In the early 1970s, just one resident remained on a Pequot reservation in Ledyard, now the site of Foxwoods — an elderly woman named Elizabeth George. Her grandson was Richard Hayward (known as Skip), a pipe welder and a former short-order cook with an audacious vision, innate political skills and a flair for dealmaking. Through his efforts, the tribe won federal recognition in 1983. In 1986, it opened a high-stakes bingo hall. Full-blown casino gambling came to Foxwoods in 1992 and in the two decades since has produced not millions but billions of dollars of revenue. Not surprisingly, the casino and its largess rejuvenated the tribe, whose population is now about 900. (Members trace their bloodlines to 11 Pequot families counted in a 1900 census.)
These days the tribe is dealing with the latest improbability in its turbulent history: financial havoc. The casino is underwater, like a five-bedroom Spanish colonial in a Nevada subdivision. The Pequots misjudged the market, borrowed too much and expanded unwisely. Foxwoods’s debt is on a scale befitting the size of the property — $2.3 billion.