Friday, February 26, 2010

Wampanoag Plymouth Social March 7

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The Wampanoag Indigenous Program will hold a social on March 7 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts to support the Herring Pond Pondville Baptist Indian Church Restoration & Reclamation Project. The social is pot luck so bring a dish and something to drink.

Manager Of Mashantucket Government Affairs To Be Appointed To 3-Member NIGC Board

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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar intends to appoint Daniel J. Little, manager of national government affairs for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, to the three-member National Indian Gaming Commission board.

Connecticut Committee Of Lawmakers To Hold Hearing On Governor´s Keno Plan

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is an article in The Day newspaper about a legislative committee hearing that will take place next week on the governor´s intent to raise money for the state by introducing a gambling game called Keno.

Legislative committee to hold hearing on Rell's keno proposal
By Brian Hallenbeck
The Day
February 25, 2010

A state legislative committee will conduct a public hearing on Gov. M. Jodi Rell's plan to introduce keno in bars, restaurants and other locations as a way to generate revenue.

State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, co-chairwoman of the Public Safety and Security Committee, said Wednesday that her panel has scheduled the hearing for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 2D of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. It will be preceded by an "informational forum" featuring state officials and representatives of Connecticut's casino-owning Indian tribes, Stillman said.

Among those expected to attend the forum, set for 11 a.m., are Robert Genuario, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management; Anne Noble, president and CEO of the Connecticut Lottery Corp.; Paul Young, executive director of the Division of Special Revenue; Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Marc Potenza, director of the Problem Gambling Clinic at Yale University. Officials of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes, which own Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, respectively, also are expected.

Members of the public will have an opportunity to speak at the hearing.

Keno is a game of chance in which players pick a series of numbers and bet they will match numbers randomly drawn by a central computer. Winnings vary with the amount of the wager and the number of drawn numbers a player matches.

Rell first proposed keno last year, then abandoned it. She revived the proposal in her State of the State address this month at the start of the legislative session, projecting the electronic game would provide $20 million for the state in fiscal 2011 and $60 million a year thereafter. The governor's plan allows for "securitizing" future revenues based on the projected income, Stillman said.

"We've got two issues - how do we get to $20 million and how can we properly securitize future revenues when we have no (keno) history," she said. "To me, it's a very blind proposal."

Also at issue is the attorney general's opinion, rendered last year, that the lottery's introduction of keno could violate the state's gaming compacts with the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots, whose casinos are authorized to offer the game. Any breach of the compacts, Blumenthal said, could cause the tribes to withhold the state's share of the slot-machine revenues they win at their casinos.

Rell and some other state officials maintain that keno is a lottery-style game rather a casino game and that it can be introduced by regulation. The tribes have not weighed in on the governor's plan, saying they first need to study the specifics of it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reminder: Sovereignty And Indigenous Rights Panel Set For Feb 27 At Mashantucket Pequot Museum

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The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center will hold a forum on February 27 on issues concerning sovereignty, indigenous rights, and tribal citizenship of Southern New England Indians.

The discussion will be moderated by J. Kehaulani Kauanui and the panelists will include John Echohawk, Executive Director and co-founder of Native American Rights Foundation, James Jackson, Mashantucket Pequot tribal councilor, Jackson King, general council for Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Betsy Conway, legal council for Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, J. Cedric Woods, director (interim) of the Institute for New England Native American Studies, UMass Boston.

The forum lasts from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., after a book discussion from 11 a.m. until noon on “Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism And The Politics Of Sovereignty And Indigeneity” by J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Studies at Wesleyan University.

Steve Wynn Could Take Over Foxwoods Philadelphia Casino Project

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Foxwoods Philadelphia could become Wynn Philadelphia after today´s announcement by Wynn Resorts that one of its affiliates, under certain conditions, ¨will become the manager and managing general partner in the (Philadelphia Entertainment and Development Partners, LP) casino project slated for the Philadelphia waterfront.¨

Wynn´s involvement needs approval by Pennsylvania´s state gaming board.

Steve Wynn to take over Foxwoods Casino
By Jennifer Lin
The Philadelphia Inquirer
February 23, 2010

Las Vegas impresario Stephen A. Wynn has agreed in principal to take over the delayed Foxwoods Casino project in South Philadelphia.

Wynn Resorts has signed a non-binding agreement, outlining the terms and conditions for assuming control of the project from local investors and the Mashantucket Pequot tribe.

The original investors - called Philadelphia Entertainment and Development Partners - would still have a stake in the casino, but control would shift to the Wynn organization, sources said.

Stephen A. Cozen, a lawyer for the Foxwoods project, declined to comment on the status of the casino.

If a final deal is reached, it would salvage the stalled casino project on South Columbus Boulevard and bring a well-known international gaming brand to the city.

The deal comes at a critical time for the Foxwoods project.

The original investors are at risk of losing their license and need to find a new partner who can bring both money and leadership to the deal. Originally, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe was going to develop, finance and manage the casino. But today, the tribe, struggling with too much debt and a downturn in revenue, cannot lead the project.

At a hearing last Jan. 27, the seven-member Gaming Control Board gave the Foxwoods partners until March 3 to come up with a new design and financing.

They must present those details at a hearing this Wednesday. The board warned that if it is not satisfied with the plans, it could vote to revoke the license.

While the details of the agreement have not been made public, Wynn Resorts is expected to manage the casino and control more than 51 percent of the investment, sources said.

Under the original arrangement, local investors had 70 percent of the project, with the Connecticut tribe, which operates the Foxwoods Casino in southeastern Connecticut, controlling the rest.

The local investors include the family charities of three Philadelphia investors: sports team owner Lewis Katz; Center City developer Ron Rubin; and Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider. The businessmen have been steering the project for the past year.

Wynn Resorts, a publicly-traded corporation, was started by Wynn in 2002 and has opened luxury casinos in the Chinese city of Macao and Las Vegas. Wynn, 67, spent a lifetime in the gaming business, building his reputation on high-end properties like the Mirage, Bellagio and Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

Three years ago, local investors and the tribe won one of two licenses to build a slots parlor in Philadelphia in a highly-competitive bidding process.

But the project has faced intense neighborhood and political opposition from the start.

How Many Casinos Are Too Many In Pennsylvania Market?

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is a Philadelphia Inquirer article on the Pennsylvania gaming market.

How many casinos are too many?
By Jennifer Lin
Philadelphia Inquirer
February 22, 2010

Fast-forward a few years. You're feeling lucky and trolling I-95 for a place to roll the dice or play the slots.

Within a 60-mile stretch, five casinos beckon: one at a racetrack outside Wilmington, one in the city of Chester, two along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, and another just over the city line in Bucks County.

Want more?

From Bensalem, head west 29 miles on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a resort casino at the Valley Forge Convention Center, or north 50 miles to Bethlehem.

The Philadelphia region can claim many distinctions, and if all the grand plans of casino investors fall into place, gaming soon will be one of them.

Along with Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the Wilmington-to-Bethlehem corridor is expected to emerge by 2013 as one of the nation's top gambling markets, where seven casinos could pull in total annual revenue of $1.9 billion via table games and 19,000 slots.

With four casinos already in operation, and the rest scheduled to open by 2013, the question is increasingly being asked: How many are too many?

Local anti-gaming activists, intent on rolling back the number of planned casinos, have warned that the region already has too many gambling halls. Casino-Free Philadelphia has tried to block development of the city's two waterfront enterprises, arguing that gaming is a predatory business that exacerbates such social ills as crime and gambling addictions.

Others also are voicing concerns about a gaming glut, if for purely business reasons.

Last June, the operators of Parx Casino in Bensalem (formerly PhiladelphiaPark Racetrack & Casino) filed a petition against the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for awarding a casino license to the owners of the Valley Forge Convention Center.

In a sealed lawsuit in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (where all gaming-related complaints go), Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc. alleged that Valley Forge would draw revenue away from other operators.

The project is on hold, pending the high court's decision.

Attorneys for both sides declined to comment. However, in previous testimony to state regulators, Greenwood officials warned that yet another casino in the area would "cannibalize" the competition in an already saturated market.

Last year, Parx took in $357 million from more than 3,000 slot machines.

The Valley Forge investors, led by developer Ira Lubert, anticipate annual revenue of $60 million from 500 slots. They say their casino will have a minimal effect on the other operations, and they calculate that about one-third of the revenue will come from their own hotel guests and conventioneers.

Valley Forge would be a minor tremor compared with the quake to come: the opening of two full-scale casinos on the Philadelphia waterfront.

"The Philadelphia market is pretty competitive now and will become intensely competitive," said Joseph Weinert, a senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group L.L.C., a gambling-research firm. Whether the two casinos can perform at expected levels, "I don't think anyone knows that."

The SugarHouse Casino, on 22 acres in Fishtown, is to open this August.

Investors in the Foxwoods Casino will soon announce a new plan for their project in South Philadelphia. Stephen A. Cozen, a Foxwoods attorney, said the group would present a new design at a hearing before the Gaming Control Board on March 3.

As has been rumored for weeks, Las Vegas impresario Stephen Wynn is in negotiations to take control of the project, according to industry sources.

State Sen. Robert M. "Tommy" Tomlinson, a Republican whose district includes the Parx Casino, said Pennsylvania's gaming industry currently is enjoying strong success by pulling customers away from Atlantic City. But once the Philadelphia casinos open, he said, "I do worry about too many locations."

There is the obvious potential hit to the casinos' bottom line. But Tomlinson said the state could lose, too.

"If you cannibalize the market, you won't have viable businesses," Tomlinson said. "Your revenue to the state will go down."

From nine casinos last year, Pennsylvania raised $1.1 billion in tax revenue, of which $660 million went toward property-tax and wage-tax relief, according to the Gaming Control Board.

