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Party's over for tribal casino in Connecticut

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 29th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Times once ran high for the Pequot tribe in Connecticut. Establishing the Foxwoods Casino on their tiny patch of reservation, tribesmen prospered, many earning an annual income of $100,000. This came to a halt after the casino racked up $2 billion in debt, and many tribal members on "the payroll" now find them destitute and broke.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Pequot tribe is a typical success story. In the 1970s, there was only one tribe member living on the reservation. The Pequots then won federal recognition and opened a bingo hall in the 1980s before hitting the jackpot with the start of casino gambling at the Foxwoods in 1992. People who then traced their bloodlines to Pequots counted in a 1900 census were allowed to join the tribe. The tribe now has roughly 900 members.

For more than 20 years, the Mashantucket Pequots lived like royalty. Luxury cars abounded on their tiny, gated reservation of colonial and ranch-style homes in the woods of southeastern Connecticut.

This has effectively come to an end as the Foxwoods casino, now struggling with debt exceeding $2 billion, has ceased payment to tribal members. This has left the tribe devastated, as many who lived without jobs now struggle to find ways to generate income.

In addition, FBI agents have been visiting the reservation and asking about tribal finances. "Our stress levels are very high up here," tribal elder Loretta Libby says. "I just don't know what's going to happen."

While the Pequot tribe still clings to the success of the Foxwoods Casino, tribal leaders have discouraged members from talking with outsiders. A reporter who made a recent visit was stopped by five tribal police officers and escorted off the reservation. The police handed out notices later that day instructing people not to speak with reporters.

There are talks at the Foxwoods 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.

The regular member payments ended in 2010, but the tribe offered smaller, transitional aid to members until March.

The tribe has offered financial counseling and placing more members with jobs, including some at the casino. Sixty-year-old tribal member Roslyn Charles says the tribe still makes other aid available, including help with utility bills. She says that while jobs are available, she said many do not want to work.

"This is a family. There's no friction. You've got to do what you've got to do," Charles says who works at a library. "The economy is hitting everybody. It's not just us."

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