A Talk at Patchogue-Medford Library Long Island NY July 30, 2015 by Robert H. Steele
Mr. Steele is a Connecticut business executive and former U.S. Congressman, and was a nominee for Governor of Connecticut.
Comment by CAGNY editor: This talk starts about a book set in Connecticut but moves through many important issues about predatory gambling before homing in on a location in New York State now threatened with the imposition of a 1000-device slot parlor. It is a privilege to present it here.
Thank you for the invitation to come to Patchogue and for your interest in my book, The Curse: Big-Time Gambling’s Seduction of a Small New England Town.
The book is a fact-based novel set against the explosion of casino gambling that hit southeastern CT during the 1990.
The novel begins with the Pequot War in 1637, when Connecticut’s Puritan colonists joined with their Mohegan allies to defeat and almost destroy the Pequots, who were the largest and most warlike of the Connecticut tribes. The story then jumps 350 years, as these two tribes reemerge to build the world’s two biggest casinos – Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun – and a Connecticut family, led by a descendant of one of the Puritan colonists, becomes embroiled in a battle to stop a third casino that threatens the family’s town and ancestral home.
In the end, a small, quintessential New England town faces a Faustian dilemma in which it must choose between preserving its character and values or accepting an enormously seductive offer that would change the town forever.
The Curse, in sum, is a novel based on fact, and this evening I’d like to focus on the factual background of what has occurred in Connecticut and elsewhere – in other words, on the story behind the book.
First, I should probably give you a little more of my background since it entered into my writing the book.
I represented eastern Connecticut in Congress in the 1970s. Then, after running unsuccessfully for governor, I left politics and my family – my wife and four children and I – moved to Ledyard, Connecticut well before anyone dreamed of casinos coming to Connecticut. Those two experiences – knowing Connecticut’s politics as intimately as I did and then living in the midst of the subsequent casino explosion – gave me a front row seat for watching the political maneuverings that led to the casinos and then seeing their impact.
Indian casinos got their start in 1988, when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which was seen as a means of promoting tribal economic development and self-sufficiency by allowing federally recognized tribes to open casinos on their reservations.
It would be fair to say, however, that Congress had no idea of the Pandora’s Box it was opening when it passed the act.
As it turned out, the law not only opened the door to Indian-owned casinos, but it spurred the legalization of commercial casinos as many states rushed to open casinos as way to raise revenue without directly and overly raising taxes.