$3 billion jackpot for the state

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Mashantucket — A "3" followed by nine zeros took on the exalted status of symbol Wednesday, as Mashantucket Pequot and state and local officials gathered to celebrate a partnership that has transformed the tribe, the region and much of Connecticut.

It's not just about $3 billion, the state's share of Foxwoods Resort Casino's slot-machines revenues over the past 17 years, said speakers who addressed more than 150 invited guests in the spacious Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center. No, they said, it's about what that money has meant in terms of jobs and support for small businesses, families and the state's quality of life.

It's a number symbolic of a success story - "a great American story," in the words of one speaker, Tony Sheridan, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

Sheridan noted that Foxwoods has grown from a 2,100-seat bingo hall that opened in 1986 into a world-class resort that includes MGM Grand at Foxwoods and other tribal enterprises. He called it an "economic powerhouse" that has enabled "a people to transition from poverty to prosperity."

State Comptroller Nancy Wyman lauded the tribe for its vision, and recalled that the revenue-sharing agreement struck between the tribe and the state in 1993 was forged during difficult economic times that were not unlike today's. Wyman, who announced the previous day that she will run for lieutenant governor as the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy, said she often addresses senior citizens, many of whom visit Foxwoods. "I say to them, 'If you're going to gamble, could you go to the slot machines …,' " she quipped.

While the revenue-sharing agreement calls for Foxwoods to forward 25 percent of its slot-machine "win" to the state, the casinos pay no taxes on their table-games revenues. The same terms apply to the Mohegan Tribe's Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods' nearby competitor, which has sent more than $2.3 billion in slot revenue to the state since 1996.

House Majority Leader Denise Merrill of Mansfield said Foxwoods' success was anything but a done deal at the beginning, and her Democratic colleague, state Rep. Tom Reynolds of Ledyard, a candidate for comptroller, read a General Assembly proclamation acknowledging the tribe's milestone.

Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, who was the first to speak, said the tribe faces "challenging and troubling times," a reference to the declining gaming revenues that have led the tribe to engage in debt-restructuring negotiations with its lenders. "We will get through these times," he said, noting that tens of thousands of patrons continue to visit Foxwoods and MGM Grand every day.

Michael Speller, president of the casinos, called the $3 billion "a historic contribution," one that would have been hard to foresee in 1992, when Foxwoods first opened and he began the first of three stints there.

Butler also called attention to some other big numbers, including the more than $85 million in cash, services and goods the tribe has contributed to local organizations over the years and the $110 million it spent last year alone on goods and services provided by more than 800 small businesses.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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