Escaping to one of Connecticut’s tribal-owned casinos has been a tradition for countless state residents over the last nearly three decades. By the end of the year, the Mashantucket Pequots are betting some of their audience will take advantage of walking out the casino door onto 15 acres of beach fronting warm turquoise waters – in Puerto Rico’s capital city.
Called Foxwoods El San Juan Casino, the planned venture announced Tuesday is a partnership between the LionGrove hospitality-investment firm and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, operators of the Foxwoods casino in Ledyard. The tribe plans to add a 15,000 square foot gaming and entertainment facility as part of the $137 million renovation of the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel, a landmark that required extensive reconstruction after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Mashantucket Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler joined an array of officials including the island’s governor for a news conference at the hotel unveiling the project. Butler said the expansion, the tribe’s first outside the U.S. mainland, will present new opportunities not only for the casino and its patrons, but for Puerto Rico’s economy.
Business at Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun casino has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced temporary closures last spring and has gutted revenues due to decreased attendance.
Butler predicted Connecticut’s deep social connections and relatively close proximity to Puerto Rico will make the El San Juan facility an attractive destination for state residents.
“The ability to go back and forth easily in the current environment that we’re under will be an advantage for Puerto Rico and this property,” Butler said at the news conference attended by dozens of media outlets in person and by videoconference.
The renovated casino is expected to create $22 million a year in economic activity, along with 150 direct jobs and more than 350 associated jobs in the region.
Plans also include the rebirth of the hotel’s Tropicoro entertainment stage, which hosted entertainers such as Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli in the 1960s.
Butler was joined at the press conference by Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi, to whom Butler gifted a tribe “story blanket” chronicling its 400-year history, as well as a wampum necklace made of a special quahog shell that Butler described as the tribe’s highest honor.
“This is a vote of confidence that Puerto Rico is getting ready to welcome back tourists,” Perluisi said.
Butler noted that the new venture will benefit from the tribe’s marketing to its database of about 5 million gamblers.
“Our intent is to retain the history and culture of this place,” he said, “And to put Puerto Rico back on the map as a global gaming destination.”