The Foxwoods Resort Casino has long been looking for opportunities to expand since the 2008 financial crisis, and over a decade later, it seems like “the right fit” was found.
“It checked so many boxes for us that we were excited to be a part of it,” Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation Chairman Rodney Butler said.
On Tuesday at a press conference in Puerto Rico, Foxwoods and LionGrove LLC announced their intention to reopen the casino at the historic Fairmont El San Juan Hotel as the Foxwoods El San Juan Casino in Carolina, Puerto Rico.
The casino is set to open by the end of 2021 and will be the first venture by Foxwoods outside of the continental U.S. So far, Foxwoods has invested $12.5 million in the project and expects it will create 150 casino jobs, and more than 300 jobs total.
Andro Nodarse-Leon, the founder and CEO of LionGove LLC, a private equity firm, explained the history of the San Juan Hotel. Originally opened in 1958 by Pan-American Airlines, Nodarse-Leon said the hotel was inspired by the kinds of entertainment and gaming experiences that Cuba had once been known for before the rise of Fidel Castro’s government.
“(The original designers) envisioned a property that would combine all the luxury of the hotels of Europe and New York, with the Latin passion music and dancing, culture, and lifestyle of Puerto Rico,” Nodarse-Leon said.
LionGrove LLC had purchased the 15-acre property in 2015 and has completed two renovations since then, including repairs after Hurricane Maria, totaling $125 million.
Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Perluisi emphasized the importance of travel in Puerto Rico’s economic recovery.
“(It’s) a vote of confidence from the industry that Puerto Rico is getting ready to welcome back tourists to enhance our market and continue our quest for excellence,” Perluisi said.
Butler has had an interest in expanding Foxwoods and is looking at other places around the world to do so. His wife and children are of Puerto Rican descent, however, and Butler said his focus is on Puerto Rico and its culture and values.
Butler noted the common thread of resilience present in both Puerto Rican and Pequot cultures. Emphasizing both the cultural connection and business opportunity, Butler presented Perluisi with a story blanket recounting the history of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and a wampum necklace, showing “the truest level of respect” Butler and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has for Puerto Rico.
The Foxwoods El San Juan is 15,000 square feet, and will feature 300 slot machines and 15 gaming tables. The collaboration, which also includes revamping the hotel’s Club Tropicoro, is expected to generate $22 million annually for the Puerto Rican economy.
“It’s all contingent on how quickly the world adjusts to COVID-19, and getting back to normal,” Butler said.
Butler said the project helps Foxwoods in Connecticut as well, through cross-marketing potential, including being a destination for Foxwoods players through vacation packages, and encouraging people playing at the Foxwoods El San Juan to come to Connecticut.
“It drives more people to the property back in Connecticut, which helps us through a revenue and bonding perspective,” Butler said.
During the press conference, the topic of sports betting came up. Butler said it’s a discussion ongoing nationwide, and Puerto Rico is addressing it aggressively.
“We appreciate the focus on that, and we hope we can participate in that,” Butler said.