An American Indian tribe opened a $58-million casino Saturday, hoping to lure high-rollers, low-rollers and would-be millionaires to the first East Coast casino outside Atlantic City, N.J.
By noon, more than 4,000 people were playing blackjack, craps and roulette at the casino, one of the largest Indian gambling operations in the country. Another 2,000 were playing bingo next door.
Many gamblers said they normally go to Atlantic City, about 200 miles away, and were trying the Indian casino as an alternative.
"It's exciting. The dice are rolling, it's fast-moving, and you can bet on every roll," said James MacIntyre, a truck driver from Coventry, R.I., who said he goes to Atlantic City 10 to 12 times a year.
The Mashantucket Pequot Indians opened the casino on their reservation in southeastern Connecticut after a battle with the state that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
They won because of a 1988 federal law that legalized Indian-run casinos in any state where any form of casino-type gambling already is permitted. Connecticut allows "Las Vegas" charity nights.
The casino doesn't offer slot machines because those are illegal in Connecticut. It does offer poker, however, which is illegal in Atlantic City.
Opponents, including Gov. Lowell Weicker, argued that gambling could lead to crime, public drunkenness, prostitution and other social problems. But many people hope the casino will help revive the economy in southeastern Connecticut.
The casino has created 2,300 jobs and is expected to pump $40-million in payroll alone into the economy at a time when the area's major employer, the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corp., is eliminating thousands of jobs because of defense cuts.
But not everyone was pleased.
"It wasn't worth the trip," said Norma Weiss, a psychotherapist from New York. "It's too crowded, and you can't get to a table."
But Robert Duff, a private investigator from Greenwich who said he is a serious blackjack player, said it had everything he liked about Atlantic City and was more than 100 miles closer to home.
"I love it," he said. "I've been waiting a long time for this place to come here."