For a while it seemed the good times would roll forever, but now luck might be running out for Connecticut's two largest casinos.
Foxwoods is laying off 700 workers this month. A $700 million expansion at Mohegan Sun has stopped cold, putting the brakes on 2,000 new jobs. For the first time in 15 years, the casino business is slow.
Reissa Mello, a casino bartender, said, "So what do you see happening to the tip jar? We see we're getting 30 percent less at the end of the week and that adds up. Scary? Very scary."
Mohegan Sun executives say the slowdown is across the board, from high rollers to retirees. "Everybody who comes to Mohegan Sun basically drives here. Gas costs a lot more today than it did a year a go," said Mitchell Etess, CEO of Mohegan Sun. "People have less disposable income. You have to eat, you have to buy milk and things like that, but do you have to go to the casino?"
The chill on the casino floor is hurting state coffers, too. Last year, Connecticut saw its share of the slot revenues drop about $20 million. This year, it could dip even lower.
Edward J. Deak, an economist at Fairfield University, says that revenue supports a range of state services. "Not only roads and public safety on the state level, but it's also money that is shared, down to the local community."
Critics say that makes casinos a risky gamble. But with Connecticut set to reap $400 million in gaming revenue this year, neighboring states are still looking to get in on the "easy money."
Many municipalities believe opening a casino is an easy way to fix a battered state budget or a slumping economy.
"When a car company goes into a city, they'll say 'OK, we'll give you a $25 million tax incentive,'" Etess said. "When a casino comes to town, they say, 'Great idea. We'll take 50 percent of your revenues.'"
Estess said, "There's no doubt that when we slow down, they slow down, but I think in the long run we're a very sound industry."
Thousands of workers in Connecticut are hoping so.