Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Without Reservation"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Without Reservation"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

Do you like books with gambling, political intrigue, and courtroom drama involving obscure documents that are centuries old? If so, you should like "Without Reservation" by Jeff Benedict. The book is more explosive because it is non-fiction.

"Without Reservation" purports that a group of people with, at best, faint claims to Native American heritage opened the Foxwoods Casino. Foxwoods is described as the largest casino in this hemisphere and the second largest in the world. Fans of casinos will be fascinated to learn how this popular casino came to be. Students of legislative politics will learn how unintended consequences of bill drafting and failure to understand (indeed, misunderstanding) the consequences of what legislation can do may lead to unintended results of massive proportions. It will not surprise me to see this book eventually used in Political Science studies for its description of legislative actions gone wrong.

In part, this book describes how a youthful, underpaid and overmatched attorney undergoes an underdog story of eventual success in a momentous lawsuit unsurpassed by John Grisham novels. Tom Tureen, a fresh out of law school, $9,000 a year attorney for Native American rights advocacy pays $20 to file a federal court case alleging that Native American lands in the East Coast were sold in violation of a law which became valid in 1790 yet was long neglected. Such land included two thirds of Maine. The Maine court action gains a $81.5 million settlement and 300,000 acres of land for two of the poorest Native American tribes in the country.

Elsewhere, this book has a stunning second story: how government errors led to people who never lived in a tribe and who have tenuous relations to Native American heritage wind up with a casino. Further, the book alleges, the casino operators are descendants of the wrong tribe the casino is intended to benefit. This story begins with the 204 acre Western Pequot Reserve in Ledyard, Connecticut.

The federal government, concerned only with federally supervised tribes in the Western United States, kept no records of tribes in the East Coast states. The only existing list was never published or even photocopied. Even Tom Tureen, in his search for East Coast tribes, at first pays scant attention to the small reservation in Ledyard.

In 1973, the last resident of the Western Pequot Reserve, Elizabeth George, died. The book alleges that Mrs. George was not of Pequot descent. Loose regulations permitted indigent people to live in reservations. Mrs. George claimed ancestry to the Narragansett Indians (who ironically killed most of the Pequots during the Revolutionary War). The story of the Western Pequot Reserve would likely end here, except for Tom Tureen's lawsuit. As the lawsuit sought to find other East Coast tribes, their search led them to Skip Hayward, Elizabeth George's grandson.

Skip Hayward, self-described as Caucasian prior to 1974, benefited from Connecticut legislation eliminating the requirements that anyone claiming Native American heritage had to be at least 1/8 Native American. That requirement lifted, Skip Hayward sued to regain 800 acres surrounding the Ledyard reservation.

The book describes the Connecticut legislature as wanting the lawsuit to go away. Tom Tureen offered to settle the suit if the state government agreed to yield any authority over any businesses established on the reservation. The idea was to open the reservation to gambling, yet the legislature was blind to this reality. Tom Tureen explains "we never had to lie to anyone or mislead anybody. We were never questioned about these other aspects."

Federal recognition of the Pequot reservation was the next requirement. Sen. Lowell Weicker of Connecticut agreed to introduce a bill granting such recognition. Tom Tureen describes that he and his associates spent less than half an hour explaining the bill to Sen. Weicker. The committee chair, Sen. William Cohen from Maine, placed less emphasis on a bill that would grant $900,000 to Connecticut Pequots in the face of an $81 million settlement in his own state. The book describes members of Congress providing testimony that displayed their lack of knowledge about what the bill actually did. One error few seemed to have realized is the bill was drafted seeking 2,000 acres rather than 800 acres others had thought was sought.

Thus, gambling was begun in modern Connecticut. At first, the Pequot reservation offered bingo. Casino gambling was initially discounted by most as Connecticut law did not permit casinos. The law states tribes may offer casinos only in states that permit "games of chance". Yet, the Connecticut legislature approved a law allowing charitable and nonprofit organizations to have at most twice a year fund raising events which offer poker, blackjack, and card games for noncash prizes. When this was done, Connecticut inadvertently created the loophole for a Pequot casino. The courts ruled Connecticut does "allow "games of chance". Foxwoods Casino on the Pequot reservation was born.

Lowell Weicker, who then had become Connecticut's Governor, fought against allowing introducing slot machines in Foxwoods. The opposition disappeared when the state government was cut into the deal: one quarter of Foxwood's earnings go to the state. The book describes the legislature giving its approval following a meeting between the House Speaker, Senate President, and tribal lobbyist when a problem with a $13 million gap in the annual budget proposal was eliminated with a one time $13 million payment from the Pequot tribe.

Foxwoods is today one of the world's most successful casinos. It operates in a state with no previous history in regulating casinos. Skip Hayward, incidentally, has been deposed as the casino leader. Foxwoods now operates largely with Malaysian investments. The book concludes by arguing the government should withdraw recognition of the Pequot's tribal Foxwoods casino. Whether readers agree or not, most should find this book fascinating and perhaps serve as a warning: be careful what is in that legislation.


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