Pequot Perseverance: Chairman Rodney Butler Delivers a Bold Future Forecast

Foxwoods Resort Casino, based on the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation in Connecticut, wants to leverage its brand power internationally. “We’ve certainly been pursuing branding and management opportunities, not just in the U.S. but around the globe,” Chairman Butler told Native Business.

The Pequot War (1636-1637) nearly eliminated the Pequot Indians. “We’re one of a handful of Tribes who have a treaty that declared us extinct — the Treaty of Hartford in 1638,” Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation Chairman Rodney Butler told Native Business. 

Centuries later, in the 1970s, on the cusp of losing its land for eternity, the Tribe filed a lawsuit to recover 800 acres of its 1666 reservation in Connecticut. “It was a rallying point for our Tribe — behind the visionary leadership of Skip Hayward,” the Tribal Chairman from 1975-1998, Chairman Butler said. 

That initiative changed the course of history. 

Congress responded by passing the Connecticut Indian Land Claims Settlement in 1983, granting the Tribe federal recognition and the right to place land in trust. “That was the absolute most defining recorded moment that [eventually] led to our prosperity and where we’re at today,” Chairman Butler said. 

Chairman Rodney Butler (Courtesy Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation)

Soon thereafter, in 1986, the Pequots became one of the first Tribes in the country to pursue bingo, before launching Foxwoods in 1992. That reset the stage for the Pequots to become an economic powerhouse in the region, driving opportunities for the next 27 years and counting. 

The Tribe has invested more than $2.7 billion in Foxwoods Resort Casino since its inception. To date, approximately 300 million visitors have set foot in the sprawling entertainment attraction. That’s an average of 35,000 visits a day, and more than 12.8 million visits per year.

Native Business recently spoke with Chairman Butler about the Tribe’s economic transformation, its achievements in 2019, and where the Nation is headed in 2020 and beyond.

As Chairman Butler put it, 2019 was a year of transition and “steadying the base.” Felix Rappaport, who led Foxwoods as its President and CEO from 2014 to 2018, passed away unexpectedly in June 2018. “I think the hardest part about the loss of Felix was that he was just a great human being. He was inspirational to all of us,” said Chairman Butler, who stepped in to serve as interim CEO for a full year before Foxwoods secured a worthy replacement in John James. 

Now the Tribe is looking ahead to the future of gaming, which Chairman Butler identified as sports betting and online gaming. They’re currently working with the governor’s office and lawmakers to resurrect its proposed legislation to legalize sports betting and igaming under exclusive Tribal-state compacts for the 2020 session. 

Meanwhile, Foxwoods wants to leverage its brand power internationally. “We’ve certainly been pursuing branding and management opportunities, not just in the U.S. but around the globe,” Chairman Butler said. 

Beyond gaming, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is exploring government contracting and hemp (the Tribe is already a licensed grower in the state).

Beyond gaming, the Nation is exploring government contracting and hemp (the Tribe is already a licensed grower in the state). Fast-forward to the fourth quarter of 2020, and Chairman Butler anticipates the Tribe is already processing and distributing its second crop. 

That’s not all. “In Q4 2020, we’re taking bets on the Giants – Patriots game in the next NFL season, and we have people across the state of Connecticut logging on to Foxwoods online and playing their favorite slot machines from the convenience of their own home,” he speculated. 

While Chairman Butler enjoys celebrating the Tribe’s past and potential successes, he’s also quick to put things into perspective. “We’ve come a long way, not because it was easy, but because it was hard, and we fought and persevered,” he said. “I often reflect on … how easy it would have been for our ancestors to have just given up. And they didn’t; they persevered. We have our Pequot perseverance, and that drives us to this day and continues to create success for us.” 

Pequot Power 

A recent economic impact report reveals that the Mashantucket Pequots are the eighth-largest employer in Connecticut with an $180 million payroll, plus $144 million in benefits — of which 77 percent is paid in Connecticut, most of it close to the City of Mashantucket. 

The study reflects data up to the end of 2017, when the Tribe supported 12,500 jobs and generated $1.1 billion in annual economic activity. In 2017, Tribal economic activity on the Mashantucket reservation yielded $145 million in direct Connecticut state and local government revenue, the lion’s share of which ($120 million) was the Tribe’s contribution of 25 percent of slot-machine revenue to the state. Accounting for indirect and induced fiscal consequences ($52 million), the combined impact on Connecticut was $197 million.

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