Tomorrow, the clearing of land for the future government building-community center is set to begin.
In addition to heeding the advice of our elders, it may be worth taking a look back in time at some of the more constructive attempts to save woodlands in Connecticut.
In The History of New London, Connecticut, author Francis Manwaring Caulkins writes that in the year 1651, the settlers in New London laid down regulations that displayed "a prudent forethought rather uncommon in the first settlers of a well forested country. The first has a bearing upon the wanton havoc of timber, and the other on the preservation of trees for shade around the borders of the highways and fields."
"The fathers of the town were solicitous, from the first, to prevent an indiscriminate waste of the woodlands. Ordinances to preserve the timber upon the commons, and all trees that were desirable to be left for shade in the streets and highways, and in the broader commons, may be traced downward into the next century. The townsmen were directed to mark all such trees with marking irons with the letter S, and a fine was imposed for cutting them down. In their eagerness to clear the country and open to themselves a broader scope to the sun and stars, they were not unmindful of beauty, propriety and the claims of prosperity - arguments which have had less weight with some succeeding generations."
The Mohegan Tribe's slot parlor in the Pocono region of Pennsylvania is likely to get more competition in the future. Licenses for two resort slot parlors are available in the state and two of the remaining three contenders are in the Pocono Mountains.
Under state law the "resort" licenses will allow a maximum of 500 slot machines in each facility.
The Resort at Split Rock, owned by Vacation Charters Ltd., and Fernwood Hotel and Resort, owned by Bushkill Group Inc., are applying to open slot parlors in the Poconos while the third applicant is the Valley Forge Convention Center in Montgomery County.
The first round of public hearings for Fernwood is scheduled for April 30 at 9 a.m. at the Middle Smithfield Township Municipal Building, 25 Municipal Drive, East Stroudsburg. The Split Rock hearing will be held on May 1 at 9 a.m. at the Kidder Township Building, Route 1003, Lake Harmony and the Valley Forge hearing is May 20.
Comments from the public will be accepted for 60 days following the public hearings. Licensing hearings will the be held by the state's gaming commission in the fall.
In accordance with Bureau of Indian Affairs regulations, a public hearing was held last night on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's plan to establish reservation land in the towns of Mashpee and Middleboro, Massachusetts.
State lawmakers struck down the governor's commercial casino plan last week but the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and quite possibly the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, is moving forward to establish a casino under federal Indian gaming laws.
The tribe is requesting the federal government to take into trust 539 acres in Middleboro - on which they intend to build a casino-hotel resort - and 140 acres in Mashpee.
A spokesperson for the tribe said the casino would be built in two phases, beginning with a 1,000-room hotel and a casino that would include a 600,000-square foot casino with 4,000 slot machines and 200 table games, retail shops, restaurants and an event center. The second phase would include a golf course among other amenities.
Gov. Patrick was not at the hearing but said his administration is working closely with the tribe, according to reports.
The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe planned on applying for one of the commercial licenses proposed under Governor Deval Patrick's casino plan but since that plan was voted down by Massachusetts lawmakers last week it is unclear what path the Aquinnahs would take. Daniel O’Connell, secretary of housing and economic development, said in testimony last week that the Aquinnah tribe bargained away some of its casino rights during a previous administration under former Governor Weld but the Aquinnahs disagree. “We feel our IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) rights are still intact,” said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe.
A second hearing on the Mashpee Wampanoag's land-into-trust application will be held at 6 pm tonight at Mashpee High School.
An Atlantic City councilman said he will introduce a measure at tomorrow's city council meeting that would ban smoking entirely at Atlantic City's 11 casinos.
Last year, a law was passed that banned smoking in 75% of Atlantic City's gaming floors. The city council attempted then to ban smoking entirely but the casino industry estimated it would lose 20% under a total ban.
"It was somewhat self-executing in that the one-year anniversary is almost here and little has been done to comply with the partial ban," Councilman Bruce Ward said Friday.
Under the partial-smoking ban law passed last year, the casinos must build enclosed smoking rooms equipped with separate ventilation systems that would keep smoke from drifting to other areas of the casino. However, construction on the smoking rooms has seen delays. The state Department of Community Affairs had not yet approved any of the casinos to begin building the smoking lounges.
The casinos have been slow in responding to the department's questions about the smoking rooms, according to the DCA. Casinos fear that a total smoking ban may be imposed acted after they build the smoking rooms, costing millions of dollars.
Mark Juliano, chief executive officer of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., told the Philadelphia Inquirer "If they're going to do it, they should do it now. It wouldn't make sense if they do it after we build the enclosures."
"It doesn't surprise me," Juliano said of the proposed total ban. "I do believe that eventually casinos all over will be smoke-free. I don't think anybody thought that the smoking enclosures would be a permanent exemption."
Foxwoods casino avoided a National Labor Relations Board hearing scheduled for today by reinstating a dealer who was fired and dropped disciplinary actions against other dealers. In addition, the UAW said Foxwoods will post notices at the casino that explains employees' rights regarding union organizing.
Dealers at the casino voted to join the UAW last Fall but the Tribe made clear that the actions taken yesterday in regards to the dealers were a result of tribal processes and not driven by the union.
“We feel it is important that employees know that the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation respects their right to support unions,” Jackson T. King, general counsel for the tribe, stated in a prepared statement.
“Our dispute here is that the process should be governed by tribal law.”
