Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mashantucket Chairman Wants State To Lower Gambling Age And Expand Drinking Hours

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is a Hartford Courant article in which Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler said the Tribe is considering asking the state to lower the legal gambling age and expand the hours of alcohol sales.

Foxwoods Official Says State Should Consider Lowering Gambling Age
By Eric Gershon
The Hartford Courant
May 13, 2010

MASHANTUCKET — Connecticut should consider lowering its legal gambling age from 21, perhaps to 18, and consider allowing alcohol sales until 4 a.m., the leader of the Indian tribe that owns Foxwoods Resort Casino said Wednesday.

Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, said these changes and others might help Foxwoods (and presumably rival Mohegan Sun) better compete with gambling operations in more permissive states.

"That's something we need to sit down with the governor and the legislature about," he said after a ceremony highlighting the sum, now $3 billion, that the casino has paid the state from its slot machine revenue over the past 18 years.

The payments, 25 percent of the casino's slot revenues, are in made in place of taxes.

The Pequots have not formally proposed lowering the gambling age, and Butler did not say when it would do so. He made the suggestion after being asked to detail his ideas for improving the relationship between the tribe and the state.

Alcohol sales have been a frequent topic of debate in Connecticut.

The recession has seriously diminished revenue for both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. But the financial condition of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe has been especially destabilized because of an ill-timed expansion just as the economy contracted and unemployment began its dramatic increase.

The Pequots are still trying to restructure roughly $2 billion in debt.

In a brief interview covering many topics, Butler declined to offer any details about the tribe's negotiations with creditors. Once the tribe strikes a deal, or deals, it will be made public, he said, but he said he does not expect an announcement before the end of the year.

"My preference would be sooner than later," he said after addressing tribe members, state and local officials and other guests at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.

Butler, 33, a former University of Connecticut football player, became chairman of the tribal council in January, after his predecessor was forced out. Butler previously served as treasurer.

New York, which has been cultivating slot machine venues to compete with Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, allows gambling at 18, though some casinos in the Empire State require gamblers to be 21. Rhode Island also has slot machines and Massachusetts is considering them.

"That takes away from us," Butler said.

Neither Butler nor Michael Speller, Foxwoods' president, would speculate about whether the casino would someday exceed its current peak annual contribution to Connecticut of $205 million, made in 2005. Both men used variations of the word challenging to describe that prospect.

In public remarks and interviews, the men expressed interest in strengthening the relationship between the Pequots and the state, and also expressed hope that Connecticut would do more to promote mutual interests.

"The tribe looks forward to that continuing relationship with the state and how we can enhance that," Butler said.