The state's goal is to have 14 sites across Pennsylvania: seven racetrack casinos or "racinos," five stand-alone casinos, and two smaller resort casinos.

In 2004, when Pennsylvania lawmakers were creating the gaming industry, the state hired the Innovation Group, a casino consultant, to calculate the number and location of slots parlors.

Paul Girvan, a managing partner in the New Orleans office of the Innovation Group, said the firm was given three starting points:

Gov. Rendell insisted on raising $1 billion a year from casinos to use for property-tax relief.

Pittsburgh had to get one stand-alone casino and Philadelphia two.

Racetracks would be allowed to add slots.

Taking into consideration population, household income, and people's propensity to gamble, Girvan suggested that the state have 12 casinos. Lawmakers later increased the total to 14, adding two licenses for smaller resort casinos.

Since 2004, however, the gaming landscape in states surrounding Pennsylvania has radically changed. Ohio and Maryland have approved gambling. New York is adding a racino at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. And Delaware, like Pennsylvania, is expanding to table games.

At the same time, the tanking economy has driven down casinos revenue across the country.

Nonetheless, Girvan said he still believed casino operators in the Philadelphia area would be able to make a reasonable return on their investment dollars.

"There could be some decline in revenue," he said, "but not catastrophic."

Many gaming analysts agree, noting that the local casinos appeal to the "convenience gambler" and tap a pool of almost six million people in the metropolitan area that includes Wilmington, Philadelphia, and South Jersey.

Those patrons value location above all. Parx, for instance, draws 65 percent of its regular players from a radius of 25 miles.

Table games will bolster revenue, too, by generating an additional $976 million a year statewide, the Innovation Group estimated. With the passage of a new law for table games in January, casinos can begin offering poker, roulette, blackjack, and other games.

Larry Klatzkin, a gaming analyst for Chapdelaine Credit Partners, said there was room for all the casinos in Philadelphia.

"Can people get into a marketing war and hurt each other's earnings? Yes," he said. "But as a group, it should eventually iron itself out. It should be a market that can survive."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Massachusetts Lawmakers Weigh Racinos Versus Casinos

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This installment of the Tribes In The Media is a Telegram Gazzette article on possible gambling legislation in Massachusetts and the viewpoints of some politicians.

Single casino, better odds
Slots get nod over ‘resorts’
By John J. Monahan
Telgram and Gazzette
February 21, 2010

I didn’t want three casinos at the same time. … If the plan would be to build one, as opposed to multiple casinos, I would support it.

-- Rep. John J. Binenda, D-WORCESTER


BOSTON — House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s drive for resort casinos and slot machines at the state’s racetracks is expected to test lawmakers who rejected expanded gambling two years ago.

To succeed, Mr. DeLeo must persuade as many as 30 Democratic representatives in an election year to switch their opinion on a controversial issue.

Gambling politics on Beacon Hill has changed dramatically since the House of Representatives voted 106-48 to kill Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s three-resort-casino plan in March 2008.

Former Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi marshaled opposition to kill the casino bill, despite intensive lobbying by Mr. Patrick. Mr. DiMasi argued that projections for tens of thousands of new jobs and hundreds of millions in new state revenues were inflated.

With Mr. DiMasi’s resignation last year and subsequent indictment on charges he used his position to reap money from an alleged bid-rigging scheme, opponents of gambling lost a key ally.

Mr. DeLeo, D-Winthrop, is pushing for installation of thousands of slot machines at the state’s four racetracks as a way to quickly generate new state revenues. He has promised to file legislation for slot machines and casinos in the coming weeks.

Revenues are down at other New England casinos but high unemployment has intensified pressure on lawmakers to create more jobs.

Another change since 2008 occurred when Mr. DeLeo replaced state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, an adamant gambling opponent, as chairman of the House committee that controls gambling legislation.

House members said the new chairman, state Rep. Brian S. Dempsey, D-Haverhill, has been polling them on whether they would support slot parlors or casinos as he prepares to take up Mr. DeLeo’s expanded gambling bill.

One casino opponent, state Rep. John J. Binienda, D-Worcester, said he is willing to change his vote to expand gambling.

“I didn’t want three casinos at the same time,” Mr. Binienda said of his vote to kill casinos two years ago, emphasizing his support is conditional upon slot machines going into racetracks.

“The first thing I wanted to do was put slots at the racetracks,” he said, an option not included in the 2008 plan. With greyhound racing now banned, he said, thousands are facing job losses. “If the plan would be to build one, as opposed to multiple casinos, I would support it,” said Mr. Binienda, a member of Mr. DiMasi’s and now Mr. DeLeo’s leadership team.

Another vote in the plus column this year would come from state Rep. Paul J. Kujawski, D-Webster, who did not cast a vote on the 2008 bill. He said he is “very pro casino” and argues that adding slot machines at the racetracks would not pose a moral issue because the state already licenses gambling at those locations.

State Rep. Anne M. Gobi, D-Spencer, who voted against the casino bill in 2008, said inclusion of slots at racetracks in a casino bill could get her to change her position.

“I’ve always supported slots at the racetracks,” she said. Her 2008 opposition, she said, was because she “didn’t want to go with three.”

“I am always willing to look at the casino issue,” she said. She also said she would like an independent analysis of the impacts and benefits on host communities, especially with revenues declining at some casinos. “Even two may be too many,” she said.

Ms. Gobi said location could also affect her view of a casino bill, because she does not favor having a casino in Palmer, one of many sites casino developers are offering as a possible location.

Other casino sites developers are considering are Milford, Marlboro, Boston, and southeastern Massachusetts.

State Rep. John V. Fernandes, D-Milford, said he voted against casinos two years ago because three was too many. He said he would now consider voting for fewer casinos.

“It’s not a flip-flop,” he said, adding he always believed “there is a place for a destination resort casino industry” in Massachusetts. His vote this year will be complicated by the prospect of having one in his hometown.

“I have doubts whether such a large development can fit the character of the community,” he said. He wants cities and towns to have veto power over any proposals and control of liquor licenses.

Another concern is whether expanded gaming would further reduce state Lottery revenues that communities rely on for school assistance.

Mr. Fernandes said he is “keeping an open mind” on the slots proposals, but said he has not been a big fan of slots at racetracks.

“I don’t think they bring as much to the table as resort casinos,” he said. Inclusion of slots with a casino plan, he said, “would not be a deal breaker” for him, but slots alone with no casinos might.

“I would have a hard time voting for just slots,” he said.

Gambling proponents could pick up a vote from state Rep. Dennis A. Rosa, D-Leominster. He replaced former state Rep. Jennifer L. Flanagan, who was a no vote in 2008.

“I’m on the fence. It’s 50-50,” he said. “I could go either way.”

“If it is going to involve racetracks and one or three casinos, I will be looking at this as a huge social experiment that will affect millions of people,” Mr. Rosa said.

State Rep. Jennifer M. Callahan, D-Sutton, who voted against the casino bill two years ago, said she hasn’t made up her mind.

She said the 2008 plan for three casinos was overkill. If the proposal is for just slots at racetracks, she said, it would be “putting the cart before the horse,” opening the possibility that the state would only get slot parlors and no casinos in the future.

She said she also remains worried about the impact of casinos on the Lottery.

“We cannot afford to undermine one of the most successful lotteries in the country,” and jeopardize local aid, she said.

State Rep. Karyn E. Polito, R-Shrewsbury, who backed the previous casino plan, said concern over the state Lottery effects on local businesses will be factors in her consideration.

She said she wants gambling revenues directed to cities and towns if gambling is expanded. The location also will be a factor in her vote.

State Rep. Geraldo Alicea, D-Charlton, said he voted against Mr. Patrick’s proposal because three casinos was over-saturation.

“There is a strong interest in creating jobs,” he said, but he would oppose putting slots at racetracks.

“I’m in the camp that needs to be convinced,” he said.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mohegan Don Chapman Speaks On Indian Business Conference

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Don Chapman, the senior advisor on Indian affairs to U.S. Treasury Secretary John Locke, talks to Indian Country Today on agency efforts in an article on the RES 2010 business conference that begins in Las Vegas tomorrow.

A new economy with RES 2010
By Rob Capriccioso
Indian Country Today
February 19, 2010

LAS VEGAS – The new American economy and the unique opportunities it holds for the American Indian business world is the focus of RES 2010.

The annual business conference, hosted by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, takes place at the Las Vegas Hilton Feb. 21 – 24. Hundreds of Indian entrepreneurs are scheduled to attend.

“We’ve made it through a challenging economic year to see development and growth in a wide variety of areas,” said Margo Gray-Proctor, the Osage chairwoman of NCAIED and president of Horizon Engineering Services Co.

“We’ve learned that we could go down the sink in a swirl, or we could do something that no one else has done as we turn around. And we’re doing it.”

Even given the economic downturn, Gray-Proctor said this is the largest RES to date – a feat she and her executive committee accomplished by trimming budgets, working long hours, and networking to the max. Approximately 480 tribes are expected to be represented.

Some areas of success will be uniquely featured at the meeting, which includes sessions on topics ranging from Native American entertainment ventures to the increasing power of social media to the growing global importance of international trade.

“The thing is you’ve got to try something new. That’s business. Business is risk,” Gray-Proctor said. “We’ve got to be willing to try new things.”

Beyond highlighting areas of new growth, the business leader said now is the time to really examine the potential of contracting for a variety of Native business owners, adding that it’s crucial for federal and tribal procurement people to make contact at RES.

“When we all start pulling resources, people and contracts together, we’re going to make Indian communities stronger.”

Plus, it’s a time to focus on the effectiveness of the federal stimulus money of 2009. One session is scheduled to highlight how tribes successfully leveraged their existing assets and how other Native enterprises, tribes and businesses can get a share.

Gray-Proctor said some Indian business leaders expect more stimulus funds to flow, so they want to know what worked about the first round and what can be improved.

