The Never-ending Wonder of It All—The Iconic Foxwoods Resort Casino: Past, Present & Future
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s Foxwoods Resort Casino is iconic in the world of Indian gaming. Beginning as a high-stakes bingo operation in 1986, it evolved seven years later into the biggest, wealthiest, glitziest gaming facility in the country. The Nation’s rags-to-riches story was reflected in an early marketing slogan: The wonder of it all. Earning a billion-plus a year in revenue, Foxwoods has poured more than $3.7 billion into state coffers since opening. Along the way, the Nation has fought some major legal battles and forged new paths for Indian country. Among other things, it was the first to deal with labor disputes under the National Labor Relations Act and the first to face enormous debt and restructuring. It successfully changed a federal law to allow long term leases on Indian land to encourage investors, and most recently, it fought a tax issue lawsuit that it won in federal district court only to be reversed in an appeals court. Today, with casino earnings down and regional competition increasing, Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler talked to Indian Country Today Media Network about Foxwoods’ past, present and future.
Is the golden age of Indian gaming over?
There are only so many people with so many hours, and so first movers like Mashantucket and Mohegan had an advantage in the late 80s with bingo and in the 90s with gaming. We had an untapped market with tremendous potential. As time passes and more competition comes into the market you don’t necessarily see growth overall, you just see the spreading of the pie to the other facilities. In the last five years with Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania, the overall gaming market’s grown less than 10 percent yet the number of facilities has grown tenfold. I think the overall market will still grow, but as far as Mashantucket goes, our peak earning days for the single property are most likely behind us.
So what’s ahead?
But that doesn’t mean our overall earnings potential isn’t there in the future and we will continue to focus on growth – we’re just not going to see that growth come out of the New England gaming market.
But it’s still okay?
Yeah, it’s still a good business. You don’t realize how exceptional it was until those times are gone, but when you sit back and say ‘We still have a billion dollar market here’—that’s not bad! And it could be worse—there are tribes out there who have never had and probably will never have this opportunity.
The new Casino City Indian Gaming Report shows an increase in revenues of 2 percent to $27.1 billion for 2012. And Indian gaming is now 43 percent of the casino industry in the U.S. What do you think of that?
The overall U.S. gaming market including lottery and race tracks was $92 billion in 2007 and it recovered back to $92 billion by 2012 after substantial decline, even after all the new product in the market. If you look at casino gaming only, the US market was $64 billion in 2007 and now $65 billion in 2012. Same point, essentially flat revenue with a lot of new product in the market making every dollar of revenue that much more competitive. This is why we need to reinvest our current earnings wisely to preserve our economic independence for future generations. It’s absolutely incredible that Indian gaming is 43% of the casino market but I put out a cautionary tale: Let’s celebrate it, but let’s realize that we don’t want to see that peak at 43 percent and keep the party going as we’re down to 30 percent and 20 percent. We have to truly reinvest in our facilities, reinvest in our properties and make sure that we’re being very fiscally responsible as well with those earnings.
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