Casino’s fi­nances come up lemons

$2B debt cur­tails Fox­woods tribe’s fi­nan­cial wind­fall

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY MICHAEL MELIA

MASHAN­TUCKET | For two decades, the Mashan­tucket Pe­quots lived like In­dian gam­bling royalty. Lux­ury cars abounded on their tiny, gated reser­va­tion of Colo­nial and ranch-style homes in the woods of south­east­ern Con­necti­cut.

The tribe’s Fox­woods casino, the largest in the Western Hemi­sphere, al­lowed mem­bers to live with­out con­cern for money, gen­er­at­ing shared-rev­enue stipends that once ex­ceeded $100,000 an­nu­ally for each adult.

This month, with Fox­woods strug­gling with debt ex­ceed­ing $2 bil­lion, pay­ments to mem­bers stopped. The tribe has opened a food pantry for needy fam­i­lies, coun­selors have pro­vided guid­ance on how to pur­sue jobs, and mem­bers have been left to pon­der the end of what once seemed a sure bet.

“I was poor be­fore. I can be poor again,” tribal mem­ber Gina BrownCong­don, 59, said. “I’m not happy, but you have to deal with what life gives you.”

The money is not the only source of anx­i­ety. FBI agents have been vis­it­ing the reser­va­tion and ask­ing about tribal fi­nances, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple with knowl­edge of tribal ac­tiv­ity who spoke to the As­so­ci­ated Press on the con­di­tion of anonymity to pro­tect their re­la­tion­ships with the tribe.

It all con­trib­utes to one of the most tu­mul­tuous pe­ri­ods in the re­cent his­tory of the Pe­quots, who own and op­er­ate the casino that made their reser­va­tion one of the wealth­i­est com­mu­ni­ties in Amer­ica.

The af­flu­ence van­ished as quickly as it came for the tribe, which had only one per­son liv­ing on the reser­va­tion in the early 1970s. The Pe­quots won fed­eral recog­ni­tion and opened a bingo hall in the 1980s be­fore hit­ting the jack­pot with the start of casino gam­bling at Fox­woods in 1992. Peo­ple who traced their blood­lines to Pe­quots counted in a 1900 cen­sus were al­lowed to join the tribe, which now has roughly 900 mem­bers.

The Mashan­tucket Pe­quot Tribal Coun­cil said it stands united and fo­cused on suc­cess at the Fox­woods Re­sort Casino.

“The com­mu­nity is pulling to­gether in these chal­leng­ing eco­nomic times, and we are ea­gerly em­brac­ing our fu­ture with a strong de­ter­mi­na­tion to con­tinue grow­ing our busi­ness as a ma­jor eco­nomic force in south­east­ern Con­necti­cut,” the coun­cil said in a state­ment.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fox­woods Re­sorts Casino and the MGM Grand at Fox­woods loom be­hind a barn in Mashan­tucket, Conn. Once one of Amer­ica’s wealth­i­est com­mu­ni­ties, the Mashan­tucket Pe­quot In­dian reser­va­tion has suf­fered a fi­nan­cial re­ver­sal.

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