John James – fortifying for the casino wars of the 21st Century By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports July 21, 2019 at 4:44 pm Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal National has hired John J. James as CEO. He is to begin in August. Foxwoods has been without a permanent CEO since Felix Rappaport died in June 2018; the tribal chairman has been the acting CEO in the interim. In the PR announcement of his appointment, James said he was thrilled to be joining a stellar team, calling Foxwoods a premier destination in the Northeast and a pioneer in tribal gaming. James’ description was accurate. The tribe had probably lived in the region for hundreds, if not thousands of years. However, it did not receive federal recognition until 1983. In 1986, the Pequots became one of the first tribes to operate gaming, opening a high-stakes bingo hall. Six years later the tribe added table games. In 1993, the tribe hired G. Michael Brown, a former New Jersey gaming regulator as CEO. Brown successfully negotiated a compact with the state of Connecticut allowing Foxwoods to operate slot machines in exchange for 25 percent of the gross slot revenue. Those slot machines started Foxwoods on an unbelievable trajectory. By the time Brown resigned in 1997, Foxwoods was said to be the largest and most profitable casino in the world. From 1993 until 2008, the property was in a constant mode of growth and expansion.John James, Foxwoods CEOEverything the tribe tried worked well until the Great Recession. In 2008, the tribe had $2 billion dollars in debt and was unable to meet its obligations. The financial crisis came as a bit of shock. For twenty years, Foxwoods seemed to be leading a charmed life, except for the competition from Mohegan Sun. In 1996, the Mohegan tribe located a few miles down the road opened a casino. The casino, Mohegan Sun grew as rapidly as Foxwoods had grown and of course it got part of its growth from Foxwoods. By 2004 Mohegan Sun had overtaken Foxwoods; in 2007 before the recession and debt problems hit both of the casinos, Mohegan Sun had a slot win of $916 million, Foxwoods reported $805 million. Both casinos have struggled since then, dropping nearly 50 percent from their peak pre-recession days; last year the slot win at Mohegan sun was $5667 million and for Foxwoods it was $444.2 million. The casinos might have recovered from the recession and regained their positions as the best performing casinos in the world were it not for two things. The Casinos in Macau generate twice the gaming win in one month that the Connecticut casinos do in a year. The second factor is more significant. The casinos in Connecticut now have competition that they did not have in the 1990s, lots of it. The New London Day reported recently that tribes recorded their 12th consecutive month of revenue declines. The Day places much of the blame on the MGM Springfield that opened in Massachusetts last year. But that is only part of the problem. The casinos in New York, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware and Pennsylvania all cater to gamblers who once either went to Atlantic City or Connecticut to gamble. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are mid-way between New York City and Boston, both of which now have their own casinos. The $2.6 billion Encore Boston Harbor is the newest casino in the region to open. John James’ predecessors were hired for specific skills – Brown to negotiate with the state and subsequent CEOs were skilled at construction, finance or resort development. James was hired to fight the casino wars that will characterize Foxwoods’ future. In his initial statement John James said, “I look forward to working with the entire team to continue fortifying Foxwoods’ position as one of North America’s premier resort destinations.” James has the skills to fortify the casino’s position, he is perfect for the job. He began his career as an accountant, but in every job he demonstrated a separate set of skills that included the ability to analyze a situation, devise innovative ways of improving business performance and accurately measuring its success. I met him in the late 1990s at Gold River Resort in Laughlin, Nevada. Gold River was struggling under the same conditions as Foxwoods today with high levels of debt and powerful new competitors in the feeder markets. He was a staff accountant, but fueled by a level of energy and curiosity that one rarely ever encounters, he dug into operations with a passion. James was a key part of the team and essential in developing new ideas and measuring their impact. John James is 20 years older than he was in the Gold River days. He is no longer a beginning accountant learning an industry. Now James is a seasoned executive and he has the same curiosity, passion, imagination and analytical skills he had then. Foxwoods made a good choice for a CEO to lead them as the competition in the Northeast region intensifies.