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Perseverance Pays Off

Perseverance Pays Off

Scott Butera, Chief Operating Officer & President, Foxwoods Resort Casino talks to Glyn Thomas about recent challenges that have been met - with sleeves rolled up and determination.

Could you provide details on how the year has been for Foxwoods?

This year, Foxwoods has gone through a significant transformational stage that’s been incredibly exciting.

When I came in three years ago, the challenge was to restore Foxwoods to greatness. We’ve been in operation now for 21 years and for many of those years, set the standard for a gaming and resort destination that encompasses multiple entertainment options for many different types of people. Due to shifts in the economy, we had a bit of a setback that left us - along with most businesses –trying to re-establish ourselves. This year saw enormous positive shifts to regain our status. We completely restructured our financial condition. We extended a lot of maturities on our debt and put Foxwoods in an outstanding solid financial condition. Now, we have money to invest in Foxwoods assets as well as in other jurisdictions.

That said there is quite a bit of development activity going on throughout the entire property. We are currently in the process of a significant room renovation in the Grand Pequot Tower, one of our AAA Four Diamond hotels with more than 800 luxury rooms, which is really exciting. We just added three new retail stores and a new food court in our MGM Grand facility. On September 26, we broke ground on Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods luxury outlet mall, which we think is an incredibly exciting option for our quests. Our entertainment venues are booking more headliners and top celebrities. We have more player tournaments with professional-level payouts. Last but certainly not least, we’ve recruited high quality people to reestablish our legacy as one of the premier gaming destinations in the US. It’s been quite a busy year.

Can you provide our readers an insight into Foxwoods; what is behind the success of this operation that manages to operate so effectively in a highly competitive market and an economy that is recovering?

I think we have a very complete business model, one that drives many different types of customers for a variety of reasons. There is so much to choose from at Foxwoods – accommodations, dining, entertainment, gaming, golf – everything under one roof and done at a very, very high level and standard of service.

I think we have one of the most complete gaming floors in the business. If you look at our nearly 6,000 slot machines and over 350 table games, we have a large selection of gaming options for people. In addition, there are over 30 restaurants and lively bars, two theaters and two world-class golf courses. In addition, Foxwoods sees a fair amount of corporate business due to more than 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting and ballroom space, so we cater to the corporate customer as well.

The macro economic conditions over the last 6 years have been challenging, and with so much competition in acquiring and retaining customer leisure spend, what makes Foxwoods stand out?

Clearly we have been in an environment where revenue is flat or declining, so Foxwoods has laser focused on becoming more efficient and offering outstanding customer service. If we thought certain businesses didn’t make sense, we stopped investing in them and started investing in newer businesses we thought would be more helpful. In a tough economy with tough competition, you have to carve out your role – what do you do better than the other guy. For Foxwoods, it’s offering a complete set of options at a very high level in terms of quality of product and service. That is what we continue to emphasize.

How has the company’s Gaming Operations weathered the tough operating climate?

Again, it’s all about becoming more efficient. I think the gaming operations have weathered quiet well.  We are in a very tough market, but our operations have withstood by scaling down where it was appropriate and adding things where there was opportunity. Sizing up the market and identifying our role by complementing gaming with other businesses has always been what Foxwoods is about.

You were the architect of a massive debt restructuring. Can you give us a brief overview of the process, its challenges and anything significant you learned throughout? How will the success of the debt restructuring further investment and development for Foxwoods?

It was probably one of the most difficult reconstructions I have ever been through. Foxwoods is owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation -- a sovereign nation – so we didn’t have access to the federal court system which is generally useful when restructuring. We had to go out and negotiate a consensual deal with over six different creditor classes and 150 different institutions that were involved. Getting all those folks to say “yes” takes a great deal of work. It was an incredibly intense process.

I learned what it’s like to go through restructuring when you don’t have a court system or judge to say, “hey look that’s a fair deal,” bang his gavel and be done. Whether we thought the deal was fair or unfair didn’t matter – it’s what the other side thought. We had to sit down with everyone and come up with a resolution that made sense for all our constituents, our employees, the state of Connecticut, management and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. It takes time. I’ve been at Foxwoods for almost three years. We finally completed the deal July 1, 2013. It takes that kind of time to get that type of deal done and do it right. You have to take the time to get your company in position to compete, survive and do extremely well. That’s what we did.

How will the success of the debt restructuring further investment and development for Foxwoods?

The restructuring provides us capital to get into new markets and allow all the development activities that are going on at Foxwoods to happen. In addition to the renovations in Grand Pequot Tower, we are also revitalizing areas in our main corridor, adding sleek glass storefronts and making everything more open and modern. Adding and updating our retail, food and beverage, the addition of the Tanger outlet mall and looking at new jurisdictions like Massachusetts and New York are all things that we are able to accomplish as a result of our restructuring. It has truly put Foxwoods back on the national stage and given us a defined path of success for the resort.