In today's The Tribe In The Media series, two short blurbs were found regarding two gaming markets near and dear to the Tribe:
The following item was written in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on March 6: "Businessman Dennis Troha long ago cut ties with the proposed Kenosha casino project on which he spent many years and much money. But you wouldn't have known that from the Web site for the Connecticut-based Mohegan tribe, a partner in the project. Under a section called "Our Alliances," the site named the Menominee tribe and "business leader Dennis Troha." The item caught the eye of an East Coast blogger last week. Faster than you can say "federal investigation," Troha's name was deleted. He was sentenced to six months' probation on Friday for funneling illegal campaign contributions through family members. Why was the information removed now? "Because it was inaccurate," said project spokesman Evan Zeppos."
Separately, in a February 7 note in the Pennsylvania's Scranton Times-Review: "The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre region ranked 455 of 500 markets in the A.G. Edwards’ 2007 “Nest EggIndex,” which uses a dozen criteria to gauge residents’ personal investing and savings practices. The region’s poor savings habits track a nation wide trend and most likely reflect relatively low wages, above-average unemployment and a cultural resistance to thrift."
Standard & Poor's (S&P) downgraded UTGR's credit rating, citing its risk of bankruptcy. UTGR is owned in large part by the former business partners of the Mohegan Sun and is the entity that operates the Twin River slots parlor in Rhode Island.
The operators of Twin River have been negotiating with lawmakers in the state of Rhode Island to add table games and to remain open 24 hours. According to S & P:
"Standard & Poor's Ratings Services lowered its ratings on UTGR Inc.; the corporate credit rating was lowered to CCC-. The ratings remain on Credit Watch, where they were placed March 4 with negative implications."
"The downgrade reflects our ongoing concerns about a potential bankruptcy filing as the company reportedly continues to negotiate a forbearance agreement with its lenders. While we believe that incentives exist for the company and its lenders to reach an extended agreement, the new ratings better reflect the near-term risk factors for a potential bankruptcy filing if the parties are not able to come to an agreement."
Tribal member Mollie Hamilton wrote an article on her thoughts after attending the American Indian Youth Summit in Washington, D.C. during the United South and Eastern Tribe's Impact Week in February.
Although the Mohegan Tribe refused to publish her article in Wuskuso, Mollie became published today in the national newspaper Indian Country Today. Mollie is the daughter of tribal councilor Mark Hamilton:
It was my first time flying alone, and I was about to depart out of Rhode Island and go to Washington, D.C., for the first time. I had my itinerary and I had the instructions of what to do when I got there. I had some nerves and doubts in my mind, but I was mostly excited.
My adventures in Washington certainly did not disappoint.
My experience with the Close-Up American Indian Youth Summit, in conjunction with the United South and Eastern Tribes Impact Week, was unforgettable. From the time I arrived at USET, I was immersed in a setting filled with history and culture. The first night, I attended workshops and had the honor of listening to USET President Brian Patterson talk about the importance of the program.
The next morning, we worked within our tribes and proposed ideas that we considered important to us as young people. Together, we members of the Mohegan Tribe were able to devise a plan that encouraged all young tribal members to get involved.
We discussed ways to ensure tribal youth were being heard within the tribal community, such as creating a Web site that posted current events specific to young people, having our own youth council, and getting younger tribal members involved by writing articles for the Wuskuso. Our hope is to keep all tribal youth informed so that we will one day have a successful and cultural future.
One event that we took part in during Close-Up was a night when each of the tribes organized a display that portrayed their important cultural symbols, clothing, language and a brief description of how their tribal governments were run. Each display was enriched in unique historical symbols and beautiful items that held a specific significance to each tribe.
This night was probably one of the highlights for me because I liked learning about the different cultures as well as the systems of government that were specific to each tribe.
Another highlight was visiting the Pushmataha House, a center of tribal diplomacy and governmental affairs in the nation's capital. This was extremely exciting because we were given the opportunity to listen to members of the Connecticut congressional delegation speak to us about their personal experiences working as politicians. Each of them took an interest in speaking to us about ways we can become influential adults and took questions regarding various interests unique to each one of the students involved in the program.
The trip was an experience which opened up the world and exposed the many opportunities that await me in the future. My knowledge of both the governments of the United States and the Mohegan Tribe was enhanced through the many workshops that I attended during my stay. I also had the privilege of learning about many other tribal governments throughout the United States.
My new discoveries during the Close-Up week were very beneficial to my future. My newly affirmed knowledge has helped me grow as a citizen, student, and a Mohegan tribal member. The Close-Up program is an extremely beneficial and informative program that all tribal youth should experience.
Mollie Hamilton, a junior at East Greenwich High School in East Greenwich, R.I., was one of 19 Mohegan students to attend the Close-Up Foundation's American Indian Youth Summit, held in Washington, D.C., Feb. 10 - 16.
The Sachem Fund is seeking applications from organizations interested in carrying out any of twelve civic initiatives outlined in a January 2007 city ordinance, which is reprinted below.
The City of Norwich and the Mohegan Tribe each will contribute $200,000 each year for five years to the fund. Each entity made their first year contributions, bringing the fund total to $400,000.
Mohegan tribal councilors Bill Quidgeon and Jim Gessner are on the Sachem Fund governing board while tribal councilor Mark Brown is an alternate. At a meeting Tuesday, the three tribal councilors participated in discussions at Norwich City Hall while tribal member Bill Bauer monitored the proceedings.
