|By Brian Hallenbeck, The Day, New London,
Conn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 8, 2010--MASHANTUCKET -- Foxwoods Resort Casino, battling the economic storm that has shrunken its gaming revenues and left it restructuring debt, will name a new president to replace Michael Speller, who resigned Monday.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods, including MGM Grand at Foxwoods, said William Sherlock, a former Foxwoods president and chief executive officer, will serve as interim president while the search for a permanent replacement takes place. The search is expected to take months.
Speller, who emphasized "five-star" service and targeted the casino's high-end customers during his 18 months at the helm, tendered his resignation Monday, according to a memo to employees signed by Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council. Speller's contract "was soon to expire," Butler said.
Speller left Foxwoods without addressing Foxwoods staff, according to Robert Victoria, the casino's chief marketing officer.
"No reason was given," Victoria said of Speller's departure. "I can tell you I consider him a close personal friend and that he did a great job here. He was a calming force in a turbulent time, and a great leader. He felt like he accomplished all of his goals."
Speller, who first worked at Foxwoods when it opened in 1992, was named president in December 2008, several months after hundreds of Foxwoods employees had been laid off. He introduced a "rolling chip" rewards program for baccarat players, making Foxwoods the first U.S. casino to offer the promotion popular in Macau casinos.
Over the last year and a half, Foxwoods has continued to experience monthly declines in slot-machine revenue and to trail Mohegan Sun, its nearby rival, in slots market share. The Mashantuckets have defaulted on bond interest payments while negotiating with a banking syndicate that extended the tribe $700 million worth of credit that comes due next month.
Butler, in thanking Speller for his service, cited Speller's "success in assembling an effective and cohesive management team and heading Foxwoods in the right direction." He said the tribal council was pleased to hire Sherlock "as we enter an improving economic climate and an exciting and busy season at both Foxwoods and MGM Grand."
Sherlock, who served as Foxwoods' president and CEO from 2000 until his retirement in 2006, has remained active as a gaming consultant and currently serves as the chairman of the board of Nevada Gold, a Houston-based casino operator. Robert Sturges, Nevada Gold's CEO, said he understood Sherlock's appointment to the Foxwoods position would last a matter of months. Sherlock, who has residences in Mystic and Las Vegas, could not be reached.
As president and CEO, Sherlock guided Foxwoods through a $300 million expansion and renovation and played a key role in planning MGM Grand, which opened two years ago. He has continued to serve as a member of the board of the Foxwoods Development Co., the tribe's commercial gaming arm, which pursues outside ventures.
The change in Foxwoods' top management should not come as a big surprise, according to Clyde Barrow, a gaming analyst and director of the Center for Policy Analysis at UMass Dartmouth.
"Whenever a company's been going through a tough time, it's not uncommon for the CEO to resign," he said. "Foxwoods' revenues have been down and the timing of MGM was bad. ... They've been doing a lot of marketing, but if you look at the monthly (slot) numbers, it hasn't been all that effective. ... I'm not sure anyone could have been more effective."
Two other top executives have recently left Foxwoods in moves apparently unrelated to Speller's departure. Joseph C. Jimenez, senior vice president of casino marketing, resigned May 28, while Gillian Murphy, senior vice president of casino operations, left in February. Both executives took positions elsewhere in the industry, according to Victoria, the Foxwoods marketing chief.
While management is seeking a successor to Murphy, Jimenez's duties have been assumed by Victoria, formerly senior vice president for consumer marketing.
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