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Computer study says Pequot Casino saved the Connecticut economy

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HARTFORD, Conn. - The Mashantucket Pequots created 41,000 jobs and added $1.2 billion to Connecticut's once struggling economy, says a computer study by the University of Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis.

The study was released in the state capital Nov. 28 in a politically charged press conference called by Republican state Gov. John G. Rowland and UConn officials. By endorsing the study, Rowland drew a clear battle line against local critics of the Pequot's Foxwoods Resort Casino and against Democratic state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a major political rival.

"The economic impact of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation statewide has been enormous," Rowland said. "The diverse business operations and investments it has made in the state have benefited thousands of residents, generated new revenue and attracted thousands of new visitors to our state."

Although Blumenthal had no comment on the report by press time, he gave a reply of sorts. As the governor praised the Mashantucket Pequots at the capitol, the state attorney general announced he would take a suit against the tribal nation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Blumenthal said he would join three towns neighboring the reservation in fighting the tribe's annexation of an additional 165 acres. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled the Department of Interior could add the land to the reservation.

The town of North Stonington, where some of the land is located, put a price tag on its opposition to tribal recognition, revealing it had spent $163,000 in legal fees since 1996 fighting petitions of two other Pequot bands. But this week it rejected a Freedom of Information inquiry from Mark Sebastian, vice chairman of the Eastern Pequots, for the names of the experts it had hired, citing attorney-client privilege.

The UConn study highlighted a history often ignored in recent attacks on the Mashantucket Pequots and casino. When Foxwoods opened in 1992, the study said southeastern Connecticut had lost 10,000 jobs from the shrinking of its defense industry and downsizing of general manufacturing.

The mainstay of the region at that time had been construction and maintenance of the nuclear submarine fleet, which was sharply undercut by the end of the Cold War.

A 1997 report by the Connecticut Department of Labor showed that if this economic downturn had continued the region would have lost 32,000 jobs by 1998, the study said.

The dramatic turn-around, it continued, was directly the result of the enormous success of Foxwoods and tribal nation investments in other businesses, such as hotels, a museum and Fox Navigation, which runs a regional ferry service.

The casino now draws nearly 41,000 visitors a day, 73 percent of whom live out-of-state, said the study.

"Thus their spending is net new revenue to the southeastern Connecticut region and the state."

The study also cited consumer surveys showing that Foxwoods patrons also visited other regional tourist attractions, such as Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport.

The study, supported by the tribal nation, used a computer-based model to track the impact of Pequot business investments. The model was designed by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) of Amherst, Mass.

"We used the REMI model to determine the direct, indirect and induced economic impacts of the tribal nation's operations on the economies of New London County and the state of Connecticut," said Professor Fred Carstensen, director of the UConn Center for Economic Analysis.

"The tribal nation's efforts created thousands of jobs in southeastern Connecticut at a time when the region was on the verge of economic crisis and have positively impacted the economy statewide."

In addition to Foxwoods, nation enterprises include the widely acclaimed Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, the Pequot Pharmaceutical, Fox Navigation and several off-reservation hotels such as the Hilton Mystic and the New London Spa and Resort and a golf course. It also launched a ship-building business taking orders for high-speed ferries, but scaled back its operations earlier this year.

The press conference noted that the nation has started a welfare-to-work program called Work ETC (Education, Transportation and Childcare) that hired 150 former welfare recipients.

As host, Gov. Rowland endorsed a picture of the impact of Foxwoods that differs dramatically from that projected by officials of its neighboring towns and Blumenthal.

Blumenthal opposes pending federal recognition of two other Pequot tribes and has called for a moratorium on the entire process, in which four other regional tribes are well advanced. He sponsored a conference in mid-September which emphasized the potential negative impact of new casinos in the state.

The studies presented at that conference focused on gambling addiction and traffic congestion. Speakers argued that new casino jobs would be low-pay service sector employment.

Blumenthal has been widely mentioned as a candidate for higher office. He is a possible opponent of Rowland in a future U.S. Senate race, should Sen. Joseph Lieberman move to the vice presidency.

In embracing the UConn study, Rowland made it clear he took the Mashantucket Pequot side in the controversy. "I commend and thank the tribal nation for years of hard work, persistence and commitment to Connecticut," he said.