The U.S. government sees potential at RES 2010, sending White House official Jodi Gillette, Interior’s Del Laverdure and Bob Middleton, and other federal staffers to attend the meeting and interact with Indian business people.

The top federal speaker is scheduled to be one of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet members, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Don Chapman, Locke’s Mohegan senior advisor on Native American affairs, noted that NCAIED has a longstanding relationship with the Department of Commerce, but said the agency is entering a new era of cooperation.

“We will soon launch a Commerce Department Native American Affairs Web page that will help collect feedback from Indian country and further develop relationships with Native American tribes,” Chapman said in preparation to attend RES 2010. “And we are also holding listening sessions across the country as we develop and plan to implement a tribal consultation policy.

“[W]e look forward to participating in the Reservation Economic Summit (RES 2010), a premier networking and economic development event, as we continue our communication with Indian country and address important issues.”

Tribal officials are also excited. Bill Anoatubby, Chickasaw Nation governor, said the gathering is important because it provides big potential for enhancing economic development in Indian country.

“It offers a unique opportunity for tribal business people to network with government agency representatives and corporate leaders. This is a one of a kind opportunity for these individuals to make connections which can provide incredible benefits to everyone concerned.”

The Chickasaw Nation is a presenting sponsor of this year’s event, along with Interior’s Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development.

Karlene Hunter, an Oglala Sioux businesswoman who owns a successful nutrition-focused company on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, said the networking potential of RES is hard to beat. She’s helped organize this year’s event, and noted the importance of Indian women taking a lead in a variety of economic fields.

“Our women’s sessions have quite a few of us female business owners sharing our experiences. It’s hard to start a business anywhere, and it’s especially tough in Indian country. Our Native women need to be prepared.”

Hunter said in past years after RES, she’s done follow-up with curious company owners who call to ask her about specific hurdles and how she overcame them.

“It’s important to share your wisdom if you have it. It makes us all stronger.”

Beyond its unique learning and networking opportunities, Gray-Proctor said RES 2010 will honor several businesses and individuals who have led the way in a variety of fields thus far.

“We’re all about honoring the vision. The power of Indian country is us.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Reminder: Spirit Lake Foundation Intertribal Social This Saturday

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The Spirit Lake Foundation Intertribal Social will take place Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Municipal Services Building, 295 Meridian Street, Groton, CT. The hours are from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m.

Virginia Recognizes Three Tribes

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Updated

Virginia´s lawmakers approved the state recognition of the Patawomeck Tribe, or Patawomeke, as it was spelled on Captain John Smith´s map for the river that we now call the Potomac, and two Nottoway tribes.

According to the resolution that recognized the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, which lost the last of its reservation lands in the 1850´s, ¨many of the tribal members ¨relocated to what became known an ´Artist Town,´ near what is now Riverdale Road in Southampton County. These tribal members continued to live there as a tribal communal group up until the late 1990s sharing their Native American traditions and customs – hunting, trapping, fishing the Nottoway River, farming, and raising livestock ...¨

Since both the state Senate and House of Delegates passed the resolution, the governor´s approval is not necessary. The legislature´s decision to recognize the three tribes marks the first time in over 20 years that a tribe in Virginia has recognized an Indian tribe. Each of the three tribes will also have a seat on the Virginia Commission on Indians (VCI) along with other state recognized tribes.

VCI, which includes the eight state recognized tribes, has been the body designated to review recognition petitions for the past 20 years. No petitions have yet to be approved by VCI in the history of the commission.

Wayne Newton, the Las Vegas performer, is a Patawomeck tribal member and spoke on the Tribe´s behalf before Virginia´s House of Delegates.

Members of the VCI insist in the need for an exhaustive vetting process before a recognition decision is made while critics claim that tribes are being subjected to a more demanding process than that of the eight Virginia tribes recognized in the 1980´s and 1990´s.

New York Aqueduct Slots Contract Under Scrutiny

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is a New York Daily News article on federal officials probing into the selection of a group to build and run a slot parlor at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, N.Y. The Mohegans participated in two bidding processes but came up empty each time.

Feds galloping into probe of controversial Aqueduct racino deal
By Kenneth Lovett
New York Daily News
February 18, 2010

ALBANY - The feds are trying to get losing bidders in the Aqueduct racino deal to dish about the chaotic process that led to the selection of a politically tied group, the Daily News has learned.

One losing contender said the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office contacted his group this week - the latest twist in the mushrooming scandal.

"The guy said, 'We're contemplating a further inquiry into the racino bid process: If we go ahead with that, would you guys be willing to cooperate with us?'" the bidder disclosed.

"We said that it wasn't much of a process, but, yes, if you ask us to, of course we'd cooperate."

Prosecutors recently subpoenaed the state Lottery Division for documents related to the Aqueduct project bid process, although aides to Gov. Paterson insist the probe is unrelated to the racino deal.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office wouldn't confirm or deny the existence of an investigation into Aqueduct.

Outraged bidders who lost out to Aqueduct Entertainment Group describe a rudderless selection system that made a mockery of the whole deal.

Gov. Paterson picked AEG just days after one key investor,the politically influential Queens Rev. Floyd Flake, left open the possibility of endorsing state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for governor.

Paterson has insisted he was impartial.

State Inspector General Joseph Fisch has launched a separate probe into the tumultuous bidding process.

Fisch does not have criminal jurisdiction. His office has been in contact with the federal prosecutors to ensure they don't step over each other, sources said.

State documents released Tuesday show AEG changed key parts of its bid just days after a private consultant ranked the group as dead-last in anticipated revenues.

The consultant's report, delivered to Team Paterson on Sept.18, found that AEG's $2.9billion estimated cash haul by 2022-23 was the lowest offered by the six candidates.

Five days later, AEG revised its numbers so the group would rank first, with $3.6 billion in anticipated revenue.

"I'm not a great believer of coincidence and the timing ofthat strikes me as pretty transparent," groused James Featherstonhaugh, an investor with losing bidder Delaware North.

AEG officials insist they were unaware of the consultant's conclusions when they altered the bid.

Federal Reserve Hikes Discount Rate For First Time Since 2008

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The U.S. Federal Reserve announced yesterday that it will raise the discount rate from a half a percent to .75 percent, the first increase since 2008.

Despite statements that today´s rate increase announcement should not be seen as the beginning of a cycle of rate increases, the financial markets took it that way.

A Federal Bank statement said, "The modifications are not expected to lead to tighter financial conditions for households and businesses and do not signal any change in the outlook for the economy or for monetary policy."

St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard discounts said market expectations that the Fed would hike rates this year are "overblown" and that rate increases in 2011 are much more likely.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mohegan Sun Reports About 1% Decrease In January Slot Revenue, Foxwoods 2.5% Decline

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Mohegan Sun reported a one percent decrease in its January slot machine revenue compared to January 2010 while Foxwoods reported a 2.5 percent decline in its January slot revenue.

Mohegan Sun´s slot revenue for January was $61.8 million and Foxwoods reported $51.6 in slot revenue. The tribal casinos send 25 percent of their slot revenue to the state of Connecticut.

Winter Storm Advisory For Connecticut

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Update 5

Connecticut was put on a winter storm advisory through Tuesday night for a projected snowfall that is now expected to begin Tuesday morning. Accumulations of 2-5 inches are forecasted inland and 2 inches along the shoreline, which could also see some rain and sleet.

As of 7 a.m., Griswold, Ledyard, Montville and Norwich schools announced they will be closed today. So far, the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribal governments have not announced any closings or delays.

Note: The Mohegan Tribal government did delay the opening of their office today but no formal announcement was posted on a WFSB storm closing list, the station the Tribe said it uses to announce closings and delays, presumably for the convenience and safety of employees.

Tribal Casinos Expected To Report January Slot Machine Figures Today

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The Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are expected to report their January slot figures later today. For the month of December slot revenues at Mohegan Sun fell by 9.6 percent and Foxwoods fell less than 1 percent.

UConn Women´s Basketball Coach Auriemma To Expand Fast Food Restaurants At Highway Rest Stops

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Geno Auriemma, the University of Connecticut women´s basketball coach who opened Geno´s Fast Break restaurant at Mohegan Sun casino, will expand his franchise to at least two more locations - at Interstate 95 rest stops on both sides of the highway in Milford, Connecticut.

Auriemma announced last week that he has a contract with Project Services, LLC, which was awarded a 35-year contract last October to upgrade and operate 23 highway service plazas on I-95, I-395 and the Merritt Parkway. The overhauls will include adding more restaurants and fuel pumps, if needed, at rest stops.

Project Services is a partnership of a private equity firm, the Carlyle Group, and Doctor's Associates, a North Haven-based developer of Subway restaurants.

Auriemma has shown he can deliver on a basketball court. The UConn women are ranked number 1 in the nation, are undefeated this season at 26-0, have won the last 65 of their games and are quickly catching up to their record-breaking 70-game win streak that spanned the team´s 2001 and 2004 seasons.

Foxwoods Announces 2.5% Non-Union Wage Increase, Suspends 401(k) Retirement Contribution For All Employees

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is an article in today´s The Day newspaper on Foxwoods´ recent announcement concerning non-union employee wage increases and suspension of 401(k) retirement contributions.

Foxwoods to offset raises with 401(k) match hiatus
Casino did not mention suspension when announcing pay increase
By Brian Hallenbeck
The Day
February 16, 2010

Mashantucket - In going public with news of a 2.5 percent raise for nonunion employees, Foxwoods Resort Casino management failed to mention Friday that it will also suspend contributions to the 401(k) retirement accounts of both union and nonunion workers.

Michael Speller, president of Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprises, which operates Foxwoods, including MGM Grand at Foxwoods, informed employees of the raises and of the one-year suspension of the 401(k) match in a memo last Thursday.

