Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By MICHAEL MELIA The Associated Press
MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — 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 Mashatucket Pequot Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Ledyard, Conn., as it looked in an era of expansion. Now struggling with debt exceeding $2 billion, the resort faces a tough economy and much competition.
2002 Associated Press File
N.H. House kills legalization of four casinos
CONCORD, N.H. – New Hampshire's House dashed gamblers' hopes Wednesday and killed a bill that would have legalized four casinos licensed to install up to 14,000 video slot machines and 420 table games.
The key vote was 154-195 to reject proponents' best amendment. The House later voted 236-108 to kill the bill. The bill faced long odds because Gov. John Lynch pledged to veto it if it had reached his desk. The House also had never supported expanded gambling bills.
"This bill gives away to gambling and casino interests a valuable asset that belongs to New Hampshire taxpayers. Under this bill, New Hampshire taxpayers are the losers," said Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare. Kurk argued the state's take of the proceeds were too low.
The bill called for the state to get 40 percent of the proceeds from slots and 8 percent from table games.
Rep. Dan McGuire objected that too few people could get licenses for slot machines.
"This creates four golden tickets obtainable only by the very wealthy," said McGuire, R-Epsom.
Supporters pointed to recently legalized gambling in Massachusetts as reason to push it through. They argued that if New Hampshire does nothing, the state stands to lose between $40 million and $50 million annually in lottery revenue and room and meals taxes to its neighbor to the south.
"Since Massachusetts passed its gaming bill, doing nothing is no longer an option," said Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua.
Supporters also argued that Massachusetts' casinos would soon bring many of gambling's social ills to New Hampshire without any funding to treat them.
New Hampshire's House has never endorsed casinos, but bill sponsors sweetened the deal by directing some of the profits to be used to cut New Hampshire's high business taxes, which the Republican-controlled chamber has wanted to do. They said cutting business taxes will spur economic growth in the state.
Based on supporters' estimates of the revenue generated the first year, the business profits tax could have been cut from 8.5 to 4.3 percent, and the business enterprise tax would have been slashed by two-thirds, falling from 0.75 to 0.25 percent.
– The Associated Press
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 Brown-Congdon, 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 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.
A tribal elder, Loretta Libby, said many worry about what will come next. "Our stress levels are very high up here," she said. "I just don't know what's going to happen."
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.
Despite the financial difficulties, Brown-Congdon said, she feels only gratitude toward the tribe for providing so well for so long. A Rhode Island native, she worked in potato fields for a time before coming to the join the tribe. The gambling income allowed her to live comfortably while she tended to ailing family members and cared for some of her sister's 15 grandchildren.
She owned a house and cared for her sick brother until he died in 2010 and, without his tribal income, she could no longer afford it. She now fears the end of the payments could force her out of her rented house on the reservation. She wishes that she - and the tribe - had planned better for hard times, but she said the tribe's only fault was perhaps being overly generous in its spending.
"They gave us the best care and the most love," she said. "They made their decisions the best they could."
The new austerity is a result of financial troubles at Foxwoods, which has been in talks to refinance its debt. After years of unparalleled success drawing gamblers from across New England and New York, the casino began struggling with increased competition and slackening demand. Foxwoods completed a major, costly expansion with the 30-story MGM Grand hotel and casino at the height of the recession in 2008. The resort has four hotels, more than 6,300 slot machines and 360 tables with 15 different types of games in six casinos.
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