Letters of intent from interested organizations was set for May 15th. The next meeting will be held on June 18 at 6 PM in council chambers and final funding decisions are scheduled for July 2008. The process for applying can be found on the Norwich city government website: http://www.norwichct.org/controls/eventview.aspx?MODE=SINGLE&ID=83
A Norwich City Council ordinance outlines the following purposes of the fund:
1. Restore blighted buildings or those in disrepair and to finance the purposes of Article 5, Division 3 of the Code of Ordinances titled “Abandoned and Blighted Buildings”
2. Enhance any property within the enterprise zone established pursuant to Section 7-191 of the Code of Ordinances
3. Finance the purposes of Article 5, Division 4, “Mill Enhancement Program”
4. Finance the purposes of the establishment, improvement, and preservation of the historic district, including any expenditure or purpose authorized pursuant to Chapter 14, Article 2 of the Code of Ordinances
5. Finance any activity authorized to be undertaken by the redevelopment agency created pursuant to Chapter 17, Section 17-9 of the Code of Ordinances, including the provisions of Section 8-124 through 8-139 of the Connecticut General Statutes
6. Finance tourism within the City of Norwich, including any activity authorized to be undertaken by 7-330 of the Connecticut General Statutes
7. Improve the quality of life in the City’s neighborhoods, including to finance any neighborhood plan adopted by the City Council and specifically including plans adopted for the Downtown Norwich Neighborhood Revitalization Zone and Greeneville Neighborhood Zone
8. To Finance the purposes of urban renewal, redevelopment or community development, as authorized by the general statutes
9. Finance the services, purposes and programs of hospitals, non-profit museums and libraries and other private organizations performing a public function
10. Provide for planting, rearing and preservation of shade and ornamental trees on the streets and public grounds
11. To improve the City’s waterfront
12. For entertaining, amusements, concerts, celebrations and cultural activities
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's plan for three mega-casinos was formally defeated yesterday by the state's House of Representatives by a vote of 106-48, leaving for now the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe as the only group moving forward on casino plans in that state.
It is likely that casino proposals will be put forward next year and possibly proposals for slot machines at the state's four racetracks may still be discussed in this legislative year.
The House vote on Thursday followed a vote on Wednesday by the Joint Committee on Emerging Technologies and Economic Development that did not recommend the casino plan.
Two federally-recognized tribes in Massachusetts, the Mashpee Wampanoag and the Aquinnah Wampanoag remain eligible to pursue casinos under the same federal Indian gaming law that allowed the Mohegan tribe to open their casino in Connecticut.
The Mashpees are working with the Mohegan's former business partners to develop a casino but the Aquinnahs have not made public their plans since they had intended to bid for one of the three commercial casino licenses under the governor's proposal.
Daniel O’Connell, secretary of housing and economic development, said in his testimony that the Aquinnah tribe bargained away some of its casino rights during a previous administration under former Governor Weld.
“We feel our IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) rights are still intact,” said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe.
A federal grand jury indicted former Passamoquoddy Indian Township Governor Robert L. Newell and the tribe's former finance director yesterday on charges of misappropriating $1.7 million in federal funds.
The indictment comes on the heals of an investigation that began three years ago, after Maine's Passamaquoddy tribal members complained publicly about Newell's administration.
A federal grand jury charged Newell and former tribal finance director, James J. Parisi Jr., with multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud and making false statements.
The indictment alleges that Newell and finance director, James Parisi Jr., made payroll payments to tribal council members and Newell's relatives for work that was never done. The indictment referred to them as "ghost" employees.
Newell and Parisi are scheduled to be arraigned March 28 in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Connecticut's Indian casinos may not face competition from commercial casinos in Massachusetts after all. Two Indian tribes in Massachusetts, however, will likely push ahead with their own plans for casino on future reservation lands.
A key Massachusetts legislative committee on economic development voted against Governor Deval Patrick’s plans for commercial casinos earlier today. House members are expected to debate the bill and a final floor vote could come as early as tomorrow but many believe that Gov. Patrick will not be able to avoid defeat.
The legislature’s Committee on Economic Development voted 10-8 against the casino plan after aggressive lobbying by House Speaker Sal DiMasi against the plan. One committee member abstained from voting on the measure.
Gov. Patrick said, "I think the process, given the midnight maneuvers last night and the backing-and-forthing today, speaks for itself. I’m disappointed because this was a thoughtful and serious proposal."
The vote will not affect the Mashpee Wampanoag's plan for a casino on land that they are requesting to be taken into trust as revervation land. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, however, was planning on bidding on one of the three commerical casino licenses outlined in the governor's plan. If the governor's plan is defeated, the Aquinnahs would likely take the same route as the Mashpees and seek a casino on reservation land.
The Mohegans and Mashantuckets had also previously expressed interest in bidding on commerical casino licenses in Massachusetts.
Tonight at 7:30 pm a lecture "Beyond Reservation: Indian Mariners from Southeastern Connecticut, 1710-1810" will be given at the Woolworth Library at the Stonington Historical Society, 40 Palmer Street in Stonington.
The lecture will be given by Jason Mancini, senior researcher at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. The admission is free to historical society members and $5 for non-members.