On Friday, Foxwoods provided The Day with a two-paragraph portion of the memo that only dealt with the raises. The Day obtained a copy of the entire, four-paragraph memo Monday.

"In order to partially offset some of the cost of implementing the wage increases, it will be necessary to suspend the 401(k) match for all hourly Team Members, beginning February 28, 2010," Speller said in the memo. "This match had already been suspended for our salaried Team Members in 2009.

"... While it is not easy to make these choices we believe that the implementation of a wage increase is an immediate benefit to our Team Members and at the current time is more meaningful."

Foxwoods matches up to 3 percent of the salary deferral made by each employee who chooses to participate in the 401(k) plan. Foxwoods officials could not say Monday how many employees participate. The number constantly fluctuates, they said.

"All employees utilizing 401(k) benefits are encouraged to continue their investment, and when the market improves within 12 months, we will re-instate the matching benefits for our hourly team members and their wage increase will remain in effect," a Foxwoods spokeswoman said Monday. " … The 401(k) reduction is a small fraction of the increased expense (of the raises) and Foxwoods is absorbing that cost."

Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods' neighboring competitor, suspended annual wage hikes and 401(k) matches as part of a cost-containment program adopted Feb. 1, 2009. It reinstated the pay increases this month.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods, has been negotiating with banks, bondholders and other lenders as it seeks to restructure more than $2 billion in debt.

Vero Beach Powwow In Florida This Weekend

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The Thunder on the Beach powwow will be held at the Indian River County Fairgrounds in Vero Beach, FL, this weekend (Feb. 19-21). The host drum is Northern Wind from Ontario, the recipient of the 2004 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for best traditional Powwow album 'Whispering Winds' and 2008 Aboriginal Peoples Music Choice Awards best powwow traditional album, “November Winds.¨

Pennsylvania´s Gaming Revenue, Table Game Jobs To Come At Expense Of Atlantic City

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is an Atlantic City Press article on the casino job market in Atlantic City and Pennsylvania along with some interesting statistics.

¨Pennsylvania’s table games, he asserted, will attract the big-spending gamblers from New York and northern New Jersey who now visit Atlantic City,¨ said Mount Airy Casino CEO George Toth.

Pennsylvania casinos prepare for hiring boom
By Donald Wittkowski
Atlantic City Press
February 14, 2010

PLEASANTVILLE — Olawale Egunjobi recalled how he made $15,000 in four months while working as a dealer at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Now, he is collecting unemployment checks.

Welfare recipient Suzanne Carrier’s unemployment insurance ran out a long time ago. She has been unable to find casino work since losing her credit clerk job five years ago at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.

In what has become a frustrating and time-consuming routine, Egunjobi and Carrier were back once again at the state unemployment office in Pleasantville, hoping to land new jobs in the Atlantic City casino industry. But they were looking in the wrong place. These days, the job prospects are in Pennsylvania.

While Atlantic City’s struggling gaming halls continue to slash jobs by the thousands, a hiring boom is under way at the Pennsylvania casinos as they prepare to add table games this year to complement their slot machines.

In all, about 4,000 to 4,500 positions will be filled at Pennsylvania’s nine existing gaming parlors and the new SugarHouse Casino opening this summer in Philadelphia. Each property will employ hundreds of new dealers, supervisors and other workers for their blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat and poker tables.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, near Wilkes-Barre, Pa., plans to hire 500 workers for table games positions as well as new jobs in the security, cashiering, slots, valet and food and beverage departments. Mohegan Sun is opening its first dealer school this month.

Mount Airy Casino Resort, in Mount Pocono, Pa., held a job fair last month to begin recruiting 225 to 250 new workers. Of the 1,000 job applicants who showed up, about half were from Atlantic City.

“I don’t think they feel they have job security,” Mount Airy Chief Executive Officer George Toth speculated about the heavy Atlantic City turnout.

Toth, a former Atlantic City gaming executive, said many of the applicants are dealers and managers who are ready to restart their careers in a new market after spending 10 to 20 years in Atlantic City.

Competition from Pennsylvania’s slot parlors already has been driving down revenue in Atlantic City. The rivalry will become even more intense with the arrival of Pennsylvania’s table games.

As Atlantic City’s gaming revenue has declined, so too has the number of jobs. New Jersey Casino Control Commission figures show that the total work force is currently about 36,000 employees, a level comparable to the late 1980s. Casinos have cut about 2,000 jobs in the past 12 months — on top of the thousands of other positions that were eliminated when the recession hit with full force in 2008.

“The stories I get out of Atlantic City is that the market is down and people are looking to improve their own status by going to a market that is stealing from other markets,” Toth said.

Carrier, who lives on Frambes Avenue in Pleasantville, began her Atlantic City casino career in 1988. She said she has had no serious job prospects since leaving the Taj Mahal in 2005.

“I’ve been out of work for a long time,” she said.

Carrier said she had applied for a job last year at Mount Airy, but never heard back from the casino. Now, she plans to give the Pennsylvania market a second chance because of the hiring surge.

“I’m ready to relocate. I’m all by myself and my children are grown,” said Carrier, a 56-year-old divorcee. “I don’t mind going up there.”

Egunjobi, a 28-year-old Nigerian who emigrated to the United States five years ago, lives on Fernwood Avenue in Egg Harbor Township. He lost his job at Borgata in 2008. Some days, he spends hours at the unemployment office looking for any type of work.

“Normally, it will take me four hours,” he said. “I haven’t found anything yet. I’m worried about losing my house. The bank is working on the mortgage.”

Egunjobi was a blackjack, craps, roulette and mini-baccarat dealer in Atlantic City. If a new job doesn’t materialize in Atlantic City, he said he will consider taking his skills to Pennsylvania’s casinos.

“I know that if I can drive there, I’ll be fine,” he said.

Atlantic City dealers average about $21.50 to $29 per hour in tips and wages, said Jim Moore, an international representative for the United Auto Workers union. The UAW represents dealers at Bally’s, Caesars, Tropicana Casino and Resort and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Moore said he knows of no UAW members at this time who are planning to jump to Pennsylvania.

“It’s not that entertaining to make that transition,” he said. “They will have to consider relocating their families, taking their kids out of school, job security, all of those things.”

Toth said Mount Airy will offer dealer pay and tips that are competitive with Atlantic City’s wages. Pennsylvania’s table games, he asserted, will attract the big-spending gamblers from New York and northern New Jersey who now visit Atlantic City.

In an effort to make Pennsylvania even more appealing for would-be employees, Mount Airy had real estate agents at its job fair to give an overview of the local housing market.

Lisa Sanderson, a salesperson for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, Wilkins & Associates, of Stroudsburg, Pa., said there was intense interest in the Poconos market.

“I was amazed,” she said. “There were people coming in from all over the place — California, Florida, as well as Atlantic City.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mohawk Election Board Certifies Gaming Referendum Results

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The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe issued the following press release, dated February 12, which announced that the Tribe´s election board, after throwing out four appeals, certified the results of the January 30 referendum to pursue an off-reservation casino in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

Election Board Certifies Referendum Results
Off-Reservation Gaming Approved

Akwesasne Territory — On February 12, 2010, St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Election Board certified the referendum held on Saturday January 30, 2010. The referendum was held to approve the tribe’s interest in pursuing off-reservation gaming in the Catskills. The certification was delayed due to four appeals which have been addressed according to procedures established in the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Election and Referendum Ordinance, Amended April 10, 2009.

In letters dated February 9, 2010, the Election Board responded to the appeals, upholding the validity of the referendum.

Voter turnout was good at 936 and the measure was officially approved with 538 votes for, 371 against, 27 ballots void and two ballots were spoiled. The next hurdle for the tribe to clear is the so-called Kempthorne decision, made during the Bush Administration. The Obama Administration is currently reviewing this earlier decision that limited off-reservation gaming developments. Information will be released as it becomes available.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mashpee Indian Meetinghouse Re-opens

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The three-century old Indian meetinghouse at Mashpee was re-opened in December after being closed for six years. The building was one of dozens built in what would become known as ¨praying towns,¨ communities of Indians from many different tribes who converted to Christianity.

“It is a standing testament to the last 300 and some odd years of colonialism. And that is important, because the building has weathered that colonial period and we have weathered it,” said Tribal member Little Doe upon the re-opening. The meetinghouse, considered one of Cape Cod´s most significant historic buildings, underwent a million dollar reconstruction.

Seneca Indians Launch Radio Station

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The Seneca Indian Nation in New York launched a new FM radio station as part of a diversification effort. The station, WGWE-FM 105.9 began broadcasting earlier this month from their reservation. The broadcast began with the Seneca prayer of thanks, "Gan on yok." The station is said to reach the southern Buffalo suburbs, west to Lake Erie, east to Jamestown and south to Bradford, Pennsylvania.

Las Vegas Strip Casinos Report Second Consecutive Monthly Increase In Gaming Revenue, Atlantic City Down 8.5%

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Las Vegas Strip casinos saw their December gaming revenue increase 5.8 percent, the second consecutive monthly increase, while gaming revenue for all of Nevada´s casinos fell 3.2 percent in December compared to the same month in the prior year.

Atlantic City casinos continue to show revenue declines, according to figures released that show an 8.5 percent decline in casino revenue for the month of January. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie´s statements on considering plans for allowing slot machines at racetracks is more bad news on top of the legalization of table games in two neighboring states, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The reporting of Nevada casino revenue lags Atlantic City by one month.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Winter Storm Closings and Delays, Another Snowfall Possible Monday

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Due to yesterday´s winter storm, the Mohegan Tribal offices will open at 10 a.m. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal offices and their museum will open 2 hours late today.

The opening of some schools will also be delayed, such as Groton 90 minutes, Griswold 2 hours, Ledyard 90 minutes, Montville 2 hours, Norwich schools and NFA 90 minutes, and Stonington 90 minutes.

