Foxwoods Incoming CEO John James Faces Regional Gaming Competition, Declining Slot Revenue at New Post

Posted on: July 20, 2019, 12:31h. 

Last updated on: July 20, 2019, 11:36h.

Foxwoods Resort Casino new President and CEO John J. James has multiple challenges ahead, including an increasingly competitive Northeast gambling market and declining slot revenue at the Connecticut tribal venue when he takes over next month.

Foxwoods Resort Casino will be getting a new CEO, John J. James. He faces multiple challenges. (Image: Business Insider)

James has a tough job,” the Rev. Richard McGowan, a finance professor at Boston College who closely follows gambling trends in New England, told “Foxwoods was already experiencing a downward trend and that was before the opening of MGM … Springfield and now Encore … Boston Harbor.”

June was the 12th straight month the Mashantucket Pequot tribal venue and competing Connecticut Mohegan Sun tribal casino won fewer dollars on their slot machines than in the prior year. Last month, Foxwoods reported slot revenue win of $35.3 million, a year-over-year decline of nearly 12 percent.

Also, nearby Rhode Island is already offering in-person athletic wagering and soon will let bettors place online sports wagers. New York State is also offering more gaming options.

James has the task of reversing that [downward] trend,” McGowan said. “Clearly, Encore Boston Harbor is the premier site in the Northeast United States. It is certainly not Foxwoods.

“How James persuades residents of Massachusetts — which at one point were nearly one-third of Foxwoods’ customers — to come to Foxwoods instead of Encore will be an incredibly high hurdle,” McGowan said. “Clearly, every New England state except for Vermont is fighting for casino/gambling revenue.”

When it comes to sports betting, Foxwoods will face such issues as if it can offer online bets or will Connecticut reserve that for its lottery, McGowan said. Also, satellite casinos planned for or proposed for elsewhere in the state have yet to begin construction.

Many Years in Tribal Gaming Management

James is a casino administrator with over 25 years’ experience, most recently as the chief operating officer at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon, Calif. He has held the post for over five years.

Earlier, he was CEO at Gila River Gaming Enterprises, where he led the tribe’s three casinos and under his watch got record earnings in Arizona. He was also a top executive at Seminole Gaming and Pechanga Resort and Casino, and previously was a vice president and general manager at Station Casinos venues in Las Vegas.

“Foxwoods is the premier destination in the Northeast and a pioneer in the tribal gaming community, and I’m thrilled to be joining their stellar team,” James said in a statement released to the media.

When reviewing his background, McGowan said James “certainly seems qualified and he has experience in dealing with an intense competitive market such as California versus Nevada.”

James Needs to Address Changing Tastes

Fred V. Carstensen, director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut, where he also teaches economics and finance, told that the “bottom line is … [to] expect Foxwoods [to] … continue to see some loss of gaming activity.

“The degree of loss will depend on whether management can figure out ways to mitigate the impacts of increased competition and changing tastes/interest in gaming,” he added.

Carstensen says he suspects “younger folks have much less interest in traditional gaming” so Foxwoods will have to find other ways to attract them to the venue. Also, the Northeast “is becoming saturated with casinos — so much so that the new MGM casino in Springfield is apparently doing less well than management had projected,” he added.

Additionally, a planned satellite venue being co-developed by the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots in East Windsor — some dozen miles from the MGM Springfield “would be unlikely to capture much of the flow to MGM — and might … actually help MGM,” Carstensen said.

“First folks go to the convenience casino, but quickly realize that the MGM [venue] … is only 10 or 12 minutes further and offers far more, so they continue on,” Carstensen added. “Isn’t that what happened with the casino Massachusetts opened near the Rhode Island border to intercept folks headed south to the much bigger Rhode Island casino?”

Another possible challenge is that Bridgeport, Conn., about an hour’s drive from New York City, is interested in opening a casino. One option is for the two tribes to open a satellite location or MGM opening a commercial venue there.

Carstensen said another challenge is that Foxwoods is “not very convenient.” The venue “has to double down on ways to make it sufficiently competitive to draw people there in competition with other locations that — in terms of travel time — are more accessible,” he added.

The property features retail outlets, concerts, a museum, and other non-gambling offerings. So, James may try to capitalize on these other attractions.

But Carstensen points out that gaming is “single-purpose travel.”  He explains “folks who want to gamble want to gamble.  Period.  They typically aren’t very interested in shopping, museums, or concerts.”

James follows tribal Chairman Rodney Butler, who has been interim CEO, and took over soon after Felix D. Rappaport died in June 2018.