Mohegan Sun's slot revenues fell 3.3% in February, according to initial reports, while Foxwoods slot revenue for February fell by 7% compared to the same month last year.
The slot handle, or the amount wagered by patrons, at Mohegan Sun's slot machines in February increased but a higher percentage of those wagers was paid out than in February 2007. The amount wagered at Foxwoods slot machines in February was less than that wagered in February 2007.
Due to the cyclical nature of gaming, comparisons with the same period in the prior year are generally more helpful than comparisons with the previous month's results.
A state legislative committee approved a bill yesterday that will impose a smoking ban at both Connecticut Indian casinos next February if negotiations with the two tribes fail to reach an agreement before the February deadline.
Under a bill approved yesterday by the state legislature's public health committee, a ten-member panel will be set up to negotiate with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes on the issue. The bill must be approved by both the state Senate and House before it becomes law.
Both tribes assert that the state is impinging on their sovereignty while state officials say the compact that allows tribal gaming in Connecticut also gives the state the right to impose health standards at both casinos.
A smoking ban would result in fewer patrons and less revenue, according to the tribes.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal delivered his official opinion last week supporting the state's authority to impose a smoking ban at both casinos.
The New York Racing Association was selected by N.Y. Governor Eliot Spitzer - and later approved by the legislature - to receive the franchise to operate horse racing at New York tracks in October 2007. In a March 11 article, New York Governor's Misfortune Improves Mohegan's Aqueduct VLT Chances, both October 2006 and October 2007 were variously referred to as selection dates. The article has been changed to reflect this correction.
In the Tribes In The News Series : Attorney Helen Padilla, who worked for the Mohegan tribal government, makes statements in the following article for The Arizona Republic:
Tribes scrutinized for secret actions: As casino profits rise, so do demands for open government Dennis Wagner The Arizona Republic Mar. 2, 2008
SAN CARLOS - Late last year, word spread through Apache lands like the high-desert wind: Members of the tribal council had given themselves pay raises of 30 percent and were driving around in new Humvees and other luxury vehicles bought with tribal funds.
A recall campaign started up, fueled by more rumors of dubious spending.Beverly Russell, a founder of the opposition movement known as People First, says fancy cars featuring satellite radios and hydraulic lifts were authorized in secret.
Efforts to document the expenses proved futile, however, because the community 100 miles east of Phoenix has no public-records law, said Russell, a former aide to Vice Chairman David Reede. "We are totally at the mercy of the tribal council," Russell said. Her requests for documents were ignored. "Whatever they decide is not open, they just don't release it. . . . There is no policy for anything here. It is very shocking.
"The predicament is not unique in Indian country. Among America's 561 federally recognized tribes, few have laws that ensure their members can find out about their elected leaders' business.
In many cases, the result is a strong distrust of tribal government spawned by actions that some members consider abuses of power.
In North Carolina, for example, the editor of the Eastern Cherokee band's newspaper, The One Feather, was dismissed from his job in October after writing a column critical of the tribe's failure to disclose campaign contributions to federal candidates. In Florida, police with the Seminole Tribe withheld a homicide report last year after a suspect was shot by an officer. Nationwide, efforts to obtain information on casino profits and spending have been thwarted.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said it seems incongruous that U.S. foreign policy promotes open democracies worldwide while hundreds of sovereign governments within America are able to operate in secrecy.
Dalglish wonders how tribal members can hold their leaders accountable or make informed decisions when they vote."Isn't it just remarkably ironic? It's a very autocratic system. And only those within the inner circle have a right to a voice," she said. "If I were a member of one of the tribes, I'd be continually frustrated."
Lack of transparency
Helen Padilla, director of the American Indian Law Center in New Mexico and a member of Isleta Pueblo, said tribes have a right to establish their own rules for access to records and are not subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act or state sunshine laws. Each Indian nation is unique and is governed according to traditional values, she said.
"Many tribes do not even have their laws codified," Padilla said. "You're talking about the whole concept of a free and open system when that may not be what the tribal government chooses."
Padilla acknowledged that a lack of transparency often leads to distrust and division. "It happens all over Indian country, with tribal members alleging that corruption is occurring." The concern has been magnified in the past decade with the spread of lucrative casinos on Indian reservations. Because each tribe's gaming revenues are secret, tribal members often are not told how much money is being taken in, where it is spent or whether they're getting a fair share.
That issue led to a schism last year in the small San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe of northern Arizona. Leaders voted themselves pay raises and refused to release budget information. A recall effort resulted in the formation of dueling governments, each of which claims the other was elected unlawfully.
Lee Choe, considered acting president by one faction, said his people were torn apart by secrecy and greed. "I think it's the money, the gaming money that's coming in," he explained.
In general, Native American nations do not prohibit the release of records, and many divulge budgetary documents, said John Lewis, executive director at the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona.
Disclosure, however, is often an arbitrary decision left to the whim of those in power, Dalglish said. The result is that leaders may withhold everything, from council minutes to spending invoices.
Inclined toward secrecy
Experts on Native American law are able to point to two tribes, the Navajo Nation and the Western Band of Cherokees, with clear and effective freedom-of-information laws. The Navajo Nation's Privacy and Access to Information code makes public most records of America's largest Indian tribe, as long as privacy is not violated. George Hardeen, a spokesman for President Joe Shirley Jr., said the law rarely gets used because Navajo government is so open. "If somebody wants something, we'll give it to them," Hardeen said.
