Some Conn. Tribes Have All the Luck

Marcia Jones Flowers of the Eastern Pequots walks on her tribe's reservation in North Stonington, near the Mashantucket Pequots' huge Foxwoods casino.
Marcia Jones Flowers of the Eastern Pequots walks on her tribe's reservation in North Stonington, near the Mashantucket Pequots' huge Foxwoods casino. (By David A. Fahrenthold -- The Washington Post)
By David Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 4, 2005

NORTH STONINGTON, Conn. -- Everything that anybody needs to know about the billion-dollar divide between Connecticut's Indians is visible after dark here, where the residents of the rundown Eastern Pequot reservation can look up and see a glow in the sky.

"It's just something that's always been there," said Agnes E. Cunha, a tribal councilor.

It is the massive Foxwoods Resort Casino, where the neighboring Mashantucket Pequot Indians -- separated from the Easterns by a 1638 treaty, a short stretch of road and an enormous difference in good fortune -- pull in more than $800 million a year on slots alone.

Now, after a years-long battle over Indian identity that has included disputed 19th-century signatures and a lawsuit from Donald Trump, this looks like the way things will stay here.

Within the last 18 months, the Eastern Pequots (pronounced PEE-kwots) and three other would-be casino tribes have seen their bids for federal recognition rejected. Now, in the state where big-time reservation gaming was pioneered, the only thing left is a bitter view of the neighbors' glow.

"The sad part is," tribal chairman Marcia Jones Flowers said of the casino-rich Mashantuckets, "they were us."

Across the country, there are more than 400 tribal gaming facilities, bringing in revenue in excess of $18 billion last year. But Indian gaming has, of course, also generated problems to match these profits, such as the controversy over lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is being investigated for improperly taking $82 million from tribal clients.

Connecticut has become an epicenter for Indian controversy, and not because it has a large number of Indians -- along with Native Alaskans, they make up about 0.34 percent of the state's population.

Instead, it's because the remnants of Colonial-era tribes here used their federal recognition to open two of the country's biggest casinos.

First, the Mashantucket tribe built Foxwoods, which now attracts 40,000 people a day with restaurants, table games and Wampum Rewards Cards for frequent gamblers. Then, in 1996, the Mohegan tribe opened the almost-as-enormous Mohegan Sun casino, where the Casino of the Earth alone -- there is also a Casino of the Sky -- has 3,600 slot machines.

These facilities, within easy day-tripping distance of Boston and New York, have brought enormous windfalls to the tribes and to Connecticut. The tribes send the state 25 percent of their net slot machine revenue, which this year is expected to hit $430 million.

But state and local officials say they're fed up with the traffic, crime and gambling addictions that come with casinos. So they've tried to close the legal loophole that the first two tribes exploited to host gambling, and spent the last few years doggedly opposing attempts by other groups to gain federal recognition.

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