A foot-plus of snow fell on the Poconos Mountains, which is a three-year record snowfall for that area. The city of Wilkes-Barre, the location of the Mohegan´s slot parlor, got about 9 inches. Today´s Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board meeting has been re-scheduled for Thursday February 17 at 1 p.m.

By early Thursday, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington had announced new annual snow records, and more than a foot of snow lay across parts of New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island, a New York Times article said today. Federal government offices in Washington D.C. are closed today for the fourth consecutive day, due in part to last weekend´s snow storm.

There is talk of another winter storm, possibly as early as Monday. Or possibly later.

Four Appeals Filed In Mohawk Referendum

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Four appeals were filed on the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe´s referendum held on January 30, according to the Watertown News. Tribal members voted 538-371 to continue pursuing a casino in the Catskill Mountains of New York. No further details were available about the nature of the appeals.

Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe Fears Losing Land Base In Massachusetts

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This installment of the Tribes In The Media is a story in the Herald News of Massachusetts about the Pocasset Wamapanoag Tribe´s fear of losing their land base while sharing their views of intertribal relations in the state.

Pocasset Tribe wants to clear the air on casinos
By Jay Pateakos
Herald News
February 10, 2010F

FALL RIVER — The Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe is calling on state and federal officials and other tribes to join them at their annual powwow in March to address rumors that their land on the North Watuppa Pond is being eyed for a casino and to collaborate efforts going forward.

Two weeks ago, the state’s Commission on Indian Affairs requested that a 100-acre parcel of the Watuppa Reservation be put into trust. Pocasset Tribal Council Vice Chairman Daryl Black Eagle Jamieson said that was part of a plan for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indians to build a casino. But Jamieson said his tribe owns more than 424 acres of land in Fall River and Freetown, and that nothing happens on that land without their approval.

Jamieson said having the Wampanoag nations at the powwow and subsequent meetings that day will help to “get everything out in the open and hopefully straighten everything out” as far as to the rightful owners to the land and who can and cannot use it.

Jamieson said the Commission on Indian Affairs does not represent the tribes of the commonwealth and includes groups such as the Mashpee and Nipmuc tribes, who have no ties to this area.

“The tribes from this area should be on that Commission; and the biggest three, Pocasset, Seekonk and Herring Pond, are not,” said Jamieson. “We want to have this meeting to get a chance to talk with other Indian nations and get everyone on the same page.”

Pocasset Tribal Council Chairman George Spring Buffalo said in addition to the Wampanoag nations meeting, he is hoping to create his own committee to better represent American Indian interests.

“We want to form a committee to help our area’s tribal nations in situations we feel the Commission on Indian Affairs are supposed to be representing,” said Buffalo. “We want to help look out for the affairs of all Indian nations, not just a few.”

Chairman Buffalo said he does not expect any representatives from the Mashpee Wampanoag’s tribe to attend the meetings in March.

“They are not into talking. If they had, they would have done so before stepping on our territory,” said Buffalo, who added that the Mashpees never once informed his tribe of its intention to locate a casino in the city. “They have disrespected us and as far as I am concerned, we have nothing to talk about.”

Reached by phone Wednesday, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe officials said they would not comment on any of the Pocasset Indian comments, the upcoming meeting or the potential of what they plan to do or not do with any land in Fall River.

Jamieson said if there is going to be gaming in its territory, it will be the Pocasset Tribe working with the local and state agency for the benefit of the people who live in their territory. Jamieson said the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe is still recognized by its Colonial treaties made on behalf of the Massachusetts Bay Authority Co., formerly in Tiverton. The Pocasset’s petitioned the English government to move its reservation to the North Watuppa Pond in Fall River in 1709.

Jamieson said the pending Commission on Indian Affairs meeting where the discussion will take place to put 100 acres of Pocasset land in trust “violates our civil rights as a tribal government,” and that any changes to that would need to be made through the Legislature only. Something he said is not going to happen.

“The Commission on Indian Affairs is an advisory committee, not a legislative committee. They don’t have the power to manage this land,” said Pocasset Indian attorney Les Rich. “If you look at how they were formed, they were an advisory committee for the governor. They don’t have those kinds of powers.”

The Commission on Indian Affairs meeting to discuss the future of the Watuppa Reservation will be held on Feb. 23 in Boston. The Pocasset Indian powwow and gathering with other Wampanoag Nations will take place on Sunday, March 7, at 8 a.m.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mohegan Elder To Hold Basket Making Class At Mashantucket Pequot Museum

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Westerly Sun is reporting that ¨Mohegan Elder Sharon Maynard will demonstrate basket making techniques the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket, Thursday, Feb. 18, from 1 to 3 p.m. Try weaving at our kid-friendly table throughout the day, visit our library to look at books about baskets and to pick up a bibliography on Eastern Woodland basketry. Free with Museum admission, free to Museum members.¨

Winter Storm To Hit Mohegan Reservation And All Of Connecticut, Tribal Offices Closed

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Updated 8

Snow combined with high winds will create almost blizzard-like conditions for New London County, beginning Wednesday morning and lasting through Thursday morning. A winter storm warning remains in effect for the area until Thursday morning at 6 a.m. Government offices for both the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes as well as all local schools will be closed Wednesday.

Nipmuc Chief Wise Owl Dies

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The following is an excerpt of the obituary that appeared in the Telegram.com media outlet of Worcestor, MA, on the death of Chief Wise Owl of the Nipmuc Nation. Calling hours were yesterday.

Chief Wise Owl dies; led Nipmuc recognition battle
By Bradford L. Miner
Telegram.com
February 9, 2010

WARREN — Edwin W. Morse Sr., who as Chief Wise Owl led the Chaubunagungamaug clan of Nipmucs in a nearly three-decade bid for federal recognition, has died.

The 81-year-old will be succeeded by his son, Edwin W. Morse Jr., known as Chief Red Fox.

As chief of the Webster-Dudley band of Nipmucs, the senior Morse was instrumental in the Nipmuc petition to the Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition, a process that started in 1980.

In 1996, the Hassanamisco and Chaubunagungamaug clans filed separate petitions for recognition. Both were denied in June 2004 for failure to meet all seven criteria for federal recognition.

Both the Chaubunagungamaug and Hassanamisco learned in February 2008 that all administrative avenues for federal recognition had been exhausted when the bureau declined to reconsider an appeal of the denied petition.

The Chaubunagungamaug petition failed to meet the criteria that the petitioner had been identified as an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900; a predominant portion of the petitioning group constituted a distinct community and had existed as a community from historical times until the present; and the petitioner had maintained political influence or authority over its members as an autonomous entity from historical times until the present.

The Hassanamisco petition was found lacking on four criteria.

According to family members and friends, Chief Wise Owl wrote three books on the Algonquin language, traditions and legends.

He taught the spoken Algonquin language, the cooking of traditional American Indian foods, and the use of the traditional regalia seen at powwows and other tribal events.

As justice of the peace, Chief Wise Owl officiated at American Indian weddings, He was active in tribal affairs and was a voice promoting the cultural identity and well-being of Americans Indians throughout the region.

Flash - N.Y. Governor Under Investigation Over VLT Slot Parlor Deal, Says TV Station

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New York TV station WPIX says that Governor David Paterson is under federal investigation for his role in last month´s awarding of the contract for a large slot parlor at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, N.Y.

Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot Response Awaited On Keno Game

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Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell said she intends to raise revenue for the state by introducing the gambling game of Keno despite some concerns that the move could violate the state´s gaming agreements with the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribes.

Gov. Rell claims that Keno is a type of lottery game, permitted by current law, and not a casino game, which would prevent the state from starting the game under the agreements, or gaming compacts, with the two tribes.

The Feather News reported earlier that the executive director of the state´s Division of Special Revenue, Paul Young, told the state´s Gaming Policy Board members at a recent meeting that ¨The statutes clearly indicate that the President of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation has the authority to introduce new lottery games, and it rests only with the Lottery organization to decide what games are best for them/the public.¨

The following installment of The Tribes In The Media is a Fairfield County Weekly article on the possiblity of the state´s initiating Keno.

An Outside Chance
Rell gambles again on keno to help out with the state's budget troubles
By Gregory B. Hladky
Fairfield County Weekly
February 11, 2010

Imagine you're a down-and-out Connecticut lawmaker, depressed as hell 'cause you're broke, it's an election year and there's a $500 million deficit hanging over you like an ax. There you are, slouching along in the low-rent part of town, looking in gutters for nickels and dimes, when you hear a seductive voice calling from the doorway of a sleazy, neon-lit dive.

"Hey, why don't ya come on in and play a little keno? It's guaranteed to bring ya $20 million in the first year! And we're offering you a sweet deal to borrow against future winnings! How does $400 million up front sound?"

That's the come-hither scenario Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her budget chief, Robert Genuario, are pushing as part of a budget solution. It's not a new idea. Rell tried it out in the middle of last summer's budget crisis, but the General Assembly turned her down cold.

This time, Rell's added a new twist: She claims she doesn't need legislative approval to legalize keno, which could be played in as many as 900 bars and restaurants across the state. She now claims she can authorize it as a lottery game by regulation.

But some lawmakers fear this is a gamble that could cost the state hundreds of millions in annual revenue from Connecticut's two tribal casinos.

The question is whether keno is a lottery or a casino game.

Modern keno involves small electronic terminals. A player chooses a series of numbers (usually 10 to 15 numbers out of a field of one through 80), trying to match numbers randomly selected by the terminal computer. The more numbers you match, the bigger your winnings.

If keno is considered a casino game, it could break the state's compact with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes. In return for giving the tribes a monopoly on casino-style gambling, the state gets a 25 percent split of their slot revenue. This year, the state is hoping to pull in a cool $346 million from the deal.