The Western Cherokees established their law in 2001 under Principal Chief Chad Smith, who co-wrote the measure.
"In my opinion, that's doing it right," said Bryan Pollard, editor at the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper in Tahlequah, Okla. "By informing people, your leadership makes them active participants in their culture and government."
Pollard said an inclination toward secrecy is understandable among indigenous people. "They've suffered so much oppression. They've become very defensive," he said. "But, in some tribes, it's reached unhealthy levels." Ronnie Washines, editor of the Yakama Nation Review in the Pacific Northwest, said there is an "understanding" within his tribe that government records are open to members, but it doesn't always pan out. Washines said he wanted to do a story on casino revenues some years ago, only to be turned down based on "technical disqualification."
Washines said he was never given a legitimate reason records were kept secret.
Calling for accountability
Mark Trahant, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer journalist who has covered Indian communities nationwide, said the truth usually leaks out even though tribal leaders attempt to create walls of secrecy.
He added that many tribal governments lack the money and sophistication to enact or follow a public-records law, but informal systems often work because openness is innate to most indigenous cultures. His Shoshone Bannock tribe in Idaho requires at least one meeting a year where members can confront leaders with questions.
Frank Pommersheim, a professor of Indian law at the University of North Dakota, said he does not know of a single Plains tribe with a public-records law. However, he sees an evolutionary process under way and believes Indian governments inevitably will become more open because tribes are gaining sophistication and members are demanding accountability.
"I think that issue is likely to come to the fore," he said. Pommersheim said casinos and financial accountability are a major factor but emphasized that money can spawn dishonesty or suspicion in any group, no matter the ethnic background. "I don't regard any of these issues as unique to Indian country," he added. "I think that is a bit dangerous."
At the San Carlos Reservation, the issue of openness came to the fore at a public meeting in November, when Chairman Wendsler Nosie Sr. was asked to explain and provide records for the pay hikes and expenses. Russell, whose group is leading a recall campaign against Nosie and most council members, said he failed to respond.
Vice Chairman Reede said the expenses were approved in his absence during a closed-door meeting. Afterward, Reede assigned his vehicle and $18,000 pay raise to community projects rather than personal use. That led to another closed meeting, Reede said, where the council abolished his office budget and eliminated his staff. Nosie did not respond to interview requests.
In a letter answering Russell's request for documents, the chairman acknowledged that Apaches have "an unquestionable right to understand (and) evaluate the conduct of (their) government."
However, he argued, specific financial information is exempt, and council discussions of such matters are confidential.While each Native American tribe has a unique culture and tradition, Reede said, a mentality of secrecy seems widespread."
I think you will see that all tribes have the same ongoing issue," he said."We are struggling with political independence, self-rule, self-determination and to create economic development," he added, but cloaking government in secrecy will only hinder progress.
Lawmakers in both Pennsylvania and Connecticut are actively pursuing laws that seek to ban smoking at casinos in those states.
In Pennsylvania, the state senate passed a bill that would ban smoking in 75% of the casinos' gaming floors while a house-bill seeks to ban smoking in all areas of the casinos.
Tribal officials say that a smoking ban would result in customers going to casinos in other states, which would reduce casino revenues. Lower casino revenues could force casinos to layoff employees. Many believe that a partial smoking ban in Atlantic City, N.J., casinos has resulted in patrons going to Pennsylvania casinos. A New Jersey law passed last year bans smoking in 75% of Atlantic City's casino floors.
Meanwhile, in Connecticut, the state attorney general weighed in yesterday by submitting a formal opinion to state lawmakers which states that tribal agreements (compacts) with the state have provisions that would require the tribes, in effect, to comply with Connecticut's public health and safety standards.
“The issue of sovereignty would really be almost beside the point here,” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said yesterday. Blumenthal said he talked to leaders from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes before releasing his decision. Both have expressed interest in negotiating an agreement and a group of lawmakers from southeastern Connecticut also endorsed government-to-government talks before any law is passed.
“The ban would be upheld,” Blumenthal said. “The only question is, when and at what cost?”
Mohegan officials say that roughly one-third of its casino floor space at both casinos is currently smoke-free and policies are in place that allow workers to transfer to smoke-free areas upon request.
But tribal officials are not caving in to Connecticut lawmakers. “Rather then moving forward with legislation ... we believe that communication and cooperation will lead to a successful outcome, whereas unilateral state action will only lead to a completely unnecessary, costly and destructive legal battle,” Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum said in a statement.
In the Tribe In The Media series, we take a look at the Tribe's former management company and its casino operations in Rhode Island. The following article was in yesterday's Providence Journal, much of it based on S&P's credit rating cut of March 4:
Twin River misses payment on loan; credit rating is cut Wednesday, March 12, 2008 By KATHERINE GREGG and NEIL DOWNING Journal Staff Writers
The Twin River gambling and entertainment site in Lincoln has run into some problems with its lenders, but said it is confident it can work things out.
UTGR Inc., the company which owns Twin River, missed one of its loan payments to lenders, which was due last week, according to the leveraged commentary and data unit at Standard & Poor’s Corp. (S&P) of New York.
Separately, the S&P ratings organization last week downgraded the ratings it assigns to UTGR’s debt. Overall revenue at Twin River is up sharply, but S&P said it is concerned about UTGR’s ability, after paying expenses, to fully cover the interest and principal payments on its loans.
