Speculation that one of the major gaming companies was providing the funds being used by the Schaghticokes Indian Nation of Connecticut to receive federal recognition, thus opening the door to a potential casino, ended last week with the announcement that Frederick A. DeLuca, founder of the Subway sandwich shop chain, was the financial angel.
But, DeLuca immediately denied that he had a profit motivation in funding the effort. He insisted the reason he financially-backed the effort was to do something for the city if Bridgeport, Conn.
He said he was thinking to himself, "I wonder if there is anything I can do for Bridgeport," when he was introduced to a tribal leader by one of his Subway franchisees. It was 1996 and the Schaghticokes were a long way from receiving federal recognition of their tribal heritage.
Last year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs turned down the recognition petition but on Jan. 29 it reversed itself and granted federal recognition. Now, not only are the tribal members in a position to negotiate a gaming compact with the state but they also have access to federal funding for education, health care and housing.
But the fight isn’t over.
Connecticut officials plan to appeal the BIA’s ruling, alleging that politics more than history played a role in the bureau’s decision to reverse itself.
Leading the fight in Washington, D.C., will be Connecticut Congressman Christopher Shays, a Republican, who said he has arranged for the House Government Reform Committee to hold hearings within the next few weeks on the bureau’s recognition process.
DeLuca, meanwhile, said he envisions a casino resort complex that would anchor a Bridgeport comeback and help finance better schools and housing. He said he would like to see a hotel, retail and convention center facility similar to those that have been built by the Mohegan Tribe at their Mohegan Sun Resort.
Neither DeLuca, nor Richard Velky, chief of the Schaghticokes, would discuss specifics about DeLuca’s financial backing of the 273-member tribe that has a reservation in Kent.
More than a decade ago, Bridgeport was the site selected by casino developer Steve Wynn for a project that resembles the kind described by DeLuca. However, back then, Wynn’s plans were quickly rejected.