Butler's willingness to continue good news for Mashantucket tribe
Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler is no stranger to challenging situations.
In his eight-year reign as the elected leader of the tribe that owns Foxwoods Resort Casino, Butler has been served a generous helping of difficult circumstances.
He assumed leadership of the tribe at age 33 in 2010 amidst an economic collapse and as a crippling recession, which had hit most of the country, was really taking hold in Connecticut. The year before, Foxwoods had borrowed heavily for a massive expansion with a new hotel, conference exhibit space, restaurants and gaming areas. The recession cratered Foxwoods revenues and led the casino to default on $2 billion in debt.
To make matters worse, new casino competition gained ground in Rhode Island, New York and Pennsylvania, effectively reducing the market reach for both Foxwoods and nearby Mohegan Sun. The soon-to-open casinos in Massachusetts will accelerate the market retreat for the two Connecticut mega-casinos. The biggest imminent threat, the MGM Resort, is set to open in Springfield in two weeks.
Efforts by Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to collaborate on a new planned casino in Windsor Locks to blunt the adverse impact of the MGM Casino have been stymied. MGM is marshalling resistance to the tribes' bid by mounting challenges in the Connecticut state legislature, in the courts, and with the Federal Department of the Interior.
As the improving economy began to revive the bottom line for Foxwoods, its stalwart CEO, Felix Rappaport, died suddenly on June 18 from a heart attack. The Mashantucket Tribal Council quickly tapped Butler to add the Foxwoods CEO title to his duties on a temporary basis until it names a new leader of the business.
That’s one heaping helping of career turbulence. It's enough to chase many leaders out of the hot seat and into a change of direction.
Butler, however, has indicated he is game for more. He told The Day last week that he plans to run again in November for the Mashantucket Tribal Council seat he has held since 2004. If elected, Butler will try for a fourth, three-year term as tribal chairman.
The seven-member council governs the tribe and oversees management of Foxwoods and its other enterprises. The councilors choose a chairman from among their ranks.
Butler’s bid to retain his Mashantucket leadership role is welcome news and bodes well for southeastern Connecticut. Butler has been a positive influence on the Mashantucket Tribe, on the Foxwoods business enterprise, and for this entire region.
He is a hometown kid who stayed local and prospered. Butler graduated from Montville High School and went on to play defensive back for the University of Connecticut football team. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from UConn.
Butler has kept a high profile in southeastern Connecticut. His warm and welcoming personality is a great face for the Mashantucket Tribe and for Foxwoods.
Butler also is active in public service around the region. In January, he was named chairman of the board of the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut. He also serves on the board of directors for the Mystic Aquarium. In addition, he serves on the board of trustees for Roger Williams University. He previously served on the board of directors of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce.
Foxwoods and the Mashantucket Tribe have been served well by Butler’s leadership under very demanding circumstances. And there is no end to the challenges ahead. Foxwoods must continue diversifying its campus by broadening its appeal beyond casino gaming. Butler is central in the effort to make Foxwoods a destination for diverse recreation and entertainment.
In such a tumultuous time, keeping a steady hand at the wheel would appear the safe bet.
Editor's note: After publication of this editorial the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation provided this explanation of its election process: "The chairman is elected by the Tribe at its Annual Meeting. Once the first election is completed to fill the vacant Tribal Council seats, nominations are made from the floor to nominate tribal councilors for the chairman position, and those accepting nominations are placed on the ballot for the second election, which begins immediately."
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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