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Naugatuck — Scott Butera, Foxwoods Resort Casino's chief executive, drove 90 minutes to get here Friday morning, arriving early for his scheduled appearance at the Naugatuck Senior Center, where he'd been booked as the guest bingo caller.
Butera had breakfast next door at Coddington's On Meadow, then moseyed over to the center.
Awaiting him was a throng of television cameras, still photographers and more than a half-dozen reporters — a reception he might have expected.
"Who told all these reporters?" asked Harvey Frydman, the center's director, admittedly a bit unnerved by the media turnout.
"We didn't call them," Butera quipped.
The very vision of the CEO from the hemisphere's largest casino plucking numbered ping-pong balls from an air machine at a senior center was irresistible enough. Add in a lingering, months-old controversy over a Boston Globe op-ed column that portrayed Butera as dismissive of senior citizens, and you had a media event waiting to happen.
Butera, 45, referred to the column as "some misrepresentations made a long time ago — they're behind us."
He told reporters his appearance at the Naugatuck Senior Center was not about mending fences. Rather, he said, it was part of a new Foxwoods marketing campaign that calls for him to interact with community groups. He said the casino's "senior visitations" have been up dramatically over the last six months.
"Seniors are welcome," he said. "We've got 7 million square feet of space. There's something for everyone."
Some other senior centers in the state, notably the one in Derby, vowed to boycott Foxwoods when the Globe piece — originally published in May — touched off a firestorm in July. Frydman took another approach.
"I said, 'Let's not jump the gun,'" he said earlier this week. "I thought we should have the chief executive officer come here and explain what he was saying — and we can tell him why we like going down there and why seniors are important to our economy. It's a fun day away from home. I wasn't going to take that away."
The Derby center is still boycotting Foxwoods, canceling a trip later this month to a tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at the Fox Theater, according to Sarah Muoio, executive director of the 1,900-member center. Muoio said she and the president of the center's executive board met Wednesday with Butera.
"We agreed that the best scenario is to end this in a positive way for the benefit of the seniors," Muoio said. "We've decided that at some point in the near future Mr. Butera will come to the Derby Senior Center as a goodwill gesture. After that, it will be left up to the membership."
While Butera called out bingo numbers for about 50 players, all but a few of them women, some other women knitted in an adjacent room.
"I have too much to do," said Dorothy Gouveia, 81, one of the knitters, explaining her lack of interest in the game. Asked about her take on the Globe column and the controversy it engendered, she said of the things attributed to Butera, "It wasn't nice — if he said them.
"I sort of believe it," she said. "But in my experience, in newspapers, everything gets taken out of context."
"There's a lot of seniors in Connecticut, it's not just Florida," said Gouveia's younger sister, who wouldn't divulge her name. "No business should say what he said."
The Naugatuck seniors presented Butera with a gift of knitted scarves and a plaque proclaiming him an honorary member of the center. Then Frydman stepped to the microphone and reminded the assembly that the center's next Foxwoods trip is set for Tuesday, "so make sure your pockets are filled with pennies."