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Let the games continue: With last hurdles in sight, Eastern Pequot backer looks ahead

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SOUTHPORT, Conn. - David Rosow is one financial backer who doesn't hide in the shadows. A sportsman with previous investments in sailing, skiing and golf, he has funneled millions in the past three years to the Eastern Pequot quest for federal recognition. The Easterns are now in the final lap of a two-decade marathon; with a positive BIA acknowledgement, they are waiting out a last-ditch appeal from "dead-ender" state politicians and expect the final okay by December. In the meantime, Rosow is pulling together plans for Connecticut's third Indian casino.

Rosow was more than happy to talk them over in a recent interview with Indian Country Today at his office in a white frame building in upscale Southport, even though tribal leaders are still reticent. (Eastern Pequot chairwoman Marcia Jones Flowers says they want to wait until the recognition process is complete. She is also busy nurturing the reunification of the once-riven tribe.)

Slim, white-haired and ruddy, Rosow, 60, relaxed in a cozy suite decorated with the model hulls of America's Cup yachts and paintings of the decisive moments in the quadrennial race. (His partner, the avid yachtsman and multi-millionaire William I. Koch, skippered the winning boat in 1992.) In spite of the celebrity-heavy setting 100 miles from the Eastern Pequot's rocky reservation, a simple granite monument just 100 yards from his office gives him a chilling connection to the tribe. It commemorates the last battle of the Pequot War in 1637, the site at which English settlers tracked down and defeated the fleeing survivors from the massacres to the east.

Rosow was vague on some points, such as the list of possible locations. He refused to talk at all about Donald Trump, who was backing the smaller of the tribe's subgroups and is now threatening a lawsuit over his apparent exclusion from the unified council's casino management contract. But Rosow had quite a bit to say about the casino, recognition and his low opinion of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who vehemently opposes both.

A third casino would be good for the Pequot homeland in southeastern Connecticut, Rosow said. The region already supports the mega-successful Foxwoods Casino Resort owned by the Mashantucket Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Sun of the Mohegan Tribe (an off-shoot of the Pequot people.) An Eastern Pequot casino, he said, "would add mass." It would bring even more visitors to the tourist-dependent southeastern corner of the state, whose other economic base, building and maintaining nuclear submarines, went into sharp decline 10 years ago with the end of the Cold War.

The Eastern Pequots wanted something reflecting their own character, he said. "We have to be different from the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods." Plans would ultimately go to the Tribal Council for approval, but he said they would encompass a destination hotel.

"We're planning on hotel rooms. We're planning on entertainment. We're planning on food. We're planning on shopping. We're planning on a gaming floor."

Surprisingly, given his background as a golf course developer, Rosow expressed only tepid interest in opening another set of Indian golf links. "The golf course industry is overbuilt," he said. Whether the Easterns went into it would depend on the availability of land.

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The casino, Rosow said, would probably be sited within 10 miles of the Eastern Pequot's Lantern Hill reservation, an epicenter practically next door to the Foxwoods Casino. "The easiest land to put into trust is comprised within a 10-mile circle around the reservation," he said. Complicating the decision, the Eastern Pequot council has declared it would only build in a community that welcomed a casino. It is still sticking by this unsuccessful attempt to allay the hostility of neighboring towns, but even so, said Rosow, he has a list of 13 possible sites, with five of high interest.

The Easterns won't say any more on siting, mindful of the controversy that blew up two years ago when they openly lobbied for use of the State Pier, an open wharf with a basic warehouse in New London's port. The city council voted it down, and Rosow now admits that it was too early to be that specific. He downplays speculation about another likely site; the state's abandoned Norwich Mental Hospital, a collection of brick Victorian and Stalinist modern institutional buildings on 600 acres right across the Thames River from the Mohegan Sun and the dramatic flare of its new 34-floor hotel. As a symbol of the state politicians' dog-in-the-manger resistance to new casinos, the hospital buildings are moldering away empty as the rumored multi-million dollar cost of asbestos removal scares away other potential developers. The State Pier, Rosow observes archly, is currently used for off-loading lumber.

Rosow jumped on another frequent anti-casino complaint, that the BIA undercut the local tax base when it put land into trust. As state property, he said, these two sites weren't paying local taxes anyway. Most of the other open land in the area was agricultural and lightly taxed. The jobs and economic activity generated by a casino would more than make up any loss, he said.

So why the resistance from the state and local pols? Rosow didn't have an answer, but he made no bones about his annoyance. In fact in early April he took the unusual step of releasing a heated reply to one of Blumenthal's attacks. He told Indian Country Today he had finally had enough of hearing the Attorney General accuse him of using his money to "corrupt" the recognition process. He said the Eastern Pequots had already filed their petition and assembled their team of anthropologists, genealogists and historians before he became involved with them. "I never had an ounce of input into it," he said.

"I've never gone to Washington to lobby anybody," he said. "I've never lobbied anybody in Connecticut." His only visit to the BIA, he said, was to attend a public hearing on the Eastern Pequot petitions.

The real corruption, he said, was the Attorney General's use of public money to further an anti-Indian agenda that actually hurt the interests of state taxpayers. "The problem that he has now," said Rosow, "is with the facts. The facts are very stubborn. They stick like epoxy."

Beyond the political resistance, the Eastern Pequot casino has to jump two more hurdles, a land-into-trust application to the BIA and compact negotiations with the state. The last step might not be as hard as Blumenthal's stubbornness would suggest. Governor John Rowland, a Republican, is a likely target of Blumenthal's political ambitions, and contributions from a third casino on the order of the $300 million annually from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun would help him deal with a massive budget deficit.

Once the final green light is given, Rosow has architects and contractors ready to go. After passing the last hurdle, he said, "We could be open in 18 months."