Hitting the Jackpot The Inside Story of the Richest Tribe in History

By Brett D. Fromson,

Atlantic Monthly Press, 320 pp., $24.

Pequots’ rise to Foxwoods fortune started humbly

By John P. Mello Jr., Globe Correspondent, 10/5/2003

Many paths lead to the realization of the American dream, but when the last resident of the Mashantucket Pequot reservation in Connecticut died in 1973, becoming an American Indian wasn’t one of them. That was soon to change.

How that change occurred and how the Pequots became the richest Indian tribe in history is deftly documented by Brett D. Fromson in ”Hitting the Jackpot.”

Fromson’s take on the Pequots’ rise from an all-but-extinct tribe to the operators of the $1.2 billion gambling mecca Foxwoods is that it was all about the money and had very little to do with recovering a native heritage eviscerated by the ”white eyes.”

And Fromson knows a little bit about money. He has been chief markets writer for TheStreet.com, covered Wall Street and finance for The Washington Post and Fortune magazine, and was general partner for the Margin of Safety Fund, a value-oriented private investment partnership.

He also knows something about digging into the roots of a good story. His impressive research includes interviews with 100 primary sources, material from unpublished documents such as letters, notebooks, and government memoranda, and various secondary sources.

Fromson unwinds a straight-line narrative. There’s no bouncing back and forth in time. He starts with the watershed event in Pequot history, the massacre of 400 members of the tribe by English militia and Indian forces in 1637, and ends with the success of the Foxwoods casino.

”Jackpot” has an element of Horatio Alger — a group of underdogs overcoming seemingly impossible odds to become impossibly wealthy — but these heroes are not without flaws.

The business misadventures of Richard ”Skip” Hayward, the sachem, or chief, behind the reemergence of the Pequots, are a case in point.

Hayward cut his business teeth operating a less-than-successful clam shack near Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. Later, with the help of federal money, he was able to expand his vision.

He moved the tribe into producing hydroponic lettuce. A massive greenhouse, capable of producing 10,000 heads of lettuce a week, was built. Unfortunately, it cost 60 cents a head to grow lettuce that could be sold for only 23 cents a head.

Then Hayward decided to buy Mr. Pizza. He spent so much time at the eatery conducting tribal business from his private booth that he figured he should own the place. After paying $515,000 for the establishment, Hayward turned its operations over to his sister Terry.

There was just one problem with that move, according to a tribal adviser who studied the pizza operation:
To ”make Mr. Pizza profitable required a small and dedicated staff. This was a restaurant owned and operated by a guy who routinely worked 65-hour weeks. Terry ran Mr. Pizza as more of a public works project than a profit-making enterprise. There were too many employees, and they certainly didn’t want to work 65-hour weeks.”

”Jackpot” is a story that leaves you shaking your head, sometimes in amazement, sometimes in chagrin.

As Fromson observes, ”What makes the new Pequots so remarkable is that they have achieved the American dream by redefining themselves as an American Indian tribe.”

John P. Mello Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at jpmello@cox.net.
This story ran on page D2 of the Boston Globe on 10/5/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.