Their spirit of survival cleared a pathway for the explosion of the Indian Gaming industry. Now, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and its flagship, Foxwoods Resort and Casino, are cruising in its comfort zone—which just happens to be on the cutting edge of innovation.
“Before gaming, we were an afterthought. We were on this postage stamp we call Mashantucket. It’s 1,600 acres, but it was down to 200 acres of swampland and ledge. Quite frankly, land that was useless for anything else.”
That candid recollection from Rodney Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, is more than just a vivid reminder of how times, fortunes, and perceptions shift: it’s a testament to the power of belief, tenacity, and vision.
In 1986, the Connecticut tribe opened its first bingo hall. In a fight for economic stability, the tribal council saw the opportunity for gaming, and led a multiyear campaign to open up a casino. In 1992, that effort would become Foxwoods Resort Casino, the first-of-its-kind full service gaming resort in the country.
“We were tapping maple trees, raising pigs, growing hydroponic lettuce, but gaming was a game changer. It changed the economy at Mashantucket and allowed the family that couldn’t find jobs here prior, to come back to our homeland and thrive here, and hopefully give back to our community,” Butler told BOSS.
Today, Foxwoods Resort Casino is one of the largest resort casinos in North America, responsible for changing the landscape of both Indian and commercial gaming in the United States. With nine million acres under the roof of entertainment and leisure venues, shopping, outdoor adventures, and the casino games that made them famous, Foxwoods is the standard bearer for what a destination resort can be.
“Education, healthcare, employment—these were all things that gaming revenue provided not only to our Tribal Nation, but to the region as well, in terms of the thousands we employ, the healthcare benefits we provide, and the amount of goods and services that we procure,” Butler said.
He estimated that between Foxwoods Resort Casino and Connecticut’s other casino resort, Mohegan Sun, over $7 billion has been contributed to the state over the past 26 years.
Now the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods Resort Casino, and their distantly-related cousins, the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut—have come together in a joint partnership, MMCT Venture, LLC. to launch a jointly-owned commercial gaming facility: the first ever on non-reservation land.
“When you look at our shared history together, to come full circle to where we are today as partners in this venture is nothing short of amazing,” he noted.
Sweet Success, and What Comes Next
In 1992, only three jurisdictions in the U.S. allowed casino gambling: Atlantic City, the State of Nevada, and the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation. Now, with gaming legal in 48 states, Foxwoods Resort Casino is faced with an onslaught of competition. MMCT Venture arose from MGM’s plans to develop a resort casino across the border in Springfield, Massachusetts that could potentially drain vital jobs and revenue from the tribes and the state of Connecticut.
“A lot of people talk about the $30B Native American gaming market that started here, but it’s the growth in commercial gaming in general that’s also important,” said Butler. “Overall, it’s a $60B market with nearly 1,000 casinos between commercial and Indian. The growth really is phenomenal. We can’t take all the credit for it, but there’s been significant momentum coming out of the success of Foxwoods in the early ’90s.”
“It’s a very competitive business,” added Foxwoods President and CEO, Felix Rappaport. “There are two kinds of casinos: casinos of convenience, and casinos near large population centers, who in most cases don’t offer much more than the casino experience. Then there are properties like Foxwoods: a true destination resort with everything under the sun.”
In addition to an unmatched range of gaming opportunities in nine casinos, the resort features a 60-store outlet shopping experience, 30 restaurants, and bars, spas, and concert venues.
“What you’re seeing so far is the tip of the iceberg for us. Our zipline is one of the tallest, fastest, and longest in North America,” Rappaport enthused. “It’s a ride with a purpose, strategically designed to lead visitors from the main campus to the 300,000 square-foot Pequot Museum. It’s one of the finest museums that celebrate Native American culture and history. We wanted to expose more people to that,” he added.
“We’re putting in a 60,000 square foot karting track, so you can go 45 mph in gas-powered vehicles on a multilevel track developed and installed by an Italian design team. We have a thrill tower, which allows you to be dropped 100 feet from the top where you get a view of the countryside just before you get the thrill of your life,” he said.
The Play Arena, an indoor amphitheater gaming experience, enables groups to enjoy playing table games like craps and blackjack in a highly social setting with less pressure and gravitas than in typical high stakes environments.
“What we see happening is that casinos can open in Massachusetts or New York, but Foxwoods will continue to evolve in the direction of something for everyone,” Rappaport said. “You can come here whether you’re a family, conventioneer, someone who enjoys gaming options, or whether you’re a sports fan, and you’ll find something that is engaging, and hopefully you’ll want to come back, stay longer, and visit more often.”