Twin River spokeswoman Patty Doyle said yesterday that the company is in the process of working out its financial problems with its lenders.
“We see this as a short-term cash-flow issue, and we are fully optimistic about the future here in Rhode Island and confident we will work through our short-term cash flow” issue, Doyle said. What happens at Twin River affects not only the company, its suppliers and employees, but also taxpayers, for it is a major source of tax revenue for Rhode Island, said state Rep. Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, chairman of the House Finance Committee.
“Their success is our success,” he said. For every $100 netted by Twin River’s video slot machines (after paying out prizes), the state takes about $61, according to Costantino and House fiscal adviser Michael O’Keefe.
Altogether, the state expects to take in about $243 million from Twin River’s video slot machines for the year that will end June 30, and about $256 million for the year that will start July 1, O’Keefe said.
Costantino said he is aware of what happened last week with Twin River. “They defaulted on one payment. … I’ve been assured that they’re going to pay it within the grace period” that UTGR and lenders have agreed to establish, he said.
Governor Carcieri’s spokesman, Jeff Neal, said, “The Department of Revenue and the Lottery division were aware of the situation, have been in close contact with Twin River, and are monitoring the situation carefully.”
Neal added, “The good news for Rhode Island taxpayers … is that the state operates the video lottery terminals. As a result, the state gets its share first. We actually pay Twin River their share of the proceeds from the video lottery terminals. Consequently, the state’s revenue stream from that facility is not in any danger.”
According to the S&P leveraged commentary and data unit, UTGR on March 4 missed an interest payment on its loans and asked lenders to agree to a grace period to resolve the default. In addition, S&P Ratings Services on March 4 lowered its corporate credit rating on UTGR, to B- from B+, and placed the ratings on its “CreditWatch” list with negative implications.
The downgrade and CreditWatch placement “reflect sustained weakness in the company’s credit metrics due to meaningful underperformance by Twin River relative to our expectations and heightened competitive conditions in the Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island gaming markets,” S&P said.
S&P also said it expects that operating results for casino operators across the country “to be somewhat soft over the near term, given the current status of the economy.”
UTGR took on a substantial amount of debt to acquire, expand and upgrade Twin River. It borrowed about $495 million from large, corporate banks in 2005, said Ben Bubeck, a director in S&P’s corporate ratings department. Its borrowings expanded to about $565 million in 2006, he said.
Because UTGR is a privately held issuer, Bubeck said he is restricted as to how much information he can divulge.
But he said “It’s not necessarily a revenue issue” which led to the ratings downgrade and related action by S&P. “Revenue has done decently, actually,” he said.
Instead, S&P’s chief concern has to do with the amount of cash flow Twin River generates. In other words, S&P is focused mainly on the amount of money that Twin River has left over, after paying ordinary and necessary business expenses, but before accounting for such items as interest, tax, depreciation and amortization.
“Clearly, it’s an issue with their ability to service their debt,” Bubeck said. The ratings downgrade and related action by S&P means that “there are some serious problems that need to be addressed” at Twin River, he said.
Doyle said that UTGR’s borrowings relate to its purchase and expansion in 2005 of what was then known as Lincoln Park.
UTGR’s owners, BLB Investors, pledged at the time to spend $125 million on upgrading, expanding and improving the facility, she said. In the end, they spent $225 million, nearly doubling Twin River’s size.
“They did spend more” than originally anticipated, because the owners wanted to create a “first-class” facility and “a real showcase for the state,” Doyle said.
Regarding the missed payment, she said that UTGR has entered into a pact with lenders, known as a forbearance agreement. The agreement, covering 10 business days, ends March 21, she said.
During that time, Twin River’s owners “are seeking some near-term funding and covenant relief on [UTGR’s] debt service, and they’re working with the lenders to develop a long-term solution to the current capital structure constraints,” Doyle said.
S&P’s Bubeck said that one area they may want to look at involves the portion of the Twin River take that UTGR turns over to the state, essentially the tax rate that Twin River pays to Rhode Island, which he said is one of the highest nationwide.
Doyle said, “That is not something we’re planning at all.” Twin River in calendar year 2007 turned over $229.5 million to the state and $4.75 million to the Town of Lincoln, and plans to continue its state and local payments under the agreed upon formulas, she said.
Twin River’s overall revenue, from its slot machines and other operations, for January was up 29 percent compared with the same period last year. Last month, revenue was up 42 percent from the same point a year ago, Doyle said.
According to a report from the Rhode Island Lottery, the amount of cash taken in by Twin River’s video lottery terminals totaled $1.19 billion for the eight months that ended Feb. 29, up from about $739 million for the same period a year ago.
In July 2005, the Rhode Island Lottery entered into a five-year “Master Video Lottery Terminal Contract” with UTGR to operate one of the state’s licensed gambling facilities.
Twin River operates a 500,000-square-foot facility in Lincoln, which includes restaurants, a food court, comedy club, bars, a greyhound racing course, and 4,752 video lottery terminals, Doyle said. Twin River has about 1,200 employees, she said.
Expansion of the facility began in 2006 and was completed last fall.
Twin River recently underwent a change in the hours of its food-and-beverage operations located throughout the facility. Some reduced hours, others maintained hours, others increased their hours, Doyle said.
