#132: Foxwoods vs. Mohegan Sun
It is the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere — a gigantic, labyrinthine wonderland set down in a cedar forest and swamp in an otherwise sleepy corner of southeastern Connecticut.
Forty thousand patrons pack into Foxwoods on weekend days.
The place has 6,300 slot machines.
If you include everything — hotel space, bars and $1 blackjack foxwoods, theaters and ballrooms, spa, bowling alley — Foxwoods measures about 6.
The owner of this enterprise is the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.
Once powerful and even feared, the Pequots were nearly extinguished in one day — in fact, in just one hour — when English colonists and their Indian allies attacked and torched the main Pequot village near Mystic in the spring of 1637.
The survivors were sold into slavery or given over to neighboring tribes.
In the early 1970s, just one resident remained on a Pequot reservation in Ledyard, now the site of Foxwoods — an elderly woman named Elizabeth George.
Her grandson was Richard Hayward $1 blackjack foxwoods as Skipa pipe welder and a former short-order cook with an audacious vision, innate political skills and a flair for dealmaking.
Through his efforts, the tribe won federal recognition in 1983.
In 1986, it opened a high-stakes bingo hall.
Full-blown casino gambling came to Foxwoods in 1992 and in the two decades since has produced not millions but billions of dollars of revenue.
Not surprisingly, the casino and its largess rejuvenated the tribe, whose population is now about 900.
Members trace their bloodlines to 11 Pequot families counted in a 1900 census.
These days the tribe is dealing with the latest improbability in its turbulent history: financial havoc.
The casino is underwater, like a five-bedroom Spanish colonial in a Nevada subdivision.
The Pequots misjudged the market, borrowed too much and expanded unwisely.
Which happens to be true.
But how the casino reached this point, and the challenges its owners and operators now confront, is part of a much larger story — one involving the gradual relaxation of moral prohibitions against gambling, a desperate search for new revenue by state governments and the proliferation of new casinos across America.
Some in the industry talk of there being an oversupply, as if their product were lumber or soybeans.
Foxwoods has had its own in-state competition since 1996 from the Mohegan Sun, which lies just west, across the Thames River.
Owned by the Mohegan Tribe, it is a more modest property, though only by comparison — Mohegan is the second-largest casino in the hemisphere.
In October, a casino opened at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens with 4,500 slot machines, and Gov.
And lawmakers in Massachusetts recently voted to issue licenses for a slots parlor and three full resort casinos — an especially ominous development for the Connecticut casinos, which draw about 30 percent of their clientele from Massachusetts, because many gamblers are ruled by what is known in the business as the law of gravity.
They stop where the pull is the strongest, which is usually the nearest casino.
Butera, who is 45, has managed troubled casino operations for Donald Trump and Carl Icahn, so he is accustomed to difficult bosses and jobs.
In the industry, he is known as a turnaround artist.
The initial lender to Foxwoods was Genting, a Malaysian conglomerate, but the tribe is now indebted to an enormous tangle of banks and bondholders.
The fact that Foxwoods is on sovereign tribal land complicates everything.
Our junior debt was trading at 5 cents on the dollar.
They were called incentive payments, though for many they were actually disincentives to work.
Children began getting the disbursements when they turned 18.
The payments stopped just before Butera arrived in late 2010, and more Pequots have been going to work at Foxwoods.
He was limping, though not as badly as before recent hip-replacement surgery.
He had put off the operation as long as he could but decided that the leader of such a struggling venture should not look as if each step he takes may be his last.
It was going to be Disneyland under a glass roof.
Foxwoods, under any circumstances, is not really sexy.
The furniture in the hotel rooms is big and overstuffed and makes you think about curling up and reading a book.
A renovation to modernize them is under way.
Some of the retail space in the vast corridors between its four large casinos is meant $1 blackjack foxwoods look like a flea market.
Perhaps a polling place for the New Hampshire primary.
Advertisement Foxwoods planned to close at 2 a.
The region was starved for gambling.
Located halfway between New York City and Boston, Foxwoods expanded as quickly as it could build, adding casino space and hotel rooms with little regard for cost or coherence.
In 2006, the tribe began construction on a new tower, the MGM Grand at Foxwoods.
The project is what finally sent Foxwoods into a financial tailspin.
