breaking COVID-19 developments hour-by-hour. With guidance from the tribe’s chief medical officer and state and local authorities, we made the painful decision that Foxwoods Resort Casino would shut its doors for the first time in over 28 years. The safety of our team members, and our loyal guests, was always the driving factor.
Much like the rest of the world, we are being responsive to the changing developments of the COVID-19 crisis. We are continuing to closely partner with our chief medical officer, the state of Connecticut, and the CDC to decide when it is recommended to safely reopen our doors. This is being evaluated day by day.
It’s an unprecedented situation, and as bad as the health concerns are the economic impact is even more devastating. Explain why that is so difficult for the owners of Foxwoods, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe.
We don’t know much about what the aftermath will be, but this pandemic will surely have long lasting effects on everyone, and we are, of course, no exception. What we do know is we carry the determination and resilience to help us pave a realistic path forward.
We remain committed to our 5,500 loyal team members, who’ve shared this journey with us for over 28 years. They are the true heart of Foxwoods Resort Casino and are responsible for creating countless memories and moments of wonder for our guests throughout the years. We will continue to cover health insurance for our team members who have been furloughed.
This is the best path for us to preserve jobs at Foxwoods and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and show compassion for our team and loved ones during these unprecedented times.
Some people seem to think that once the casinos reopen, whenever that will be, the crisis will be over. You don’t believe that. Why is that?
Lives have been dramatically altered and the recovery back to our once “norm” will be slow. With record unemployment and significant economic impacts, rebuilding our nation will take time.
You are approaching this recovery as basically a “one day at a time” challenge. What do you mean by that?
We must remain nimble and flexible to the changing environment around us. While we can plan, success includes the right reactions at the right time to substantial recovery.
You also recognize that this crisis has hit so many of your constituencies, just some of what are tribal members, employees, vendors, tenants, partners, and charities. This is obviously the human side of this crisis. How do you take care of so many people on the way back?
We recognize the significant stress this has on our team members, partners, Tribal community and beyond, and are working tirelessly to minimize the impact. We are looking to provide as many resources as we can to our teams.
Our goal is to continue to communicate new developments and to bring everyone back to Foxwoods safely and as business levels allow.
You believe that there will be a new normal once casinos reopen. Explain what you mean by that and how casinos will be able to adapt to that.
It will be a good time to challenge the status quo and think outside of the box on how we operate. With social distancing remaining in place, we’ll have to change how we do business and look for new ways and new technology to keep our guests and team members safe. The new “normal” is to react to new developments and use critical thinking to find solutions.
Decision making is going to be most important once the properties get the OK to reopen. What will those decisions be tied to?
At this point, it is all about team member and guest safety first. We recognize guests trust us and come to the Wonder Of It All because it makes them feel and experience something special. We will continue to infuse that optimism in all our programming regardless of the changes to operations.
What will some of the realities of this “new normal” be in the short term?
The impact to the future of how we responsibly gather will be one of our biggest priorities. We remain committed to offering a safe and healthy destination for team members and guests. We will stay adaptable and resourceful in the way we offer experiences.
The long-term health of the tribal enterprises are crucial for tribal members, employees and all the other constituents. How can that be achieved?
We must have our state and federal leaders work with tribal leadership to help rebuild the future. Native casinos should not be excluded from funding programs benefiting the gaming industry. It’s imperative they recognize the substantive contribution these enterprise make and those who give back to team members and their local communities.