Last June, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal warned the whole issue was murky, that some states with keno have labeled it a lottery game and some a casino game. The same is true of various court decisions. Blumenthal recommended renegotiating the agreement with the tribes or having the legislature define what keno is.

"Concluding whether the proposed keno is a lottery game would be more of a guess than a legal analysis," Blumenthal said at the time. He said last week he stands by his earlier opinion.

Genuario's interpretation is that Blumenthal didn't make any hard-and-fast ruling on exactly what keno is, so why not go ahead and try? "We think it's very much akin to a lottery," Genuario said. "We don't think there is a risk of jeopardizing the money the state gets from the casinos."

He added, "It's a legitimate revenue stream that many other states use."

Officials with the National Conference of State Legislatures say 13 jurisdictions have legalized keno in one form or another, including California, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Officials of the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribes aren't about to show their cards this early in the game.

"It would be premature to comment," said Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff to the Mohegan tribal government. Bunnell said that, since the tribes haven't seen details of what Rell's administration intends, they don't know if their casino profits might take a hit. "It would depend on exactly how it was being conducted," he said.

Bill Satti, spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequots, said his bosses couldn't respond until they saw the state's keno plan.

One thing is certain. Neither of the tribes will be thrilled by anything that cuts into their gambling revenues when profits at both casinos have been hammered by the recession.

In 2007, the state's share of slot revenue from both tribes hit a high of $430.5 million. The General Assembly's fiscal hotshots are predicting the state's slot take this year will be about $84 million less.

"Revenues are down at the tribes because discretionary dollars are down," said state Rep. Stephen D. Dargan, D-West Haven. "People can't afford to pay their rent, never mind going to casinos."

Dargan is co-chairman of the legislature's Public Safety Committee, and he's getting freaked out by the Rell administration's keno plans.

"I'm worried about losing that [casino] money," he said. "I think the administration needs to come up with a plan and run it by the two tribes to see if it is in violation" of the compact.

State officials say they don't have a detailed plan right now. They say the intent is to put keno terminals in bars and restaurants, maybe 500 to start with, and another 400 coming later.

Dargan is sure the tribes will take the keno issue into the courts, "Especially if we try to shove it down their throats by regulation. That's not the way to govern."

Genuario insists he isn't worried by the threat of a court challenge.

Someone who is worried is Marvin A. Steinberg, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling. "This would be the introduction of a major new form of gambling," he said, arguing electronic keno is a particularly insidious form of gambling.

According to Steinberg, "People get hooked more easily on electronic keno" than many other types of gambling because of the "frequency of reinforcement" keno offers.

"You can plan numerous games in a few seconds," he said. Steinberg said terminals can be set up to offer "little incentives to reward people for playing." Since the terminals would be at bars and restaurant tables, it would also make it easy for people to get hooked and tough for problem gamblers to avoid the lure.

"All these things increase the risk of problem gambling," Steinberg said.

The problem for Rell, Genuario and those sad-sack lawmakers is they're running out of deficit solutions. If not keno, then what? Raise taxes again? Cut social programs? In a mother-loving election year?

Genuario is taking a laid-back approach as he punches in his bet on keno.

"I don't think it's a big gamble," he said.

Mashpee Wampanoag´s Ex-Financial Backer Speaks Out

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is a South Coast Today article on one of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe´s former financial backer´s response to being cut out of a possible casino deal with the Tribe.

Original casino backers feeling jilted by tribe
By Stephanie Vosk
South Coast Today
February 10, 2010

Tribe leaders may be looking to cut ties with the people who financed their quest for federal recognition, but some of those investors don't want to go quietly.

Over the past decade, Detroit real estate developer Herb Strather formed a group of 300 investors to bankroll the tribe in exchange for a cut of future casino profits. Now that the deal has gone sour, some of the investors are considering taking legal action against the tribe if they're left out of the potential windfall.

"I feel very strongly that we've acted straightforward and honest and we've given our money and some people have given their time and I just don't think it's right," said George Pyne, an East Falmouth summer resident who bought into the project about eight years ago.

Tribe leaders have been working for months to officially cut ties with their original financial backers, Trading Cove and AtMashpee. Meanwhile, they've inked a new deal with a group of Malaysian casino investors.

Strather says he's been told that his contributors will get back between 80 to 90 percent of the money they've doled out, but only if and when a casino opens.

But Strather, who has contributed into the "seven figures" himself, said he'd have to pay his other investors first and wouldn't see a penny.

"This is not expressive of the tribe that met the Mayflower. This is not the same as the tribe that helped Harriet Tubman in the Underground Railroad, that helped the slaves," Strather said last week. "This is completely a vindictive situation."

From 1999 to 2006, AtMashpee covered the tribe's day-to-day costs.

Strather bought a horse farm in Mashpee for the Wampanoag to operate. AtMashpee hired lawyers and lobbyists to push the tribe's stalled petition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which ultimately led to the tribe being granted federal recognition in 2007.

In total, the group has doled out more than $25 million over the last decade, said Strather, who headed up the group of investors before stepping down a few years ago.

"We supported the tribe with a very big budget, from Day 1," Strather said. "I never, ever, ever remember saying no."

Now, Strather is hoping tribe members can convince the tribal council to keep his group involved. If not, he may literally take back the farm, he said.

Through an attorney Tuesday, the tribal council rebuffed Strather's claims.

"Herbert Strather has no relationship with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe," attorney Howard Cooper said in a prepared statement. "His claims have no merit whatsoever, and as such the tribe will not respond further to them."


Money troubles
By early 2006, when the tribe received the initial nod from the Bureau of Indian Affairs that it would be recognized, AtMashpee had already spent $15 million.

It was also around this time that tribe members began to ask questions about where that money was actually going and what kind of influence Strather and the people he hired were exerting over the tribe.

Four tribe members went to court in 2006 to try to trace the checks. Their complaint was eventually dismissed and they were banned by the tribal council from participating in any tribal events.

As the tribe's bills piled up and the money ran low, AtMashpee in late 2006 brought in South African casino moguls Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman, who had bankrolled Mohegan Sun. They struck a lucrative deal with the tribe for a more than 6 percent stake in a future casino. AtMashpee retained control of about 5 percent of the investment, Strather has said.

But in 2008, Glenn Marshall, the chairman of the council who signed the initial deal with Strather in 2000, admitted to federal prosecutors that he funneled more than $4 million of Strather's money through a state corporation to make campaign contributions and pay his own bills.

Last year, Marshall pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3½ years in federal prison.

"I don't know if they're trying to blame me for that or not. I simply wrote checks," Strather said in a recent interview. "No, I didn't scrutinize really a lot because I love the tribe so much. I was so liberal with them, I gave them whatever they asked me."

And when he found out the money wasn't used the way it was supposed to be, "I didn't get mad and sue them," he said.


new partners
Marshall's admission and downfall led to a wave of new tribal leadership. The new council leaders — elected in February 2009 — focused first on cutting ties with many of the advisers and associates that Strather and Marshall had hired.

Later that year, tribal leaders voted not to ratify the agreement with Kerzner, Wolman and Strather. The terms were too unbalanced, tribe leaders said.

But Strather says the disagreement arose because the plan called for a $1.6 billion casino — a model deemed no longer feasible under tough economic conditions. Instead of trying to renegotiate — which Strather says he would have been willing to do — the tribe went looking for other financial backers.

In November 2009, the tribe announced a new deal with Arkana Limited, an affiliate of Kien Huat, which is part of gambling giant Genting Group, the group that backed Foxwoods Resort & Casino in its infancy. The tribe still had not broken off from Kerzner, Wolman and Strather.

"I hope the elders will tell this new council: 'Hey, you wanna make a new deal with somebody, make a new deal. But let the original investors in there,'" Pyne said.

But his son, Jim Pyne, who also invested in the tribe, said while he does want to be a part of the casino, he'd also be happy to get his money back.

"It's been such a long process and it's looked so bad for so long with delays and put-offs. I guess if they gave me my money back today, yeah, I'd take my money back," Pyne said, adding that he isn't privy to the negotiations. "Dealing with the people that we're dealing with, they don't seem like they're ethical in the way that they're treating us."

Lawrence "Sonny" Tobey, co-chair of the tribal elders council, said his group remains behind Strather and his investors "100 percent."

"We look at that commitment as a very valid commitment and, as members of the tribe, want to live up to our responsibilities," Tobey said.

But another tribal elder, Amelia Bingham, who was among the group that sought answers about tribe finances, said Strather "should have been left out of the deal."

"He tricked the tribe," Bingham said, noting, for example, how Strather promised to deed the tribe the horse farm, but never actually did.

As the deal with Trading Cove and AtMashpee is perhaps on the verge of collapse, the tribe and its new investors are already moving forward with new casino plans.

The Wampanoag tribe secured a deal in 2007 with the rural town of Middleboro to build a casino. But in recent months, tribal leaders have met with officials in the city of Fall River about possibly relocating the gaming facility.

The tribe is also continuing talks with state officials as the gambling debate once again heats up on Beacon Hill.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wampanoag Tribes In Territorial Dispute

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The following Cape Cod Online article, included in the Tribes In The Media series, concerns a dispute between the Wampanoag tribes in Massachusetts.

Pocasset Wampanoag bridle at perceived land
By George Brennan
Cape Cod Times
February 9, 2010

Interest in Fall River and Freetown by two Cape and Islands-based tribes has touched off a turf war.

Adding to the unrest is a proposal by the state's Commission on Indian Affairs, whose executive director, Jim Peters, is a Mashpee Wampanoag tribe member, to oversee 100 acres of the Watuppa Reservation in Fall River.

The Fall River-based Pocasset Wampanoag tribe was deeded rights to the land by Benjamin Church, a Colonial captain who recruited Indians to fight for his side during King Philip's War in the 17th century. Tribe members are upset that two nearby sister tribes are lusting over their backyard.

