Pequots Open Gaming Facility

One of the first successful Indian gaming ventures, the Pequots’ Foxwoods Resort Casino highlights the issue of Indian gaming in general, which provoked controversy on three fronts: philosophical, geographical, and political. The success of Foxwoods and similar ventures also attests to Native Americans’ self-reliance.

Summary of Event

In the early 1970’s, the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Tribe seemed on its way to extinction for the third time, but twenty years later, it was the richest tribe in the country, owner of the largest gaming casino in the world. Proceeds from the Foxwoods Resort Casino, which opened in February, 1992, would provide money, housing, college tuitions, health care, and other needs of the nearly six hundred tribal members, as well as contributing more than $200 million annually to the state of Connecticut, giving grants to area groups, and enabling the tribe to contribute heavily to political parties. Foxwoods Resort Casino
Pequots, gambling casino
Gambling;Native American lands
Native Americans;gambling casinos
[kw]Pequots Open Gaming Facility (Feb., 1992)
[kw]Gaming Facility, Pequots Open (Feb., 1992)
Foxwoods Resort Casino
Pequots, gambling casino
Gambling;Native American lands
Native Americans;gambling casinos
[g]North America;Feb., 1992: Pequots Open Gaming Facility[08280]
[g]United States;Feb., 1992: Pequots Open Gaming Facility[08280]
[c]Indigenous peoples’ rights;Feb., 1992: Pequots Open Gaming Facility[08280]
[c]Trade and commerce;Feb., 1992: Pequots Open Gaming Facility[08280]
[c]Social issues and reform;Feb., 1992: Pequots Open Gaming Facility[08280]
[c]Travel and recreation;Feb., 1992: Pequots Open Gaming Facility[08280]
Plouffe, Elizabeth George
Hayward, Skip
Weicker, Lowell P., Jr.
Thomas, Michael

In 1986, the tribal nation opened its original 40,000-square-foot, high-stakes bingo hall on its reservation in southeastern Connecticut, featuring 125 tables and three eating facilities. By 2006, the facility would grow to 1.5 million square feet, including gaming space in six distinct casinos, more than thirty-five food and beverage outlets, conference facilities, a shopping mall, a conference center, and 1,416 guest rooms in three hotels. In a nearby but separate location, the $150 million Museum of the American Indian, billed as the largest Native American center in the country, was opened in 1998.

Casinos operated by Native American nations were and still are, in general, popular but controversial. The controversy surrounding the Pequots was, like their casino and wealth, writ large. Their enterprise is both the most famous and the most criticized of the Native American rags-to-riches stories of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Once a nation of 8,000 people, the Pequots, like other indigenous peoples, were decimated by wars and disease after the arrival in the early seventeenth century of European settlers of North America. The 600 remaining Pequots were divided between the Mohegans and the Narragansetts. Pequot sachem Robin Cassacinamon negotiated for 3,000 acres in Mashantucket, but in 1761 Connecticut reduced it to 989 acres for the some 150 members remaining. By 1856, illegal land sales by the state had reduced the reservation to 213 acres. A 1935 report lists 42 on the reservation, but in 1970 only 2 remained.

One of them was Elizabeth George Plouffe, who with her husband had written a tribal constitution in the late 1960’s and now convinced her grandson, Skip Hayward, to live on the reservation. Before Plouffe died in 1973, they started to locate and bring back other Pequots scattered from New England to New Mexico. Hayward was elected the first tribal chairman. A new constitution was written. The tribe subsisted on funds from the sale of cordwood, maple syrup, garden vegetables, a swine project, and a hydroponic greenhouse. Hayward enlisted the aid of the Native American Rights Fund and the Indian Rights Association. From 1976 to 1983, he and attorney Tom Tureen Tureen, Tom skillfully manipulated laws, court decisions, and political connections to persuade Congress and President Ronald Reagan to recognize those living on the reservation as Pequots, enabling the tribe to purchase 1,250 acres and put that land in trust under the Settlement Act passed by Congress.

That same year, 1983, the tribal council agreed to finance an on-reservation bingo facility. The state of Connecticut threatened to prosecute. The Pequots sued, on the basis of a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bryan v. Itasca County, that states do not have regulatory jurisdiction over Native American tribal lands, and in 1986 they won. With title to the land, a loan of $4 million was obtained and paid off in two years. Timing, location, plentiful funds, and skillful political maneuvering swiftly advanced the bingo project.

