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Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Genesis of Foxwoods

Charles de Garmo: As Florida thinks about gambling, Pequot-Foxwoods story comes to mind
The incredible genesis of a massive gambling operation in Connecticut
Charles de Garmo, of Sewall's Point, is a graduate of Quinnipiac (Conn.) University and has a Coast Guard master's license.

All this talk about casinos in Florida got me thinking about another "can't make this up if you tried" event: creation of Foxwoods Casino and Resort in Ledyard, Conn.

In 1969, Tom Tureen, a Princeton and George Washington University Law School graduate, was on a mission in Calais, Maine. He wanted to test a 1777 treaty signed by George Washington that gave perpetual protection to the Passamaquoddy Indian tribe for its help against the British.

He sued Maine using the Non-Intercourse Act, which said no land could be taken from American Indians without approval of the U.S. government. After years of Washington tap-dancing over the Indian claim to 75 percent of Maine, they settled for $81.5 million and 300,000 acres of Maine land.

Attorney Tureen then went looking for other American Indian tribes to represent. He eventually ended up in Ledyard and found Elizabeth George, the only remaining person claiming to be a Pequot living on 214 acres called the Pequot Indian Reservation. This tribe of one was not recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs as a legal tribe but was by the state of Connecticut.

For years, Ms. George had successfully held off state efforts to take the reservation and was trying to will the land to her unemployed, uninterested grandson, Skip Hayward. Skip Hayward and his wife were living in a trailer in Maryland when Elizabeth George died June 7, 1973. Skip and his wife returned to the reservation and became full-time Pequot Indians.

On May 10, 1976, Tureen sued Connecticut and Ledyard landowners on behalf of the Pequot tribe for return of ancestral lands. Before a meeting in Washington at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the plaintiffs used a AAA map from their Connecticut rental car and drew an outline of more than 2,000 acres of supposed reservation, knowing the original reservation given to the Pequots by treaty in 1666 was 1,000 acres. Eight hundred acres were taken by the state in 1855.

In three days of congressional hearings, Hayward's lawyer had to prove the Pequots were a true tribe. During the hearings Sen. Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., said 187 American Indians had lived on the 214 acres for the last 25 years. In reality, only 55 names were on the membership list, mostly of African- American descent, including some never-before-met relatives and Skip's drinking buddies. Ms. George's genealogy showed she was the product of an interracial couple with ties back to the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island.

Connecticut Sen. Lowell Weicker got the Pequot Settlement Act passed in 1982, which included $900,000 to purchase land from homeowners in Ledyard. Congressmen Christopher Dodd, Weicker, Gejdenson and Joe Lieberman and Gov. Ella Grasso all were willing participants in the race to rectify the great injustice and suffering of the Pequots, later claiming they didn't fully understand the amount of land involved.

The 2,000 acres was now under the protection of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, exempt from federal and state taxes, building codes, wetland regulations, land use regulations or environmental laws.

On July 26, 1986, the tribe got a $5 million loan from the United Arab Bank using creative collateral agreements, since reservation land cannot be used for collateral or likened. It quickly built a 3,400-square-foot, high-stakes bingo hall that grossed $20 million the first year.

Hayward then asked the state to allow all casino privileges including blackjack, roulette and craps. The state interpreted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to mean they were under no obligation to grant permission. The Pequots promptly sued and on May 15, 1990, Judge Peter Dorsey ruled in favor of the Pequots.

Not being able to mortgage the reservation land limited who would finance the project's $60 million first phase. The tribe found Genting Berhad, a Malaysian company traded on the Hong Kong Exchange and owned by Goh Tong, a Chinese national. Their collateral became the right to take over and run the casino until they got their money back if the loan defaulted.

Today, Foxwoods encompasses 4.7 million square feet with 380 gaming tables, 7,200 slot machines, 1,416 hotel rooms, a 4,000-square-foot performing arts center and two 18-hole golf courses.

In 1993 it negotiated an agreement with Connecticut to allow slot machines and now pays the state 25 percent of its gross — $90 million in 2010.

After 23 years of leading the Pequots, Hayward was voted out of office in 1998 by the all-African-American (Pequot) council.

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