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Tribal 'family businesses' now led by their own

When the Foxwoods Resort Casino opened in 1992, followed a few years later by the Mohegan Sun, the leaders of the federally recognized Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes realized that they did not have the skills and experience within their ranks to get these casinos on their feet. Both turned to those with gaming backgrounds.

Funded by Chinese Malaysian investors, Foxwoods was led in its early years by G. Michael “Mickey” Brown.

Sol Kerzner, a South African responsible for development of large resorts across the world, headed up the Trading Cove Associates venture to fund the construction of the Mohegan Sun casino and get it up and running. He handpicked William J. Velrado to direct the casino operations.

But the vision from the start was to begin seeding a new generation of tribal leaders who would one day be capable of leading the enterprises.

The future is now.

Last month Jason Guyot, 42, was named president and CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino, becoming the first Mashantucket Pequot member to hold the position. Guyot had served as acting president and CEO for several months, adding the job to his responsibilities as senior vice president of resort operations, when a vacancy in the top job opened in the midst of the pandemic.

Rodney Butler, tribal chairman since 2010, who has spent past stints as interim CEO, told Day Staff Writer Brian Hallenbeck about Guyot’s historic appointment, “It’s at the core of who we are. It’s about self-governing as a tribe.”

The Mohegan tribe had already been down that path. In 2012 Bobby Soper, then 40, became CEO and president of Mohegan Sun, the first tribal member to lead that casino. He has since been succeeded in the top position by fellow tribal members Ray Pineault and, most recently, Jeff Hamilton.

These are, fundamentally, family enterprises, albeit on a major scale, led by people of shared blood and heritage. Educational opportunities provided members the chance to move up in the family business. Seeing tribal members secure these positions should be a matter of pride.

But it has and will continue to provide challenges as well. It may be easier to oust an executive who is underperforming, but is the hired help, than it is to call out and replace a family member.

In 2017, Soper resigned from his executive position at Mohegan Gaming. The announcement came after he paid a $60,000 fine for failing to disclose to Pennsylvania gaming authorities his ownership interests in businesses connected with Mohegan Sun Pocono, where he had served as president and chief executive officer from 2005 to 2012. The tribe did not reference the Pennsylvania fine when Soper left his position.

Last week, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment named Soper as international president, a newly created position, where his duties will include development of the tribe’s resort in South Korea.

“We are confident in Bobby's experience and capabilities to guide our efforts on the ground in Asia," said Mohegan Tribal Chairman James Gessner Jr.

It has been a remarkable journey for the two state tribes, from a casino monopoly in the Northeast to today’s extensive competition; through recessions and a pandemic that for the first time closed the two casinos; to the likely entrance into online gaming and sports betting, if bills now in the General Assembly are adopted and federal approval granted.

It is fitting that tribal members are now squarely in charge as that journey continues.

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 Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. 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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