The tribe and its economic, social and responsible gaming initiative plans

By: Richard Sarro

There is a good possibility that another casino could be developed in Connecticut, more specifically, the Bridgeport area. A preliminary decision is expected this July on the Golden Hill Paugussett Indians' application for federal recognition. Federal recognition gives the tribe the right to open a casino.

The ancestors of the Golden Hill Tribe were among the first to meet and help European settlers in the 1640's, only to be herded onto the country's first Indian Reservation in 1659. Thousands of acres of woods and farmland were stolen from them by the newcomers in violation of British Law, and the laws of the State of Connecticut and the United States.

The Tribe's application has previously encountered rejections by federal regulators who complained there was a lacking of evidence that current members are descended from a historical tribe. However, it now appears that further research into the tribe's historical genealogy, has answered many of the previously raised questions. In addition, some legal experts watching the "process" have observed that a far too stringent burden imposed on tribal applications has finally taken on a more "reasonable" standard. In the past, federal recognition hinged on the ability to show clear bloodlines dating back many hundreds of years.

However, based on recent preliminary approvals granted to two other Eastern Pequot Connecticut tribes, the Bureau of Indian Affairs now appears to be giving greater weight to evidence of continual tribal activity. The Paugussetts have long been recognized by the state, and have uncovered a variety of other documents that refer to them as a tribe.

Currently, Connecticut is the home to the extremely successful Foxwoods, and the Mohegan Sun Casinos. The Foxwoods Casino is operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. The Mohegan Sun is operated by the Mohegan Tribal Nation. Two other Eastern Pequot Indian tribes, more specifically, the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots and the Eastern Pequots, recently gained preliminary approval. The Golden Hill Paugussett tribe is nearing preliminary approval and the Schaghticoke tribe is patiently waiting in the wings. It appears that the stage is being set for the State of Connecticut to become a gambling mecca.

After many years of struggle, many Indian nations are now being given the right to support and provide for the health, welfare and safety of their members. The courts have long recognized Indian sovereignty. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized tribal sovereignty in court decisions for more than 160 years.

According to the National Indian Gaming Association, Indians, the first Americans, comprise only about 1/2 of 1% of the entire U.S. population. Indians are the smallest minority in the U.S. and most still live at the bottom of virtually every economic ladder. The life expectancy of the American Indian living on a reservation is 47 years, contrasted with the American average of 73 years.

Aurelius H. Piper, Sr., also known as Chief Big Eagle, is the Traditional Chief of the Golden Hill Paugussett tribe. Aurelius H. Piper, Jr., also known as Chief Quiet Hawk, and eldest son of Chief Big Eagle, is the Council Chief.

Together, they have set forth their vision for the future not only in terms of providing for their tribal members but also in terms of supporting the social and economic development in the city of Bridgeport. A Social and Economic Development plan has been designed to preserve and enhance the culture and heritage of the Golden Hill Tribe, as well as bring about a social and economic renaissance in the city of Bridgeport.

Within this plan, a Community Development Association will review and implement projects for urban redevelopment, a public safety program will be established, a non-profit foundation will foster partnerships with employment agencies, local businesses, and vocational schools to help expand the job market for area residents, and an educational assistance program will focus on improving the quality of education in the community and creating scholarship opportunities for high school students.

The revitalization of the Paugussett culture and heritage will see a resurgence of the tribal language and the education of tribal history, traditions, art and spiritual beliefs. The two cultural components of the Golden Hill Tribe which will be responsible for bringing these projects to fruition are the Paugussett Indian Nation Museum and Research Center, and the Paugussett Indian Nation Education Center.

The Golden Hill Casino Complex will be something new and different for the Bridgeport, Connecticut area. It will carry an Indian motif, but will exemplify the type of major attraction created when casino gaming, high stakes bingo and entertainment amenities are combined to form and exciting recreation and entertainment mecca.

The full development concept plan envisions a circular designed, 350,000 sq. ft. casino facility with 250,000 sq. ft. of gaming area, combined with a variety of restaurants and other amenities. A 20,000 sq. ft. high stakes bingo hall, 1000 room hotel, 200,000 sq. ft. convention conference center, 500,000 sq. ft. family entertainment center, 80,000 sq. ft. retail services and a 30,000 sq. ft. Native American Center.

Additionally, and very importantly, is the tribal commitment toward the preservation of the social system. Connecticut is a small state. In addition to Connecticut residents, the visitors to state casinos primarily come from the surrounding states of New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A Bridgeport casino would most likely attract more visitors from northern New Jersey. Just as the tribal leaders are committed to providing for their tribal members and the social and economic development of Bridgeport from casino generated revenues, they are committed to mitigating any effect that such a casino would have on the population. The leaders recognize that for most, gambling is a source of recreation and entertainment. However, they also recognize that many abuse gambling and lack control over their impulses to gamble responsibly. They do not want to see a further increase in the number of Connecticut problem gamblers, as evidenced by a recent state gambling impact study, which showed that 6 % of the population had some degree of a gambling problem. To the contrary, they would aggressively support and incorporate state of the art responsible gaming initiatives into their operations.

Many have previously thought that the gaming industry made the majority of its revenues from those who had some degree of a gambling problem. Gaming industry marketing campaigns were targeted to the high rollers. However, this outdated premise seems to be on the wane. According to a recent Wall Street Journal featured article, Harrahs found that 80% of its revenues were generated from the 30% of its visitors who gambled between $100-$499 per visit. When they focused their marketing campaign to target this segment of the market, their revenues increased. This data shows that the problem gambler is not needed for a successful casino operation. Problem gamblers eventually burn out, and are bad for business, not to mention the havoc that they cause socially.

Accordingly, responsible gaming initiatives are not contrary to a successful bottom line. In fact, it increases the bottom line. Sophisticated gaming industry leaders are now recognizing that the life of the gambler should be nurtured and extended to last a life time. When gambling is purely recreational entertainment and done within responsible parameters, it can last a life time. The nature of legalized gambling is that the odds are with the house. Therefore, most people lose in the long term. Gaming industry revenues support this. It makes business sense for the gaming industry to support efforts that keep the gambler healthy and extend their gambling life.

Final federal recognition grants the Golden Hill Paugussett tribe sovereign nation status. A sovereign nation is not obligated in many respects to follow state or federal mandates. However, the tribal leaders have a strong desire to become an integral part of the community and become "responsible corporate citizens".

Prevention is a top priority. The tribal leaders envision the implementation of the most state of the art "Responsible Gaming Model" into their operations. Although many in the gaming industry are incorporating some degree of responsible gaming initiatives into their business models, most are lagging behind in their efforts.

The Golden Hill Paugussett tribal casino would create a state of the art "prototype" for all those in the gaming business and state governments to emulate. State of the art responsible gambling/problem gambling educational training programs for casino employees and the implementation of other state of the art safe gaming prevention systems are but a few of the responsible gaming initiatives planned. The tribe is working with to develop its plan.

Richard Sarro is a freelance journalist who reports on the gaming industry. Mr. Sarro is working on a series of articles that address progress of Indian Gaming initiatives and the expansion of gaming operations in North America. He recognizes the contribution of Glenn Gorelick, M.S. for his advice and expertise on problem gambling/responsible gaming issues and technology.

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