Conn. Gambling Industry Not So 'Recession-Proof' The gambling industry has long been considered immune to downturns in the economy. But in southeastern Connecticut, two large casinos are feeling the pinch. One has laid off 700 workers, and the other is delaying an expansion that was to employ 1,200 construction workers.
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Conn. Gambling Industry Not So 'Recession-Proof'

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Conn. Gambling Industry Not So 'Recession-Proof'

Conn. Gambling Industry Not So 'Recession-Proof'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

CHADWICK: So we're going to turn now to the economy. And in a moment, we'll hear from one of our listeners about what she has to do to survive.

BRAND: One business, gambling, was long thought to be recession proof. But in southeastern Connecticut, two local Indian casinos that support 20,000 workers, they are now under stress. Harriet Jones reports.

HARRIET JONES: Mohegan Sun in the woods of southeastern Connecticut is one of the world's largest casinos and a multi-million dollar business for the Mohegan Tribal Nation.

(Soundbite of music)

JONES: This is what the tribe calls "Casino of the Wind," opened just a few months ago and part of a planned $700 million expansion. It looks busy, but, in fact, slots revenue for the tribe has been slipping steadily. Retiree Dot Fisher (ph) says she and her husband used to be regulars at the casino. Now, they limit their visits.

Mrs. DOT FISHER: We just decided we don't want to spend as much money as we - you know, we don't spend a lot anyway. When you're on a fixed income, you've got to think.

JONES: Right next to the casino complex is a massive construction area where two cranes dominate the landscape.

(Soundbite of engine starting)

JONES: A lone truck leaves the site, which is now all but deserted. Ed Riley of the Ironworkers Local 15 says this is the foundation for what was to have been a 900 room hotel, shops, restaurants, and an entertainment complex.

Mr. ED RILEY: Several weeks ago, I got a call from the tribe on a Monday night that, in fact, due to the severe economic downturns and what was going on in the economy, that the construction would have to be postponed.

JONES: There would have been 1,200 construction workers employed at this site. Keith Brothers of the Laborers Local 547 says the fact that the gaming industry is under pressure is hugely significant in the region.

Mr. KEITH BROTHERS: With the work opportunities not there - I mean, our people have to go to work somewhere. They go to work, whether out of state, they go to work somewhere else in the state. But as far as the gaming industry goes, for us, it's kind of our lifeblood down here.

JONES: Just eight miles away is Mohegan Sun's biggest competition, Foxwoods Resort Casino, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. On October 17th, the casino handed out pink slips to 700 employees, the first large-scale layoff in its history.

Ms. CANDACE BODENHOFER (Social Worker): It's tough for some people to have to come through our doors. They're not used to having to ask for assistance.

JONES: Candace Bodenhofer is a social worker in nearby Norwich, where many casino workers live. The casinos are by far the biggest employers in the area, and she says the outlook for many of those laid off is bleak.

Ms. BODENHOFER: The gentleman that I saw today is 57, and he doesn't have a lot of skills. He was a grounds keeper. So, you know, people aren't going to be batting down his door to hand him work. If he goes to work for a landscaping firm, for instance, he will be making maybe the same amount of money, but he won't get any benefits. So then, you know, his health may suffer. It's just, you know, just one thing after another, kind of a domino effect.

JONES: The dominoes may fall here on East Main Street in Norwich, where there are many small businesses that rely on the dollars put into this economy by the casino. The pizza parlor, the liquor store, and Paul's Auto, where the owner, Paul Heard, is concerned.

Mr. PAUL HEARD (Owner, Paul's Auto, Norwich, Connecticut): It can't be a good thing. I mean, I have a good percentage of customers that work there, so I just hope that things - somehow they get the economy turned up a little bit and call people back and for those 700 people, everybody - you know, it's tight with 700 more people out of work. So all I can tell you about it is it can't be good.

JONES: Beverly Goulet runs Human Services in Norwich. She says it won't be easy to help those laid off.

Ms. BEVERLY GOULET (Director, Human Services, Norwich, Connectucut): Because no way do we have any local money that could go beyond what already our regular needs are for families and individuals in this area. We don't have any discretionary money.

JONES: The state of Connecticut derives revenue from the casinos under an agreement with the two tribes. Gaming revenue to the state is forecast to fall by $60 million this year. And that means less cash to help those most directly affected by the downturn in this key industry. For NPR News, I am Harriet Jones in southeastern Connecticut.

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