“He’s been involved in hundreds of casinos around the world. He said—and I think this is a wonderful quote—’there is no casino resort anywhere in the world that offers more variety of things to do than Foxwoods.’ Not only are we very proud of that, but I think that we also hold the key to our success, and it’s a pretty good indication of how we’ve continued to evolve over the years,” Rappaport stated.
Although he’s been at the center of Indian gaming’s difficult and ultimately triumphant transformation from the beginning, the wonder in Butler’s voice when speaking of his tribe’s journey is unmistakable.
“Going back to surviving attempted genocide in the massacre at Fort Mystic in 1637 and the Treaty of Hartford in 1638 that said Pequots no longer exist, to talk with you today and be able to celebrate what we’ve been able to create after knowing what our starting point was, that’s the internal perseverance we have as a nation,” he asserted.
“We brought it to everything we do, whether it’s gaming, non-gaming, government, services back to the community—we’re going to figure out a way to get things done and we’re going to persevere. That’s what’s helped us generate the success we’ve been able to see.”
IN MEMORY OF FELIX
Felix David Rappaport of Las Vegas, Nevada, 65, was called to eternal rest on Monday, June 18, 2018, in Mashantucket, CT. He died from heart related illness. He is survived by his wife of 30 years, Mary Louise Rappaport; his two loving daughters, Alexandra Rappaport and Briana Rappaport; and his brother, Eric Rappaport.
It is fitting that Felix was raised in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, as he demonstrated love and kindness to everyone he encountered. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Felix began his long and illustrious career in the Gaming and Hospitality Industry, from Human Resources at the Sands Hotel, Atlantic City, to VP/President of multiple Las Vegas properties, to CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino.
Felix had vivacity for life and he shared this passion with everyone in his world. He recognized the talents and the strengths in everyone he met and did whatever he could to support people to be their very best. He truly respected and acknowledged the worth of every individual with whom he came in contact. To Felix, each person mattered. Anyone who has ever known or worked with Felix will miss him and his gift of making everyone realize how important they truly are.
A lifelong learner, Felix was an avid reader whose in-depth knowledge about many topics made him like a human search engine for his friends and family. Spanning his entire life, he was a loving and loyal fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. Earlier this year, he was blessed to have attended Super Bowl LII, which his Eagles won.
Although his interests were many and varied, the most important to him were “Faith, Family and Friends”. His dedication to them was shown in immeasurable ways. He made it his life’s work to enhance the lives of his family and friends, whether it was through small gestures like giving a simple yet thoughtful gift or through large gestures like providing someone with an opportunity that launched their careers. Most important to Felix were his daughters. He loved involving them in almost every aspect of his life and would do anything to make their lives complete.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Friday, June 22, at 2:00pm at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick, 213 Broadway, Norwich, CT. At a later date, Felix will be laid to rest in a private graveyard ceremony in Philadelphia.
Since 1992, Foxwoods Resort Casino has offered guests The Wonder Of It All as the premier resort destination in the Northeast. As the largest resort casino in North America, Foxwoods offers a vast array of gaming in seven casinos; AAA Four-Diamond hotels, restaurants from gourmet to quick service, world-renowned spas, award-winning golf, state-of-the-art theaters, exclusive retailers and free-to-play online casino games at FoxwoodsONLINE.com. Perfect for both recreation and business, Foxwoods provides modern and versatile convention and meeting space to infuse new life into any meeting or event. Foxwoods Resort Casino is owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. For a comprehensive look at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation visit Foxwoods.com.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is a federally recognized Native American tribe located at one of America’s oldest Indian reservations called Mashantucket, in southeastern Connecticut. As pioneers of the Indian Gaming industry, the history of the Mashantucket Pequots reveals one of America’s greatest come-back stories, featured at the tribe’s world renowned Pequot Museum. Today, the tribe owns and operates one of the largest Integrated Resort Casino destinations in North America, Foxwoods Resort Casino, along with a variety of complementary businesses including but not limited to a world-class golf course, luxury spa, Pequot Pharmaceutical Network, and Pequot Plus Health Benefit Services. As one of Connecticut’s highest revenue contributors and largest employers, the Mashantucket Pequots have contributed more than $4 billion in slot revenue to the state through a first-of-its-kind agreement, established in 1993. Likewise, the Tribe has provided hundreds of millions in donations and sponsorships for the benefit of communities and tribes in need, locally and throughout the United States.
Foxwoods Resort Casino
350 Trolley Line Boulevard
P.O. Box 3777
Mashantucket, CT 06338-3777