Twin River also recently decided it will no longer pay overtime to employees who work Sundays. Doyle said the changes are the result of adjustments in Twin River’s operations now that the expansion is complete and guest patterns are established.
“This is a well-run organization” which continues to seek efficiencies in its operations, meet customer needs, and preserve the revenue it supplies to the state each year.
Although the fourth quarter of last year “proved difficult for the industry as a whole,” she said, at Twin River, “BLB remains completely optimistic about the future and its operations in Rhode Island.”
BLB is owned by Kerzner International, Waterford Group and Starwood Capital Group. BLB owns UTGR, which, in turn, owns Twin River.
Three tribal meetings which are all open to tribal members will take place tomorrow, Wednesday March 12.
The coffee hour with tribal councilors will take place from 9-10 AM. The tribal council meeting is scheduled to begin at 10 AM, after the coffee hour meeting. Finally, the monthly meeting will begin at 4:30 PM.
Except for the tribal council meeting, tribal members are welcome to ask any questions they want of their councilors. Food is generally served at these meetings.
The tribe's basketball team, the Connecticut Sun, will not see its star player Nykesha Sales take the court this year. Sales announced today that she will sit out the 2008 WNBA season due to health reasons.
The Connecticut Sun has already made major changes to its roster this year and the announcement of Sales' absence this coming season is a setback to the team.
Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault said, “She has been one of the cornerstones of this franchise. … I understand and respect her desire to make taking care of her health and injuries a priority. I hope that this time off from the game will allow her to re-vitalize and re-energize herself for the future.”
The news yesterday that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was involved with a prostitute may cost him his job. In a press conference yesterday, Spitzer did not respond to questions about whether he would resign or if he would be charged with a crime.
A proposal by the Mohegan Tribe, in partnership with Capital Play, to run horse racing at N.Y. tracks was rejected by Spitzer in October but the tribe's proposal to operate a proposed VLT slot parlor at the Aqueduct race track in Queens, N.Y., is still alive.
If Spitzer resigns, the tribe's chances of receiving the VLT franchise may improve. If Spitzer doesn't resign and is not impeached, his leverage in selecting a VLT operator with N.Y. lawmakers will be significantly diminished.
The tribe and its partner are competing against 5 other groups vying for the franchise. Four of the six proposals involve Indian tribes: the Mohegans, Mashantucket Pequots, Senecas and Shinnecocks.
The Governor was expected to select the winner of the VLT franchise in March. The tribe's chances to receive that franchise were dim considering Capital Play's agressive television advertising campaign (http://www.brightcove.tv/title.jsp?title=1305095181) criticizing Spitzer's selection of New York Racing Associates (NYRA) to operate the race tracks.
Spitzer announced his selection of NYRA in October 2007 but the state approved a deal in February that allows NYRA to run the Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga race tracks for the next 25 years. Under the deal, NYRA will receive more than $200 million in bailouts and debt forgiveness from the state while it relinquishes ownership claims of those tracks.
If Spitzer resigns, Lt. Governor David Paterson would serve as governor until Dec. 31, 2010, when Spitzer's elected term ends. Paterson is a black Democrat from Harlem and is mostly blind. Paterson has a friendly relationship with the state's Senate Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.
Capital Play representatives were reportedly seen at Bruno's office during the closing days of the race track negotiations between Spitzer and Bruno.
It looks like the tribe just may be looking for other sources of money to borrow.
The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (MTGA) announced today that tribal representatives will speak at the the Lehman Brothers 2008 High Yield Bond and Syndicated Loan Conference On March 12, 2008. High yield bonds are also called junk bonds.
These types of presentations are generally made by the tribe when it is looking for money to borrow. Both Peter J. Roberti, MTGA vice president of finance and William Quidgeon Jr., tribal council treasurer, will make presentations at the conference to be held at the Disney Yacht & Beach Club in Lake Buena Vista, Florida on Wednesday, March 12, 2008.
Financing for the two expansion projects currently taking place has already been secured. In February, the tribe's bankers amended its $1 billion credit facility, approving $950 million for the expansion at Mohegan Sun and up to $215 million for the Pocono Downs expansion. Any new sources of financing may potentially be used to pay for future diversification projects, the proposed government building-community center or possibly future debt repayments. The tribe must repay $330 million of the debt - representing part of the debt that still lingers from the Sunburst expansion of 2001 and which will come due next year. It is believed that a substantial part of that repayment will need to come from further debt borrowings.
The Mashantucket Pequot's Foxwoods Casino has been giving millions of dollars in free-slot play promotions to its customers in the hope of increasing its market share.
Recently, it was reported that the Mohegan Sun began a similar promotion. Upon learning this from an article in The Day newspaper, tribal councilors were reported to be furious. But why?
Our tribal council also acts as the casino gaming board, responsible for casino oversight. Tribal councilors have allowed themselves the ability to gamble at the casino. This means, of course, that even those tribal councilors that make up the casino audit committee can also gamble.
So why were the tribal councilors upset upon hearing about the free-play promotions? Was it because they didn't think the free-play promotion was strategically appropriate for the casino? Or were they angry that they didn't personally recieve free-play money from the casino?
We will never know but its certainly not fair to tribal members to be put in the position of questioning the motives of their tribal councilors who should be responsible for the casino's integrity. In one of my meetings with renowned gaming analyst Marvin Roffman 15 years ago, he said that our casino's integrity is its most important asset. "If the integrity of the casino is called into question, the harm could be irreparable."