By the time it opened in 2008 — with 800 hotel rooms, 1,400 slot machines and a 4,000-seat theater — the recession had hit and was deepening.
You figure you had one great success, you can have more.
But these were smart people.
Then we opened the doors at the MGM Grand, and five months later, Lehman crashes and the world falls apart.
The 11 family lines include strains of many other ethnicities, and most Pequots are a mix of several.
Some just look white.
Fromson documents a history of racial tension in the tribe that deepened with the building of Foxwoods and the money it produced.
Butler, 35, played football at the University of Connecticut, earned a degree in finance and serves on the board of the local United Way.
He is analytical and low-key, a contrast to Skip Hayward, the tribal leader who cut the deals that built Foxwoods in a joint called Mr.
Pizza and held court late into the night at local bars.
I told Butler that I found the Pequot Museum impressive.
Well, yes, but the exhibits make clear, in a way a casino never could, that the Pequots were a significant people whose reach once extended across much of southern New England.
But they never really mobilized against them.
It is just off an exit on I-395, while Foxwoods is a 20-minute click at this page down a winding two-lane road.
Mohegan has a younger clientele and a hipper vibe.
When you enter its main hotel lobby, you notice right away that the lighting is better and the music more current.
Mohegan is smaller, but in recent years it has generated more revenue.
The Mohegans own a second casino, in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, and are expected to compete for a license in Massachusetts.
In 1978, casinos opened in a second location, Atlantic City.
It is not coincidental that the seaside resort was already a fallen place, poor and crime-ridden and hanging on to its one unique attraction, the annual Miss America Pageant.
Advertisement You can still hear echoes of a time when gambling was widely considered wicked.
When Rodney Butler raised the prospect of dropping the gambling age in Connecticut from 21 to 18 and allowing liquor sales until 4 a.
Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, and around 450 Indian casinos now dot the American landscape.
Some are no more than trailers on barren, remote land, but several are large resort casinos near major population centers.
The main action at Foxwoods and everywhere in the U.
While casino opponents in Connecticut have attributed increased traffic, crime and gambling addiction to Foxwoods and Mohegan, those problems would have to be breathtakingly deep and costly to equal the dollars that have flowed to the state.
About half of that is estimated to have come from out-of-state residents, the majority of them from Massachusetts and New York.
Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and an expert on the New England casino market, told me.
They understood the potential.
It $1 blackjack foxwoods be on the banks of the Potomac, about 10 miles south of the White House.
Advertisement Most people probably would not guess which state reaps the most revenue from its casinos.
The state see more just 10 casinos, but Rendell negotiated an agreement that requires them to turn over 55 percent of the hold from their slots to the state — an advantageous deal for the public and one that showed other states what casino owners will tolerate to gain entry into a market.
The silver-haired Fahrenkopf, a chairman of the Republican National Committee in the Reagan years, is known as an adroit Washington player, the type who can make light of his high status while also fully inhabiting it.
Photo Including all of its amenities, Foxwoods measures 6.
That represents money that individuals bet, lost and left behind in casinos.
Those figures come from only commercial casinos.
Foxwoods, Mohegan and other Indian casinos were not included.
But you see the contribution we make, in terms of jobs, and the taxes we pay.
There are, for example, the so-called riverboat casinos that get around prohibitions against gambling on land; most of the boats never leave the shoreline.
In February, I took the A train from Midtown Manhattan to South Ozone Park in Queens, where a racino has been joined to the century-old Aqueduct racetrack.
It is called the Resorts World Casino New York City and is owned by a subsidiary of the Genting Group, the corporation that financed the construction of Foxwoods.
Even on a Monday afternoon, thousands of people — white, black, Asian and Hispanic, drawn from the great melting pot of Queens and nearby boroughs and suburbs — were playing the slot vs blackjack />Please verify you're not a robot by clicking the box.
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Under New York state law, however, slots are illegal.
That somehow makes it legal.
Governor Cuomo wants New York to change its state constitution to permit Las Vegas-style gambling with table games, live dealers and slot machines that can be called slot machines.
His pitch is based on the prospect of gaining new revenues for the state — and overturning the hypocrisy of the current system.
Our crowd wants to sit in front of a slot machine, smoke a cigarette and drink.
People who work on casino floors take pride in $1 blackjack foxwoods to know their regular customers, the names of their children and grandchildren and even their health issues.
