|By Rick Green, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 16, 2005--MASHANTUCKET -- Looking to a bright gambling future, Foxwoods Resort Casino Tuesday launched a $700 million expansion project in which slot machines are just part of the entertainment package.
With competition in neighboring states years away, Foxwoods said it would expand its resort to attract more conventions, trade shows and patrons who might have very little interest in gambling the night away.
"Our goal is to build out to what the market can stand and do it in a way ... that complements the region," said Kenneth Reels, vice chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot tribal council.
At groundbreaking ceremonies under a circus tent, guests were treated to live music, a buffet and promises of more jobs and revenue for the state.
The latest Foxwoods development will add 2 million square feet to the casino complex, including a 29-story hotel tower, a 4,000-seat performing arts theater, restaurants and shopping. It also will include 1,500 additional slots and 45 table games.
"The casino is only one of a number of components driving this project," Foxwoods CEO William Sherlock said. "It really puts us in the hotel convention market."
With two new golf courses, spas, exotic restaurants, Broadway shows and thousands of acres available for additional expansion, Foxwoods is now competing as a "lifestyle destination resort," said Robert DeSalvio, the executive director of marketing. "This is big for Connecticut. We want to be able to reach everyone."
Proof of the robust Connecticut gambling market wasn't just in the gold-plated shovels Mashantucket tribal members pushed into the earth. The neighboring casino resort, Mohegan Sun, released figures Tuesday showing record gambling revenue of $1.2 billion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, an increase of nearly 7 percent over the previous year.
Meanwhile, slot revenue for October, also released Tuesday, showed that patrons gambled about $1.67 billion during the month at the two casinos, about the same as a year ago. Revenue the casinos keep after paying out winnings grew slightly, to $141.6 million for the month.
Although the two casino resorts pay no property taxes, the state receives 25 percent of all revenue from slots, and leading politicians and their representatives were on hand Tuesday to lead a chorus of appreciation for the Mashantucket tribal leaders gathered in the parking lot where the expanded resort will rise over the next three years.
"What you are doing today means so much to the state of Connecticut and the people of this state," said state Comptroller Nancy Wyman, who suggested that Foxwoods should add another 500 slot machines to the project.
The casino celebration was not without its ironic moments. Representatives from the offices of Gov. M. Jodi Rell, U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and U.S. Sens. Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman were on hand to praise the casino expansion effusively. All four helped to lead the recent bitter fight to defeat the recognition bids of the Eastern Pequots and the Schaghticokes, who had hoped to open their own casinos.
When the expansion is completed in 2008, Foxwoods said, it will add 2,300 jobs, most of them full time. Foxwoods now employs 11,131 workers, including 9,303 in full-time positions. Mohegan Sun also has 9,000 full-time employees.
Laughing Woman, the Mashantucket spiritual leader who offered a blessing at Tuesday's gala, said the tribe's modern success stands in contrast to the "many who said we no longer existed."
"We need to give thanks for all of this, for truly this nation is really blessed," she said, telling the audience assembled at the groundbreaking ceremony that "money is not our god."
To see more of The Hartford Courant, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.courant.com.
Copyright (c) 2005, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.