UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- During a recent financial teleconference, Mohegan
Tribal Chairman Mark Brown gave a quick briefing on the current council
elections. But even though the results, to be announced Aug. 28, could
sharply alter the outlook of the tribal leadership, none of the Wall Street
analysts on the line asked how it would affect the Mohegan's national
Whether the complacency is justified remains to be seen. The intensely
contested elections show that even one of the richest and most
outward-looking of the Indian nations is still subject to the shifts of
tribal politics. Yet Mohegan business executives insist they expect no
drastic change in their far-flung operations.
Tribal turnovers elsewhere have sent some tremors through outside
investors, but without apparent long-term effect. Bond-rating agencies
lowered the grade on a Seneca Gaming Authority issue last November after
Seneca Nation voters replaced incumbents with critics of its Niagara Falls
The new regime forced out casino president G. Michael "Mickey" Brown, who
had started up Foxwoods Casino for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation a
decade earlier, and launched an internal investigation. But the probe
vindicated the previous administration. The Seneca casino recently reported
strong growth in profits, and plans are proceeding for a third tribal
casino in downtown Buffalo.
The Mohegan empire now stretches from the immensely profitable Mohegan Sun
casino in southeastern Connecticut to a racino in Pennsylvania to
development projects with tribes in Wisconsin and Washington state. The
tribe's wholly-owned women's basketball team recently clinched the WNBA
Eastern Conference title and hopes to win the national championship it
narrowly missed last year. Even under the shadow of elections, the Mohegans
recently announced an ambitious expansion program for their
half-billion-dollar investment in the new Pennsylvania gaming market.
In discussing the makeover of the Pocono Downs harness race-track near
Wilkes-Barre, Penn., Robert Soper, its new president and a member of the
Mohegan Tribe, told Indian Country Today the tribal elections would have no
impact on the plans. The Pennsylvania racino, now called Mohegan Sun at
Pocono Downs, is a commercial business investment of the Mohegan Tribal
Gaming Authority and the Mohegan tribe. The Mohegans have set up Downs
Racing, L.P. as the track's formal owner, so tribal sovereignty is not
Mohegan partnerships with the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin and the Colville
Tribe in Washington state have reached the final stages of preparing
environmental impact statements. Even though an anti-casino group in
Washington has imported anti-Mohegan speakers from Connecticut, tribal
officials say local support there remains good. They expect both projects
to come to fruition.
The aggressive expansion nationwide is a strategy to diversify Mohegan
holdings away from southern New England, where casino competition is
expected to expand, from one quarter or another. But the policy has been
controversial within the tribe.
The leading challenger for chairman, Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, used the
slogan "Mohegan Sun for the Mohegans" to win a seat on the council in a
special election held Aug. 29, 2004. In this year's primary, which ended
July 24, Bozsum was the top vote-getter, with 417 out of a possible 990
The primary narrowed the field from 51 candidates to a final 18 for the
nine-member council, which also acts as the Mohegan Tribal Gaming
Authority. A secret mail ballot, now underway, will select the new council,
with results to be announced Aug. 28. By tradition, the highest vote-getter
becomes tribal chairman.
Brown has championed diversification as a way of spreading gaming wealth to
less prosperous tribes. He received 208 votes in the primary, the
Bozsum is a descendant of Chief Uncas, who solidified the tribe's regional
dominance in the late 17th century. He acts as the ceremonial leader and
has lately become as familiar a figure as Brown at the frequent national
Indian conferences at Mohegan Sun as the person in traditional garb who
delivers the invocation.
In spite of their success, the Mohegans have had their share of internal
tensions. Three years ago the tribal council sued the Council of Elders in
a dispute over tribal enrollment. Outside consultants noted at the time
that the dispute was exacerbated by ambiguity in the tribal constitution
over which body had final authority over membership rolls.
Tribal members are largely reluctant to discuss the issues with outsiders,
however. After a recent, closed candidates' forum at the Mohegan Sun's
Uncas Ballroom, tribal members who did talk to the press said the common
theme was unity.