"That reservation in Fall River we got for spilling blood in wars," said Daryl "Black Eagle" Jamieson, vice chairman of the Pocasset Wampanoag. "It has nothing to do with Mashpees. They never fought in the King Philip War."

The Pocasset tribe received notification of the commission's proposal to take 100 acres of Watuppa into state trust even as the Times was breaking news of a meeting between Fall River Mayor William Flanagan and Mashpee tribe leaders about possibly moving the tribe's proposed Indian casino to the economically depressed city.

The state board will hear the trust proposal at 11 a.m. Feb. 23 at the commission's Boston office.


Deed overlooked
Meanwhile, the Pocasset tribe has filed a formal complaint with Gov. Deval Patrick's office saying the commission, which is supposed to represent the interests of all of the state's Native Americans, overstepped its bounds, Pocasset tribal council chairman George Spring Buffalo said.

"You can't put something into trust that we hold the deed to," he said. "I don't know where that's coming from."

Peters said the 100 acres is not being considered for a casino, despite a published report attributing that possibility to him.

Though Peters' tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) have talked with officials in Fall River and Freetown, it was not about this land, Peters said. The commission proposal is an attempt to protect the land, he said.

"I know both the Aquinnah and Mashpee are looking at land in Fall River, but this is not the parcel," Peters said.

Mashpee tribal council chairman Cedric Cromwell refused comment Friday through a spokesman.


Reservation land
The 100 acres is the portion of the Watuppa Reservation that remains in Fall River. In 1907, the land was taken by the city for its water supply.

Years later, the state added 277 acres in Freetown to the Watuppa Reservation as compensation for the land that was taken, Jamieson said. That Freetown land is under control of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Pocasset tribal officials are upset and hurt that Cromwell has not reached out to them. Jamieson said he's been with Cromwell recently at two drumming events and the Mashpee tribe's intentions were never discussed.

"I was more shocked and hurt to be honest with you that people would try to come up and take land that didn't belong to them," Jamieson said. "It's way out of their area."


Middleboro regrets
The Mashpee tribe has a deal with Middleboro to locate an Indian casino there, but the $250 million in roadwork, utilities and other infrastructure improvements agreed to by previous tribe administrators is making that project look less attractive.

Even if the 100 acres in Fall River were taken into state trust, it would still have to go through the federal process, said Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the BIA.

If the Mashpee Wampanoag followed through and switched locations for its proposed casino, the new site would require a new application and all the reviews the current project must undergo, Darling said.

The Middleboro process has been stalled by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last February that the U.S. Department of the Interior has no authority to take land into federal trust for tribes recognized after 1934.

The Mashpee tribe's historic ties to those 539 acres in Middleboro were already called into question by other Wampanoag tribes, including the Pocassets. Any proposal in Fall River will face the same type of scrutiny.


No federal recognition
Pocasset leaders had their own meeting with Mayor Flanagan's office last Friday to talk about their historic ties to the area and to let him know that if any casino is to be built in the city, it will be by their tribe, Buffalo said.

But only the Mashpee and Aquinnah tribes are federally recognized, which under federal law gives them the ability to open a casino provided the state legalizes expanded gambling. Pocasset is among the state's recognized tribes and has filed letter of intent to become federally recognized, tribe leaders said, but without that they can't pursue a casino.

That's not on the top of their lists for economic development anyway, Jamieson said. The Pocassets would like to look at other alternatives for the land, like wind energy, which would keep the land pristine, he said.

Jamieson said he doesn't like what Indian casinos have done to tribes here and across the country.

"We're fighting amongst our own people, and for what?" Jamieson said. "The Mashpee people are our brothers. It's a shame we can't sit down together and commingle. It breaks my heart."


1675-1676 - King Philip's War rages in southeastern Massachusetts, a war between English colonists and Native Americans. The tide turns in the war when some Indians, including the members of the Fall River-based Pocasset Wampanoag, agree to fight alongside the English.

1709 - Benjamin Church, the colonial captain who recruited tribe members, deeds land in Fall River to the Pocasset tribe members who fought on the English side. It becomes known as the Watuppa Reservation, named for two ponds in the area. 1907 - Approximately 100 acres of land is taken by eminent domain by Fall River for the city's water supply. 1930s - The state, under pressure from federal officials, provides 277 acres in Freetown to compensate for the land taken by Fall River officials.2010 - The Commission on Indian Affairs schedules a meeting to consider taking 100 acres of Watuppa Reservation into state trust, even as two tribes - Mashpee Wampanoag and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) - look at land in Fall River and Freetown for possible casinos.

Struggling Pennsylvania Slot Parlor To Begin Offering French Fries At Salad Bar

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Its a slow news day when you see a headline like this. Actually, the article is an interesting look at the most expensive slot parlor yet to be built in Pennsylvania and how they are faring against both out-of-state competition and the intense competition from Pennsylvania slot parlors.

The following Philadelphia Inquirer article, posted here as an installment of The Tribes In The Media series, looks at the performance of a slot parlor that opened in Pittsburgh, PA, and how it is trying to survive against the competition.

Suburban competition hurts Pittsburgh's Rivers Casino
By Suzette Parmley
The Philadelphia Inquirer
February 7, 2010

PITTSBURGH - There was plenty of room to play inside Rivers Casino on a recent weeknight.

The $780 million casino, which debuted six months ago on the North Shore waterfront as Pennsylvania's costliest slots parlor and its first in an urban setting, has struggled against nearby competition from the Meadows Racetrack & Casino and two established West Virginia gambling halls.

"You get better comps in Atlantic City and at the Meadows," said Phyllis Sanguigni, who lives on the North Side just minutes from Rivers and is typically at the casino a few times a week to play slots. "I don't know what the door prize is for all the hours I sit here and gamble."

The 72-year-old retired schoolteacher also said that she found the Rivers food selection limited and that jackpot winners' names were not posted anywhere in the casino.

"They're not aware of the needs of the gambler - from the high roller to a 50-cent slots player," Sanguigni said. "It's out of sync."

Rivers' owner and management have been trying to change that perception and to match expectations.

The casino has had two credit-rating downgrades from Standard & Poor's since debuting Aug. 9. The most recent was on Nov. 24, when its credit rating went from a "B-" to a "C" for severe underperformance.

A new management team was hired in January to retool the food-and-beverage offerings and step up the promotional giveaways - resulting in the casino's strongest month yet.

But Rivers, which has consistently finished in the bottom tier among Pennsylvania's nine casinos, remains on pace to earn slightly less than half the revenue projected by the state before it opened, and slightly less than 40 percent of the revenue projected by its owner, Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, who is also majority investor of the planned SugarHouse Casino for Philadelphia's waterfront.

"They had a good month, but they are still facing an uphill challenge," said Michael Listner, the S&P analyst who authored both downgrading reports.

He said Rivers was not likely to have the cash flow needed this year to fulfill its contractual obligations, such as debt payments, and a $7.5 million annual contribution to the new Penguins hockey arena.

The City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County each receive 2 percent of the casino's gross slots revenue annually as local shares for hosting the casino. The city is guaranteed $10 million annually, regardless of Rivers' gross revenue for the year, while the county's share is based on a straight 2 percent cut, no guaranteed minimum.

"They are facing expenses, and their interest reserve runs out on their term debt at the end of the month," he said. "At that point, they are on the hook and will need to start using actual cash that is generated from the casino to pay for the interest on a portion of their debt."

Listner said a debt restructuring was looming since "financing for Rivers was structured based on those [earlier] projections."

Some say the challenges confronting Rivers could confront Philadelphia, which plans to build two waterfront casinos.

"These same factors - parking, traffic, the availability of substitute forms of entertainment, the ease of getting in and out of the city, all play into it," Listner said.

The Rivers and its main rival, the Meadows, are 25 miles apart, but they appeal to different demographics.

The Meadows in North Strabane Township debuted two years ago and moved into an expanded facility next to it last April. It has two restaurants, a bowling center, and harness racing. Like PhiladelphiaPark Casino & Racetrack (now called Parx) in Bensalem, it is a suburban casino with acres of open surface parking and near a busy interstate.

"Clearly, we offer an alternative to driving in the city," said Meadows spokesman David La Torre. "We are a leisurely drive down I-79 from either direction - coming south from West Virginia, or from Pittsburgh in the other direction. It's certainly not difficult to get to the Meadows."

Bernice DeVitis, 59, of South Franklin, Pa., lives 15 minutes from the Meadows. She said her fears of city crime and a longer trip had kept her from giving Rivers a try.

"This doesn't have the glamour of overlooking the river or a stadium, but I don't go for that," said the software-company manager, while she played a penny slot machine at the Meadows recently. "I just wouldn't go [to Rivers] because of the traffic and parking, and I feel the area is not safe. I'm just more comfortable here."

At least a half-dozen shop and restaurant owners interviewed last month at Station Square - a dining and retail complex on the waterfront, about a mile from the Rivers - said the glitzy downtown casino had not brought them much new business.

"People book a room and find out there's a casino here, and not the other way around," said Ed Nassan, 52, a bell captain at the Sheraton Station Square. "It's had no impact. We expected busload after busload of people. It didn't happen."

On a recent Thursday night, a band played to an empty lounge area at Rivers, more than half the seats surrounding the Drum Bar were empty, and plenty of slot machines were available.

"We assumed we had a great location and people would just come," said Rivers' chief executive officer Greg Carlin, who is also CEO of Philadelphia's SugarHouse Casino. "You have to give people a great product and a great experience and the right marketing offers for them to come."

Several changes have been made. A new director of marketing came on board in December. Then a new vice president of slots, an executive chef, vice president of food and beverage, and chief operating officer were hired last month.

