Published November 12. 2010 4:00AM
Mashantucket - Hours before being introduced at a news conference Thursday, Scott Butera, Foxwoods Resort Casino's new president and chief executive officer, participated in a Veterans Day parade inside the casino. He walked with members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and William Sherlock, Foxwoods' interim president, whom Butera is replacing.
If he can do for Foxwoods what he did for Tropicana and Trump, Butera might get his own parade one day.
Anointed "a turnaround artist" and a "Mr. Fix-It" by those familiar with his work, the 43-year-old Butera promised to make sweeping changes in a bid to secure Foxwoods' place as the dominant resort destination in the Northeast. It's already the biggest gaming complex in North America.
"We are going to be doing a lot of things differently," Butera said. "The gaming world is changing. Competition exists everywhere; it's time to reinvent the wheel."
Though he revealed no specifics, he said changes could include the introduction of new venues, new games, new partners, an expansion of Foxwoods' existing "footprint" and new forays in the digital world. Some changes will be evident within six months while others will take more time, he said.
"Ultimately," Butera said, "there will be online gaming in the United States."
Butera, Boston-born and Connecticut-bred, is resigning as president, chief executive officer and a member of the board of directors of Las Vegas-based Tropicana Entertainment, which owns nine casinos in five states, including the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, whose license New Jersey gaming regulators restored Wednesday - three years after taking it away. Butera joined Tropicana in March 2008 and led a restructuring of its finances and operations, culminating in the company's emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March of this year.
During the restructuring, Tropicana eliminated about $2.5 billion of debt, secured about $67 million in debtor-in-possession financing and raised $150 million in exit financing, according to a Butera biography supplied by Foxwoods. Butera was credited with revamping Tropicana's property management, casino and hospitality operations, marketing and sales as well as such so-called back-of-the-house functions as financial reporting and human resources.
Figures released Wednesday by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission showed that the Tropicana in Atlantic City posted a 7 percent year-over-year increase in gaming revenues last month, by far the best performance of any casino on the boardwalk. Nine of the 11 Atlantic City casinos posted revenue declines.
Butera, hired in 2003 as executive vice president of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, negotiated a restructuring of the company's $1.8 billion debt with its bondholders. According to published reports at the time, he secured an investment from Credit Suisse First Boston, an investment bank where he had worked, a deal contingent on bondholders accepting a discount on what they were owed and on Donald Trump's stepping down as CEO of the company.
Asked what he learned working for famed financiers Trump and Carl Icahn, who now controls Tropicana Entertainment, Butera said, "To try things you never thought were possible; that there are no sacred cows; that you take on things with a blank slate instead of a set of rules."
Given his background, which includes 15 years as a Wall Street investment banker, Butera is expected to play a key role in the Mashantucket Pequots' bid to restructure more than $2 billion in debt. The tribe, which owns Foxwoods, including MGM Grand at Foxwoods, has defaulted on bond interest payments and a $700 million line of credit extended by a syndicate of banks. The casino's revenues, which, except for those generated by slot machines, are not made public, have been in decline in recent years.
Butera's restructuring experience has largely involved Chapter 11 bankruptcies, an avenue believed to be unavailable to the tribe because of its status as a sovereign nation.
"I think there are ways to do it (restructure) consensually," Butera said, referring to direct negotiations with lenders.
Butera said he would be comfortable working for the Mashantucket Pequots.
"One of the biggest reasons I'm here is the quality of the tribe," he said. "I feel very good that I'm working for the right people. At the end of the day, it's my job to advise and to execute" the course set out by the tribe. He said the tribal council has "the vision needed to morph (Foxwoods) into something bigger and greater."
Butera said that casinos, more than ever, have to be more than just gambling establishments. They must be destinations for customers with all kinds of interests, providing, as Foxwoods now does, theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys and more, he said.
"We need to compete with all of that," Butera said. "We must constantly evolve."
He acknowledged that anticipated casino development in Massachusetts and New York would raise the stakes for Foxwoods, saying, "We have ample land, resources and people who want to partner with us" should expansion become an option. He said Foxwoods would have to work hard to dominate a Northeast market that includes so-called "convenience," slots-only facilities in Rhode Island and New York City.
Asked whether the need to operate as efficiently as possible would require layoffs, Butera said that was not the plan.
"There will always be room for highly motivated people who want to make this a great company," he said. "Others might be at risk."
Butera said he was born in Boston and at the age of 7 moved to Stamford with his parents, both of whom are schoolteachers. He graduated from Greenwich High School, Trinity College in Hartford and New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business. He later returned to Stamford with his wife and three children and said he lived for a time next door to Connecticut's governor-elect, Dan Malloy, a former Stamford mayor.