Mass. lawmaker would reject Foxwoods casino bid

Citing the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe's 2010 default and felony convictions of former tribal councilors, a Massachusetts legislator has asked gaming regulators to find the Foxwoods Massachusetts partnership unfit to operate a casino in the Bay State.

Rep. Carolyn Dykema of Holliston, a town bordering the Milford site where the Foxwoods partnership is seeking to develop a $1 billion resort casino, made the request in a letter dated Tuesday and addressed to Stephen Crosby, chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

A commission spokesman confirmed receipt of the letter.

Dykema, a Democrat, writes that Foxwoods Massachusetts and/or the tribe, which owns Foxwoods Resort Casino, has demonstrated "a pattern of ambivalence toward criminal activity and corruption" and has "a history of poor fiscal management" and "a poor track record in planning, managing and financing projects."

Foxwoods Massachusetts' top official responded in a statement Wednesday.

"Everything in Rep. Dykema's letter has been or is being considered and thoroughly vetted by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission," Scott Butera, Foxwoods' president and chief executive officer, said. "To think that these issues aren't being addressed is not accurate. At the end of the day, we believe our best practices will stand up at the suitability hearing."

The gaming commission's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau is conducting background checks of the Foxwoods Massachusetts partners, and will report its findings to the commission before a public hearing is held. A date for the hearing has not been set.

The Foxwoods Massachusetts project, one of three in the running for the sole Greater Boston casino license the commission is expected to award, would be eliminated by either an unfavorable referendum vote or an unfavorable finding in regard to suitability. The commission will choose among the applicants that clear both of those hurdles.

Dykema, reached by phone, said she was particularly troubled by the tribe's handling of last January's federal indictments of a former tribal chairman and a tribal treasurer who has since resigned from the tribal council. A jury found former Chairman Michael Thomas guilty of stealing from the tribe, while his brother, Steven Thomas, pleaded guilty to a theft charge. Both are awaiting sentencing.

"More than the individuals specifically, it's the institutional approach to these individuals that's the issue for me," Dykema said. "When the indictments came out, the tribe actually came out in support of one of these individuals, which says to me they don't take compliance with the law seriously."

The tribal council objected to the U.S. government's prosecution of Steven Thomas, a member of the council until early this month, when he resigned before pleading guilty.

Dykema said she also has "significant" concerns about the timing of Foxwoods Massachusetts' recent filing of an Environmental Notification Form with the state. The lateness of the submission, she said, will prevent the state from providing the results of its review of the document prior to a referendum on the casino project. Milford residents will vote on the plan Nov. 19.

"That is critical data," Dykema said of the environmental report. "Going into a local vote, the community only has information provided by the applicant, not the review of it. That's unacceptable."

In her letter, Dykema questions Foxwoods' finances in the wake of a massive restructuring that reduced the tribe's long-term debt from $2.2 billion to $1.7 billion, "casting doubt on its ability to meet future obligations to the Commonwealth and/or its municipalities …"

She also notes that the tribe's chief of staff, who has authority over tribal police, has been convicted of criminal offenses. She points out that the tribe's previous involvement in gaming projects in Pennsylvania, California and Kansas have failed to materialize.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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