Recently, a man walked up to the slot machines at Mohegan Sun Casino without any quarters. Instead, he had a less conventional way of hitting the jackpot: shoving a cattle prod into the machine. It didn’t work.
“It was funny as hell,” said Chuck Bunnell, the deputy chief of staff at Mohegan Sun Casino, chuckling as he described the flailing and shocked man. At a Branford College Master’s Tea Monday, Bunnell regaled about two dozen students with stories of the casino and described the advantages and perils of tribal gambling.
Branford College Master Steven Smith said Bunnell was invited to speak at the tea because he represents an industry to which Yale students are rarely exposed.
“I was out at the casino over the summer. I just thought it was really interesting,” Smith said. “It’s a major industry in Connecticut.”
Bunnell began his speech by pointing out some of the Native American students in the audience.
“The Native American community in the United States is having a bit of a reawakening, which I think is great,” Bunnell said.
He went on to describe the success that Mohegan Sun Casino has experienced in Connecticut. When it opened, no one expected more than a meager profit, Bunnell said.
“No one imagined there would be such demand,” Bunnell said. “They figured with [Connecticut’s] Puritan roots, it wasn’t going to work.”
These days, the Mohegan Sun is the world’s second-largest casino, with 35,000 visitors a day using the casino’s 6,000 slot machines. The casino built a hotel, which is the second-largest building in Connecticut, and a 10,000-seat arena which has featured the Boston Celtics, Bob Dylan and former President Bill Clinton.
Bunnell said the casino has been beneficial to Connecticut as a whole. About 70 percent of the casino’s revenue is from slot machines, and 20 percent of that revenue goes to the state. Altogether, Mohegan Sun Casino adds $400 million to the state budget each year, making it the third-largest source of revenue for Connecticut, Bunnell said.
Despite the apparent success of Mohegan Sun, Bunnell cautioned against seeing gambling as perfect solution for tribal problems.
“There are positives and there are negatives and I think that every tribe has to decide among themselves,” Bunnell said. “Ninety-five percent of the tribes that are in gaming are doing it just to put in a new sewer system or employ their people.”
After the speech, Bunnell answered numerous questions from students and faculty regarding creative attempts to cheat the casino, the industry’s connection to organized crime, and the rise of racetracks with slot machines, which he called “racinos.”
Bunnell also spoke about the rise of Internet gambling and why Mohegan Sun has chosen not to participate.
“Internet gambling is prohibited in the United States,” he said. “Our fear is that some parent is watching a TV show and some kid is upstairs with a credit card gambling.”
Students said they were generally pleased with the Master’s Tea.
“He was extremely well versed in the history of relations between casinos and Native Americans,” Gabe Smedresman ’06 said.
Both Smedresman and Smith also praised the questions students asked Bunnell. Smith described the questions as “excellent” and said that another speaker involved in the gambling industry would be coming to Branford later in the year.