In 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988) (IGRA), which divided gaming activities on tribal land into three categories. Class I gaming included social games solely for prizes of minimal value or traditional forms of Indian gaming engaged in by individuals as part of tribal ceremonies or celebrations. These were to be regulated by the tribe itself. Class II gaming (bingo, pulltabs, and certain card games), were legal if the state allowed “gaming by any person for any purpose.” In Connecticut, nonprofit organizations were allowed to run bingo games, although prize amounts were limited by law. Because native tribes are considered sovereign nations, the state could not limit their prizes. The tribe renamed its facility Foxwoods High Stakes Bingo and Casino, added roulette, and became the only East Coast facility offering poker. It lacked only slot machines.

Under the 1988 act, Class III gaming—involving all manner of gaming, including slot machines—required negotiation between the tribe and the state, approval by the secretary of the interior, and a gaming ordinance approved by the new Indian Gaming Regulatory Commission Indian Gaming Regulatory Commission (IGRC). The tribe started work on this venture, and eventually agreement was reached. The tribe and Governor Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., signed a compact under which Foxwoods would pay the state 25 percent of its slot machine take, or $100 million annually, whichever was larger.


In fiscal year 2007, Connecticut received more than $200 million as its share of slot machine proceeds. The National Indian Gaming Commission National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) is composed of three members, at least two of whom must be enrolled members of a federally recognized Indian tribe. Its mission statement is threefold: to shield tribes from organized crime, to ensure that tribes are the primary beneficiaries of gaming profits, and to assure that gaming is conducted fairly and honestly.

In 2007, there were 557 tribes in the United States, and more than 200 of them were conducting some form of gaming. However, only 22 had Class III licenses. Indian gaming brought in more than twice as much money as private casinos in Nevada and Atlantic City, and had grown from $5 billion in 1995 to $22.6 billion in 2005. Profits from gaming gave Native Americans money to use for political purposes and made the richest tribes strong players in their states and in the nation’s capital. Gaming has also spawned a corps of consultants eager to help in economic development ventures and to become investment counselors to these tribes.

In contrast, tribes that are not participating in gaming, because of either their geographical location or their philosophy, still depend on government funds and suffer from poverty and an average of more than 25 percent unemployment.

The story of Foxwoods illustrates a dramatic reversal of the way native peoples have been historically treated by the U.S. government. Accounts abound about the broken treaties, cavalier treatment, and continued paternalism that kept native tribes in poverty. With skill and determination, the Pequots used the political system to their advantage and amassed virtually unlimited amounts of money, which not only benefited tribal members but also ensured their continued influence in the U.S. political system, in which they are now important players rather than poor petitioners. Foxwoods Resort Casino
Pequots, gambling casino
Gambling;Native American lands
Native Americans;gambling casinos

Further Reading

  • Benedict, Jeff. Without Reservation: The Making of America’s Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World’s Largest Casino. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Narrative account of the Maine Passamaquoddys’ and Penobscots’ and the Connecticut Pequots’ battle with Congress. Asserts that in the case of the Pequots, recognition standards maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs were not followed. Features discussion of then tribal chief Skip Hayward and attorney Tom Tureen.
  • Eisler, Kim Isaac. Revenge of the Pequots: How a Small Native American Tribe Created the World’s Most Profitable Casino. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Also centers on the character and actions of tribal chairman Richard “Skip” Hayward and attorney Tom Tureen. Includes an account involving members of Congress and Donald Trump in political machinations and heavy campaign contributions to both the Democratic and Republican parties.
  • Frantz, Klaus. Indian Reservations in the United States: Territory, Sovereignty, and Socioeconomic Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Starting with a two-hundred-year historical perspective, the book compares the socioeconomic status and value systems of Native Americans with other racial groups. Treats conflicts with the states and with other tribes on issues of mining, manufacturing, services, agriculture, and forestry on reservation lands.
  • Light, Steven Andrew, and Kathryn R. L. Rand. Indian Gaming and Tribal Sovereignty: The Casino Compromise. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005. A short (162-page), heavily annotated (63 pages) volume of clear, readable history, legal standing, and wide-ranging examples of tribal experience. Authors advocate for a change in the way the federal government, the states, and the tribes interact, urging that they find common ground rather than continue their adversarial relationship.
  • Mason, W. Dale. Indian Gaming: Tribal Sovereignty and American Politics. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000. Views history, legal action, and federal-state-tribal relations through the lens of political science theory.
  • Mullis, Angela, and David Kamper, eds. Indian Gaming: Who Wins? Los Angeles: UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2000. Opposing essays by sixteen tribal leaders, lawyers, public policy makers, consultants, and academics who participated in a 1997 conference at UCLA, based on the assumption that economic self-determination and legal sovereignty create a paradox.
  • Williams, Mary E., ed. Legalized Gambling. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 1999. From the Opposing Viewpoints series, the volume includes positive and negative perspectives on the social costs and benefits of gambling in terms of individuals, families, governments, and native tribes.

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