The featured icons in its companion game, Guys Night, were things meant to get men excited: dancing girls, cigars, overstuffed hamburgers.
Most casinos of any size court big players, those who will risk 55 upgrades blackjack proboat of thousands or even millions of dollars.
High rollers are brought in by private jet and helicopter, installed in sumptuous suites with butler service and sometimes granted specially tailored rules on their game of choice.
The table games pose some risk for casinos.
The word in the industry was that Johnson benefited from his own solid strategy, a run of great luck and rules that were tilted too much in his direction.
Johnson was allowed to split aces a third and even a fourth time.
The lesson that Butera and others on his management team drew was that the Atlantic City casinos had negotiated away commit 3 hand blackjack strategy are much of their house advantage, something they said was common at Foxwoods under previous management teams.
We were on the gambling floor, and Butera was focused, as he often is, on his dealers.
Butera, who has an M.
read more, a mathematician and professor of gaming at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, advised a roomful of casino executives that they could probably increase the hold on their slot machines by a percentage point or two without losing business.
He said that some academic literature suggested that skilled slots players would notice, but he disagreed.
The gaming confab, known as G2E, offers a sort of crash course in the state of the industry.
But much of the rest of his presentation was about the uncertainty gripping the business, what casinos cannot control.
His remarks, in fact, were a bit grim — they reminded me of the despair you hear in the newspaper business over the advanced age of the core customers and the fear that younger people do not like the product enough to replace them.
Advertisement Millions of younger Americans who like to gamble are playing online poker, hosted on offshore sites.
They may never become casino habitués.
So at the same time that brick-and-mortar casinos are proliferating, the demographics may be working against the industry.
The strategy would likely put those who already own casinos in a favored position in the new online world.
How much is too much?
The market will decide.
The biggest winner in Las Vegas in recent years has been Sheldon Adelson, chairman of the company that owns the Venetian, but what has made him one of the wealthiest men in the world is not his U.
At least four casinos have been in bankruptcy, and people are no longer crowding onto buses to head south down the Atlantic City Expressway.
Gaming is an aged community.
Anyone who has ever wanted to try a casino has tried a casino.
Photo Playing the slots at Foxwoods.
In better economic times, these might seem like lower-level service-industry jobs.
In the current climate, they just looked like jobs.
The restaurant choices, for starters.
Advertisement What encourages Butera is the immensity of the biggest blackjack winner and the richness of what has already been built.
The business needs to evolve, but the foundation that exists is unbelievable.
He must tell a story.
He elucidates what went wrong in the past and how it will be better in the future.
It can help to be blunt about previous management, even joker in — like a defense lawyer pleading for $1 blackjack foxwoods new trial for his client on the basis that the previous attorney was incompetent.
Butera brought in an almost entirely new management team, including people he knew from Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
The previous focus was on unprofitability?
But what he meant was that Foxwoods had stopped chasing unproductive customers — table-game players whose perks added up to more than their losses — just to increase traffic.
In one way, it was a return to the past.
But this time, in a different $1 blackjack foxwoods />It will not be adding gambling capacity.
Instead, the plan is to build a 300,000-square-foot retail center, including 75 outlet stores, between the new MGM Grand Tower and the rest of Foxwoods.
Luxury outlet malls are considered a good mix with casinos, because the core customer is the same as a typical slots player: a middle-aged woman with money to spend.
No goods or services, in a traditional sense, are exchanged.
People come through the door for the experience of risking — and usually losing — their money.
Gambling, like professional sports, is entertainment — but without the multimillion-dollar salaries for the performers.
And no pro sports franchise generates cash hour by hour, day after day, like a big thriving casino.
By the beginning of this year, Butera and the tribe were close to an agreement with their lenders, though the details will still take months to finalize.
The plan for the outlet mall was a signal to lenders that two decades of grandiosity at Foxwoods have come to an end.
Foxwoods had been an early mover, built to stand astride a huge geographic area — much like the Pequot tribe once dominated a big swath of New England.
He brought up the example of Atlantic City.
The State of New Jersey is likely to reap less money from its tables and slots — just as Connecticut and other states that have come to rely on gambling will see their share decrease as others get into the market.
But he believes individual casinos with a good plan can survive.
Editor: A version of this article appears in print on March 18, 2012, on Page MM36 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: A Big Bet Gone Bad.
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