New York Times on 03 September 2003
Gambling Foes Try to Curb Growth of Connecticut's 2 Casino Giants
NORTH STONINGTON, Conn., Sept. 3— After battling successfully to block newly recognized Indian tribes from building casinos in Connecticut, opponents of the gambling industry are now turning their attention to the two giant casinos that already exist in the state, trying to limit their ability to grow even larger.
The first battle is taking place here in the towns around the sprawling Foxwoods Resort Casino on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation.
While opponents of the industry know that trying to regulate what takes place on the reservation itself is near futile, they are hoping to make any future growth as difficult as possible by highlighting two issues they say will rally public opinion to their cause -- roads and the environment.
"This is about the issue of sovereignty and how far it is going to reach,'' said Jeff Benedict, the founder of the Connecticut Alliance Against Casino Expansion, a nonprofit group made up of citizens, civic leaders and businesses. ''Foxwoods is in a race with Mohegan Sun to see who will have the largest casino on earth,'' he said.
Mohegan Sun, the other large Indian casino in the state, is in nearby Uncasville. While both casinos are pursuing strategies to grow larger, Foxwoods has advocates and local leaders more concerned.
Foxwoods is nearing completion of a 36-hole ''very private golf club'' designed by Rees Jones, called Lake of Isles. Set to open next year, the golf courses are part of a $99 million expansion that includes roughly 825 more slot machines as well as new restaurants, parking lots and stores.
Opponents of the expansion say there has been no study of the plan's environmental impact, and they announced today that they had hired a Washington law firm, Perkins Coie, to study the issue.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation released a statement that said, ''Development on the Tribal Nation's reservation goes through an extensive land use review process of which we are extremely proud.''
Local leaders also accused the tribe of secretly lobbying for millions of dollars in federal money to build a new road to the casino, even though there was little or no money to deal with much more severe traffic problems in other parts of the state.
In response, the tribe's statement said simply, ''The Tribal Nation is on record as committed to working with the State Department of Transportation to improving Route 2 immediately in front of the reservation.''
Opponents of expansion also pointed to the tribe's attempt to extend its sovereignty beyond the reservation's borders by providing its own water to the new golf courses, which are being built off the reservation. The matter is being re-examined at the insistence of the state attorney general, Richard Blumenthal.
Opponents hope the water dispute will focus attention on the impact of the casinos on the quality of life in the surrounding communities.
Since Foxwoods opened in 1992, it has grown into one of the largest casinos in the world, generating about $7 billion in slot machine revenue alone in the past decade. Its success has also enriched the state's coffers by almost $2 billion.
Foxwoods has the good fortune to sit at the midway point between Boston and New York just off Interstate 95. The resort has 320,000 square feet of gambling space, 6,500 slot machines and more than 350 gambling tables, as well as its own police force, fire department and child development center.
Foxwoods' success has led many groups to try to follow its lead. But increasingly, municipalities across the country have been trying to challenge the sovereign rights of federally recognized Indian tribes.
As more groups tried to claim tribal status to open casinos in Connecticut, the Alliance Against Casino Expansion, along with Mr. Blumenthal, led efforts to block them. In January, the Connecticut General Assembly repealed a law known as Las Vegas Nights that had been used to allow Indian gambling in the state.
While the Legislature's decision is sure to be challenged repeatedly, gambling opponents say the goal now is to take their fight to the casinos that are already here.
"Foxwoods has been able to build a city of 60,000 people,'' said Nicholas H. Mullane II, North Stonington's first selectman. ''We want to know what the impact of that has been on our community.''