The attention to the Mohegan's Pocono Downs' slot machine win per day of $412 needs to be taken in context. That average win per slot machine of the 1,200 slot machines in the Pocono facility is said to be the highest daily win per machine in the Northeast United States.
What is rarely said is that this statistic is not a proud achievement because it shows that too few slot machines were installed in the Poconos facility. The tribe is believed to be losing as much money in Pennsylvania as it did before the slot parlor was opened in November 2006. Prior to the opening, the Tribe was paying a tremendous amount of interest expense on the amount borrowed to purchase the property without any slot machine revenues to cover that amount.
Every other slot parlor opened in Pennsylvania has opened their doors with at least 2,000 slot machines with the exception of one slot parlor that has just over 1,800 machines. The Pocono Downs facility is permitted to have up to 5,000 slot machines. Instead of two construction phases to reach that target, if desired someday, the Mohegan Tribe would need four construction phases to reach that level.
It is also distressing to note that the Tribe projected a much lower win-per-machine prior to the opening which, of course, would have resulted in much larger losses at the facility. It may be possible that, with the addition of many more machines, the property may one day become profitable.
Note: The $412 win per slot machine figure is for the period of November 14, 2006 (the date of the Pocono Downs slot parlor opening) through December 31, 2007, according to MTGA statistics. After the publication of this article, the tribal government's chief operating officer Phil Cahill stated that after the current expansion is completed, the tribe has no intention of building new space for additional slot machines.
The Kansas Lottery Commission is requesting a two month extension of their deadline to select applicants that would operate state-owned casinos in that state.
If the governor approves the extension then selections of four gaming companies could occur in July. The Mohegan Tribe and their partners submitted a proposal for a $770 million casino-hotel, with significant retail and residential housing components, in Wyandotte County, near Kansas City.
The Lottery Commission also may consider a casino proposal by Las Vegas Sands, which was initially rejected by the local county commissioners and would be in direct competition with the Mohegan application and others looking to build a casino in Wyandotte County.
The good news is that we're in Forbes Magazine. I saw the article today even though it carries a March 24th dateline. Keep in mind that the tribe pays its former management company about $75 million each year to not manage the casino, despite the $35 million figure highlighted in the article below:
With Friends Like These By Stephane Fitch and Matthew Miller 03.24.08, 12:00 AM ET Forbes
The Mohegan tribe wants to expand its casinos nationally. Maybe it shoulda stayed home.
Any business has to be careful about bedmates, but perhaps none more so than companies in the highly regulated gaming industry. Just ask the Mohegan tribe, which runs a 300,000-square-foot gambling den in Connecticut.
The tribe's plans to expand beyond the Mohegan Sun casino are getting close scrutiny at a time when the weak economy and new casino rivals in the Northeast are slamming receipts. Last month Moody's warned that it would downgrade the tribe's $1.2 billion in corporate bonds if its handful of ventures to develop gaming operations outside the state fail to turn profits. So far just one of the Mohegans' ventures, a $580 million purchase and redevelopment of the Pocono Downs harness-racing track in Pennsylvania is up and running with slot machines and off-track betting windows.
But more headaches await the Mohegans, thanks in part to their erstwhile and current partners. Among them: Sol Kerzner, the South African resort developer. In 1999 he and his partner relinquished control of the casino and a cut of net income in exchange for 5% of Mohegan Sun's gross win until 2014. New tribal chairman Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum now watches helplessly as Kerzner uses the $35 million a year he reaps from the Mohegan Sun to push a $1 billion casino development south of Boston with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts. The Sun depends on Massachusetts players for 20% of its revenue. "It's disheartening," says Bozsum, who has tried to buy Kerzner out of the costly deal. "In 2014 there will be a new holiday for the tribe."
Dennis Troha, a Wisconsin developer. He was the Mohegans' partner in a plan to build an $800 million casino on the Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha, Wis. Troha pleaded guilty in federal court last year to trying to hide $100,000 in illegal campaign donations to state and county officials who might shepherd the project through the legislature. Mohegan Tribal Gaming Chief Executive Mitchell Etess says the company was unaware of Troha's corruption and has bought out his interest in the Kenosha development. The Mohegans have written off $3.5 million of the roughly $7 million they've invested in the project, but they plan to push ahead.
Developer Leon Dragone. The Mohegans aim to build a casino on 150 acres of land in Palmer, Mass. owned by Dragone. He's been sued twice by investors who claimed he defrauded them in deals involving gambling. He was ordered to pay restitution in one case and settled the second for undisclosed terms. Mohegan's Etess says Dragone is merely the landowner and would play no role in the casino.
Bookmaker Karl O'Farrell. His Australian company, Capital Play, is an investor in the Mohegans' venture to install video lottery machines at the Aqueduct racetrack project in New York City's Borough of Queens. O'Farrell previously had extensive business dealings with William and Robert Waterhouse, who served a 14-year ban from horse racing in Australia because of their alleged role in a horse-switching scam. Mohegan's Etess says O'Farrell's connection to the Waterhouses has already been vetted and cleared by New York's inspector general. The Waterhouses have no connection to the New York venture today.
Bozsum insists he's confident the off-the-reservation ventures will pay off in the end, even if a recession further complicates plans. "We'll get product for less and we'll get labor for less," he says.
“Popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge brings.” — James Madison, 1822