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Duality of 'good fortune' on display at Foxwoods on day of Super Bowl, Chinese New Year

Feb. 11—MASHANTUCKET — There were two groups at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Sunday as it hosted celebrations for Chinese New Year and Super Bowl LVIII ― those in need of good fortune, and those who gave it.

"There's something going on for everything at Foxwoods this weekend," Foxwoods Senior Vice President of Marketing Blair Bendel said Saturday.

Bryant Yee, vice president of the Boston Chinese Freemasons, was one of fortune-givers. The club, based in Boston's Chinatown, was founded in 1948.

Around 11 a.m. Sunday, as Yee and other club members began their Lion Dance, which they do each year during Chinese New Year, hundreds of spectators gathered in the Grand Pequot Hotel lobby.

Chinese, or Lunar, New Year began Saturday, and for many kicks off a weekslong celebration, which can include the dance.

"In the Chinese culture, bad luck and evil spirits ― things of that nature ― are afraid of very loud noises, which is why you see firecrackers and loud banging and drumming, and they're afraid of the lion," he said of the dance, which Foxwoods has asked them to do for at least eight years.

Club members began by banging on a drum and gong, and clapping cymbals. Suddenly, eight ornately decorated lion costumes of different colors began to sway their heads back and forth, moving with the beat.

The animal, in Chinese culture, symbolizes a protector, Yee said.

Viewers cheered and clapped as the lions jumped and moved their sequined bodies, their fur flitting around in the air. Occasionally, their eyes and noses glowed red.

After about 20 minutes, the dancers, musicians and club members started to parade up the escalator to the next level of the Grand Pequot Tower. As they moved throughout the casino, new viewers joined the procession.

Small children were hoisted on parents' arms or shoulders. They smiled or waved at the passing lions. Others looked on from inside restaurants or from slot machines or roulette tables.

The parade concluded about 12:45 p.m. at Rainmaker Square, where the lions got onstage for one final dance in a room decorated with red lanterns and banners and a sign that read "Happy Lunar New Year."

Dancer Johnson Chau, 36, said he's been doing the dance for about 20 years now. He teaches younger club members how to dance and said most of the performers have been practicing a minimum of five years.

"Definitely practicing is hard," he said. "Very physically demanding. It's a totally different story when we're doing it without the entire costume, the lion head, and the pants, with no crowd versus doing it in front of tons of people here, with the pressure."

At two Chinese food establishments, Golden Dragon and Fay Da Bakery, Chau and other dancers had thrown oranges and lettuce into the crowd, and accepted little red envelopes filled with "lucky" money.

Yee said the money is for "the favor of asking us to scare any evil spirits and ward off any bad luck for the New Year, and basically blessing the business in return for a donation to the club to keep it going."

"And the orange and the lettuce is just, it's good luck food in the Chinese New Year. The orange symbolizes prosperity, and the lettuce good fortune and good health," he added.

Bettors hope for good fortune too

Foxwoods' Bendel said DraftKings sports book was completely reserved days before Super Bowl Sunday. There another group was holding out for good fortune too ― bettors.

On the afternoon of Super Bowl LVIII, which would pit Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs against Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers, bettors 21 and up were beginning to file in to put down a variety of money line, player prop, spread and over/under bets.

One bettor, Ben Luzzi of Westerly, recently celebrated his 21st birthday. But he's no stranger to betting, he said.

At one of the DraftKings betting kiosks, Luzzi had taken the 49ers money line at -120. He said he wanted to go against the grain after seeing many betting on the Chiefs. He put down $10 on a parlay of all player props, too, which are bets on a specific player's performance.

"Although it's really hard to root against Mahomes, top to bottom I think the Niners are the better team," Luzzi said, adding he would be watching the big game at his friend's house.

Another bettor, Luke Steinman, 25, was using the kiosk too. He said he had already placed a money line bet on the Chiefs and was now seeing what the odds were for a same-game parlay.

"I got it a week ago at +112," he said of his Chiefs bet.

Steinman said he would be spending Super Bowl weekend at Foxwoods with his friends.

One of those friends, 26-year-old Ryan Washburn, from Boston, laid six or seven betting slips across the table, across which he'd bet $60 in player props. He said he was still deciding which team he would take in the game, but was leaning on the side of the Chiefs.

"Honestly, if I bet 'em and they lose, I'll be happy for Purdy," he said. "I just can't fade Mahomes."

"Fading" is a term that refers to when someone disregards a player on purpose.

Meanwhile, in a V.I.P section upstairs, Paul Jurkonis, beverage manager for Fox Tower and DraftKings sports book, was making the final preparations before the 6:45 p.m. kickoff.

This is the third year DraftKings has hosted people for the game, he said, and it's usually the busiest the sports book gets all year.

"About 5, everybody starts showing up and then it starts getting crazy," he said, adding the upstairs section would host 77 and have a tailgate spread of burgers, wings and sandwiches.

"As long as they've got the games, gambling and drinks, it'll be good," said Rhode Island-native Justin Madden, who was one of the 77 who would be watching the game up there.

d.drainville@theday.com