Chukchansi casino contracts with Mashantucket Pequots
MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - Reaching across the continent, the Picayune Rancheria
of Chukchansi Indians in California has approved a consulting agreement
with an enterprise of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation to evaluate its
gaming operations. The deal is part of a growing network between successful
gaming tribes and relative newcomers, motivated by a drive both to
diversify and to spread around the wealth.
According to the Jan. 10 announcement, the Mashantucket's Foxwoods
Development Company, a corporation formed to make out-of-state deals, will
assist the Chukchansi Economic Development Authority in evaluating and
improving the Chukchansi Gold Casino and Resort in central California. The
contract will run for six months and is renewable.
"With this agreement, we are partnering with other Native Americans, who
like us operate a very successful casino, but they have been doing it a lot
longer than we have," said Chukchansi Tribal Chairwoman Joyce Burel. "We
are delighted to have them lend us their expertise in our efforts to make
Chukchansi Gold the best gaming facility in the Valley."
The Chukchansi ended a management contract with a non-Indian company,
Cascade Entertainment, in July, which could be part of a trend in itself.
Another California tribe, the 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians, recently
fired Donald Trump, whose bankrupt casino company had been managing its
Trump 29 Palms casino east of Palm Springs.
The Chukchansi Gold casino opened June 25, 2003, in Coarsegold, just north
of Fresno in the central Valley. It offers Class III gaming with 1,800 slot
machines and 46 table games. Foxwoods Casino Resort, run by the
Mashantucket Pequots on their southeastern Connecticut homeland, has grown
in more than a decade from a bingo hall to what is now considered one of
the largest and most profitable casino resorts in the world. It features
nearly 7,400 slot machines and 390 table games.
Pedro Johnson, chairman of the Foxwoods Development Corporation board of
directors and former member of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council,
said, "We appreciate the fact that we were selected for this important
"Partnering with another tribe is always a welcomed opportunity for us, and
we look forward to sharing the expertise we have gained ..."
According to the release, the Foxwoods Company will evaluate Chukchansi
Gold's prospects for expansion, as well as its operating strengths and
weaknesses. Gary Armentrout, chief development officer for the Foxwoods
Development Company, told the New London Day that the casino was, "under
performing in the marketplace, so the tribe has asked Foxwoods to come in
and lend its expertise to review the operation, recommend programs and
strategies to enhance the property and then to assist their management team
in implementing those strategies and programs."
After some false starts, tribes launching new casinos are turning
increasingly to more experienced tribes for development help and even
management. The Mohegan Indian Tribe, which operates the Mohegan Sun nine
miles from Foxwoods, has casino development and management contracts with
the Menominee Indians of Wisconsin and the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington
state. On Jan. 11, the Mohegans unveiled one innovation it might bring to
its partners, a possible restaurant franchise called the Uncas American
Indian Grill, featuring Native foods. The first of these will open at the
Mohegan Sun in July.
The Mashantucket Pequot tribe incorporated Foxwoods Development about a
year ago to pursue inter-tribal deals. In its first venture it joined the
Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes of Maine in a bid for a racino at
Bangor's harness racetrack. Maine voters approved slot machine gambling at
the state's two racetracks in the same election two years ago in which they
rejected the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Two Tribes Casino proposal. When
the original investor in the Bangor racino ran into financial trouble, the
Maine tribes teamed with the Mashantucket Pequots to apply for the project,
but they were unable to get the state to reopen the bidding.
The Chukchansi agreement is the first for Foxwoods Development, although it
is working on several others. Spokesman Bruce MacDonald said the company
was talking with tribal leaders in the South, the West and the Southwest,
possibly including Arizona and Louisiana, but he declined to be more
specific "until we have a written agreement." It is also exploring
non-Indian partnerships for commercial gaming deals, not involving tribal
Foxwoods Development is making a strong selling point of its experience in
managing a sensitive and closely-watched business. "Our Foxwoods management
team brings a unique perspective and the ability to help the Chukchansi
tribe with their operation," said Bill Sherlock, president of Foxwoods
Casino and board member of the development company. "We bring years of
proven experience and a track record of success."