Revenue figures for the last week of January showed Rivers was gaining on its chief rival. The Meadows, with 3,727 slot machines, generated $4.6 million in gross slots revenue that week, while the 3,000 slot machines at Rivers generated $4.5 million, the slimmest gap in six months. From Dec. 28 to Jan. 3, the Meadows grossed $5.4 million and Rivers $4.7 million.

There were now more gift giveaways at the Rivers, and free slots play drawings.

Rivers recently added a burger bar, baked potato bar, and Italian wedding soup to its buffet, and this month it plans to add french fries to the salad bar.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Governor Says State Can Offer Keno Without Legislative Approval

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Governor Jodi Rell wants Keno in Connecticut and she says it can be done without approval of the legislature, according to an e-mail cited by the Hartford Courant yesterday that was sent by the governor to the co-chair of a House committee that oversees gaming, West Haven Democratic State Representative Stephen Dargan.

Keno, which the Governor contends is just another type of lottery game, could bring the state as much as $60 million in revenue annually from the outlets that would operate the game such as bars, restaurants and convenience stores.

Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal said last year, after the prospect of Keno was first raised by the Governor, that such a move could violate the gaming compact between the state and the tribes if Keno is determined to be a commercial casino game and not a lottery game.

Some say Blumenthal´s opinion was inconclusive, including the governor. Last June, Gov. Rell said, "There should be no question the Keno can be introduced as a lottery game. Nevertheless, I have always intended to make sure we proceed in a way that honors and protects Connecticut's long-standing relationship with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes."

As recently as December, the executive director of the Connecticut Division of Special Revenue, Paul Young, told the state´s gaming policy board that ¨from the Division’s perspective there is already authority for Keno to occur. It is not a Governor decision per se.¨

Young continued in the meeting minutes, ¨The statutes clearly indicate that the President of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation has the authority to introduce new lottery games, and it rests only with the Lottery organization to decide what games are best for them/the public.¨

Keno is a game in which a player picks a set of numbers between 1 and 80. A player´s winnings are determined by the amount wagered and the amount of numbers drawn that match the player´s set of numbers.


Note - Links to the state´s Gaming Policy Board meeting minutes for the past two years can be accessed on the left-hand side of this website.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Did Bidding Process For Aqueduct VLT Slot Parlor Violate The Trust Of N.Y. Citizens?

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The New York Daily News has been running stories all week on the recent selection of a politically connected group, Aqueduct Entertainment Group, to build and run a new 4,800-Video Lottery Terminal slot machine parlor at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, N.Y.

The Mohegan Tribe was involved in the two bidding processes for the lucrative Aqueduct concession but its last proposal was only to manage the facility and not to have any responsibility for financing or building the slot parlor.

The Daily News is determined to shed light on the bidding process. In an article earlier this week, the Daily News revealed that one of the founders of winning bidder AEG was one of the Mohegan´s partners in the first round of bidding.

According to rumors, the New York governor will have another problem to deal with this week, perhaps career-ending in nature, to be brought by the New York Times in an upcoming article on the governor.

The following installment of The Tribes In The Media is an editorial from the New York Daily News.

Two-armed bandits: Daily News demands sunlight on shady Aqueduct deal
New York Daily News
February 7th 2010

The stench of Albany's plan to put slot machines at Aqueduct Racetrack grows stronger as Gov. Paterson and the Legislature stonewall scrutiny of the multibillion-dollar contract.

The governor, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Democratic conference chief John Sampson have jointly selected an entity called Aqueduct Entertainment Group to build the first gambling casino in New York City.

The deal now needs the approval of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Controller Tom DiNapoli. Based on the evidence so far, both men must stand ready to kill it.

Meanwhile, Paterson must comply immediately with a Daily News Freedom of Information demand for access to documents relevant to the bizarre, shadowy bidding process won by AEG.

The state's FOI expert, Robert Freeman, says we're entitled to see all the bids and the "rating sheets" that officials used to score and rank each bidder. He said the state is entitled to withhold only trade secrets or specifically privileged data.

New Yorkers especially need to see how much money the competing bidders put on the table. We also need to understand how Paterson, Silver and Sampson justify allowing AEG to match the high bid by adding $100 million to its offering at the last minute.

Asked what standards the Gang of Three applied, Paterson counsel Peter Kiernan said the officials considered factors such as financial strength, readiness to proceed and record in the gaming industry. But Kiernan acknowledged that there were no standards for judging how bidders measured up in any particular area.

In short, Paterson, Silver and Sampson completely disregarded the rules and procedures designed to ensure that state contracts are handed out fairly and achieve the best value.

Those rules say the politicians should have spelled out - in advance - all the criteria bidders would be judged upon, assigning percentage weights to each one. They should have appointed an evaluation team to grade each bid in each area. Those findings should then have been summarized in ranking sheets.

It is highly doubtful such basic documentation exists - making it anyone's guess why Paterson, Silver and Sampson came down where they did.

How is it that they drove away Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn, one of the most successful casino operators, and wound up handing the contract to a little-known outfit with far weaker finances?

Was there a good reason to reject Hard Rock, a gambling brand name known worldwide, in favor of a company whose chief claim to fame is a casino in Niagara Falls, Ontario?

No one outside the back room can possibly say. The only ones talking are the rejected bidders, who contend that the process was tailored for AEG's benefit because the company is aligned with Floyd Flake, an influential former congressman and Queens minister.

Flake has close ties to Senate President Malcolm Smith, and Paterson fed the perception of favoritism by personally soliciting Flake's election support just days after the award was made.

If Paterson, Silver and Sampson have evidence that this is anything but a rigged deal, let them turn it over to the public. Now.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mid-Atlantic Snowstorm Predicted To Be Biggest In Decades, Atlantic City Blizzard Forecasted

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A record snowfall of over two feet was predicted for the city of Washington D.C. and they were nearly halfway there this morning with ten inches of snow on the ground already and more still falling. The most snow on record for Washington is 28 inches in 1922.

Maryland and West Virginia had more than 20 inches of snow on the ground early today and a blizzard warning is in effect until 7 p.m. tonight for Atlantic City, N.J. The Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania could get 4 to 6 inches, according to forecasters.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mohegan Gaming Authority Reports Sliver Of Profit In First Quarter

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The Mohegan Gaming Authority today reported $4.4 million in net income, or profit, for the three-month period of November through December compared to a $3.8 million loss for the same three months in 2008.

Gaming revenue, which is the total money lost by customers and represents the largest source of MTGA revenue, dropped 5.2 percent when compared to the same period in the prior year. Total gaming revenue was $307 million for the three-month period. The drop in slot revenue for the three months was 5.1 percent while table game revenue fell by 5.7 percent. Non-gaming revenue, money spent by customers before any expenses are considered, declined 11.9 percent.

Interest expense was $28.5 million for the three-month period compared to $27.7 million for the same period in the prior year. ¨The weighted average outstanding debt was $1.67 billion for the quarter ended December 31, 2009 compared to $1.63 billion for the quarter ended December 31, 2008,¨ MTGA´s press release notes. ¨The weighted average interest rate was 6.8% for the quarter ended December 31, 2009 compared to 6.9% for the quarter ended December 31, 2008.¨

MTGA´s figures include those of the Mohegan Sun and the Tribe´s slot parlor in Pennsylvania.

Also in the press release, MTGA says it wants 82 table games in Pennsylvania. MTGA´s press release continues, ¨The Authority plans to renovate the existing Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs facility to accommodate the operation of 82 table games. Total costs for this renovation are forecast to be approximately $17.9 million, inclusive of $2.0 million in pre-opening costs and expenses. The renovation will include the relocation of approximately 300 slot machines to a new gaming area, or the Grove, the addition of the 82 table games, including poker, blackjack, roulette and craps in the vacated slot area, the renovation of the lower level of the racing grandstand to accommodate the addition of poker, the recruitment and training of approximately 500 new employees and the acquisition of all other requisite gaming equipment to support the renovation. Total project costs, including the one-time table games authorization fee, are forecast to be approximately $34.4 million. The Authority plans to open the renovated gaming areas during the fourth quarter of fiscal 2010.¨

The press release is silent on when MTGA may write-off or write-down money spent onthe hotel construction that has been stalled since September 2008. ¨As of December 31, 2009, $76.4 million of assets related to the suspended elements (of Project Horizon) were included within construction in process.¨

The $4.4 million in profit does not reflect monies sent by MTGA to the Tribal government during the quarter, which was $27.3 million.

A conference call with between financial analysts and MTGA is scheduled for 3 p.m. this afternoon.
http://newsroom.mtga.com/data/quarterly-reports/MTGA2010Q1Earnings.pdf

Pocono Downs´ Table Game Plan Will Be Subject Of Public Hearing February 24

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The following excerpt of a press release issued by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board schedules for February 24 a public hearing on the Tribe´s Pennsylvania slot parlor´s plans to roll out table games.

¨HARRISBURG, Pa., Feb. 5 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board today announced that it would hold a public hearing on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 to gather evidence, including public comment, on the petition submitted by Downs Racing, L.P., operator of the slot machine casino at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, requesting authorization to conduct table games.

¨Downs Racing is the first casino operator to file a petition since this year's passage of Senate Bill 711 on January 7th which permitted the addition of table games at Pennsylvania casinos.

¨The hearing will begin at 10:00 am at the Fox Hill Firehouse, 50 Second Street in Plains, Pennsylvania.

¨Citizens, community groups and elected officials wishing to present oral or written testimony, which will become part of the evidentiary record in this matter, can register for this hearing by clicking on a special link on the homepage of the PGCB website at www.pgcb.state.pa.us. This link will not only provide information and assistance in participating in the hearing process, but also allow viewing and downloading of public documents related to Mohegan Sun's petition to permit table games. As additional table games petitions are received from casino operators and public input hearings are scheduled, the website will be expanded to offer additional information.¨