Are there plans for Foxwoods to expand the gaming floor?

We have one of the largest gaming floors in the business right now, so at this point we constantly make adjustments to the floor by opening up new spaces, bringing in new games and making things a little bit more fun. I don’t necessarily see us expanding our floor, but we will continue to operate one of the largest most complete gaming floors in the business.

With technology playing such an important part in people’s lives today, and gaming manufacturers responding by producing more advanced products, how often do you look to bring new products to your gaming floors?

We are constantly upgrading our floor with new product. I think we have one of the freshest floors in the area, which is a big competitive strength of ours. We work with different types of manufacturers from all over the world, so I think having a floor that is a combination of great new product and the all classics is very important.

And as a supplementary to that, what in your view have been the stand-out (Slots & Table Gaming) products over the last few years?

New penny games have been really popular, as well as games tied into media, movies, TV shows or sporting events have also provided a lot of fun for players. I think penny games, providing anywhere from 1 to 100 lines, gives players a lot of options. Also, games with great bonus rounds are exciting and people really seem to enjoy them.

With the relaxation of Online gaming in many states in the US, how is Foxwoods planning to optimize its online potential?

In Connecticut, we currently don’t have legislation where we can play money games online, but we think it’s something that is definitely going to happen and we want to be on the forefront by doing everything we can to prepare for it. We’ll be working hard with the state to see if we can help them form legislation. In the meantime, we’ll be getting ready. We recently entered into a joint venture with a company called Game Account to help us operate a play-for-fun sight.

How will the expansion of Foxwoods with a gambling resort in Milford benefit the brand? How will it benefit the community?

Milford is a community where many of our current gaming guests come from. We love the area, we love the site, it is a great natural extension for us and a place that isn’t too far away, so we can manage the facility well. We think there is a lot of crossover interest between Connecticut customers who would like to go to Massachusetts and vice versa. It’s an outstanding product and the design of the facility is something that really harkens back the heritage of Massachusetts. It has the feel of a grand New England resort. Additionally, our model is about more than just the casino – we will have great amenities like what we have at Foxwoods. The Milford project will give us an opportunity to work with new and exciting restaurant, retail and entertainment concepts, which is great for us. To have a new footprint were we can diversify and expand in those fronts is very exciting. It is a great extension of the Foxwoods brand.

Poker’s popularity sees no change in the continued growth of this popular pastime, how is Foxwoods catering for this phenomenon?

Foxwoods has one of the busiest poker rooms across the country. It’s is a big part of what we do. There are more than 100 tables, each featuring around-the-clock action. Seven days a week, we offer No-Limit Hold'em tournaments where weekly payouts are over $200,000 and guarantees total $55,000. With at least five tournaments a day, plus Sit & Go events, players can get more action. Our poker room lets you compete alongside big names in poker and a chance to walk away with professional-level payouts.

We are continuing to improve amenities and build guest relations and loyalty with our existing guests. That’s very important to us. We’ve increased volumes in our tournaments and looking to build future tournaments to meet guest demands. 

What does the next 12 months hold for Foxwoods?

The next 12 months is all about growth and continuing all these developments, which will take some time. We’ll be working meticulously to make sure the things we’re doing come out well. We’re continuing to work with our customers to make sure as we develop these facilities we’re doing things that make sense and what customers want. It’s a very intense process for us so it’s really focusing on what we have on our plate right now and doing it right.

What are amongst your most satisfying achievements during your time in the gaming and hospitality industry?

I just think being able to complete three very difficult financial restructurings and taking three very good companies and putting them on solid ground is very gratifying. Obviously working as an operator with my team members every day is great, talking to customers is always very rewarding, working with all of our supplies and sponsors are always great. For me, it’s knowing I was able to make a difference in peoples lives by helping get a company that employs a lot of people get on solid financial ground so they can continue to create jobs and do well in a very difficult environment. That’s extremely rewarding.

Have you a favourite quote or phrase?

There are many quotes I love and use given certain situations, but the word that’s always hit home with me is “perseverance.” If you come up with a good plan, stick with it – work hard, roll up your sleeves and don’t give up. Make adjustments along the way, but don’t give up. What you’re looking for will ultimately happen. All three situations I’ve been involved with looked like massive financial crises. There were many times people thought we’d never get to the finish line and things would never materialize in the way we wanted. I always kept my head down and believed in my ability to work with people and get things done as a team. That’s always worked out for me. Perseverance.

And finally when you are not at work – how do you relax?

I love sports. I’m from New England, so enjoy watching all the sports teams there. I love hanging out with my family and watching a Red Sox or a Patriots game. I have a wonderful family and love spending time with my wife and three kids. We’re very active and enjoy getting outside and doing things that are athletic. I also read four or five hours a night when I’m finally able to get back to my room