Foxwoods’ First Native CEO: Appointment ‘Means Everything’

In March, Jason Guyot (l.), a veteran of Foxwoods Resort Casino, made history, becoming the resort’s first-ever Pequot chief executive. Guyot had filled the role on an interim basis for more than a year.

On March 21, Jason Guyot, a nearly two-decade veteran of Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casino, was officially instated as president and CEO. He had held the position on an interim basis for nearly a year.

The historic appointment made Guyot the first member of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation to be elevated to the job. He replaced former CEO John James, who resigned in April 2020 after eight months on the job. James departed shortly after the resort closed, with thousands of workers furloughed. James, in turn, had replaced 65-year-old Felix Rappaport, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack in June 2018, four years after becoming president and CEO.

Speaking to GGB News about his new role, Guyot said, “It means everything to me.”

Though he took the reins at the start of the Covid-19 shutdown, Guyot said, “The timing was right. It was something I’d been working for my entire career. And it holds extra weight, because I don’t just head this tremendous enterprise, but the future of the tribe. It is of the utmost importance, because it’s all about the future of the tribal nation.”

One Road, Many Paths

Despite Guyot’s longevity with the tribal enterprise, it wasn’t always his goal to occupy the CEO’s chair.

“It was not,” he told GGB. “My first exposure to the enterprise was in the mid-1990s, as a bellhop. Then I started out my career at Foxwoods in 2003, as a manager of employment and diversity after graduating from college. I thought I was going to be in social services but ended up in employment services, and worked my way up from there.”

Guyot benefited from exposure to many aspects of the business. “I ended up in human resources and behavioral science, and continued to move my way up the organization. In 2007, I was offered the opportunity to move to operations and to oversee the opening of Fox Tower. I fell in love with operations.”

His position as senior VP of resort operations gave him “a wealth of experience. I tried to take advantage of everything that came my way, from overseeing property management to resorts sales and development. I’ve had a well-rounded experience in hospitality, thanks to the opportunity.”

Comeback Trail

As the U.S. gaming industry reopens after the Covid pandemic, Guyot is charting a path for Foxwoods to come back strong. “The pandemic in general has really been a challenging time for all businesses and all people, and coming out of it has been a lot of learning—learning what’s more efficient, what’s best for the guest.

“I took over in April 2020, in some of the most difficult times for this operation. We looked at every aspect to be more profitable and engage the workforce. We learned there were different ways to do things, and I think we’ll all benefit as we move into the future.”

That future includes sports betting and online gaming, thanks to a deal recently struck between Connecticut’s gaming tribes and Governor Ned Lamont.

“We’re thrilled to have that landmark agreement; it’s an historical moment for us as an organization and as a tribal nation,” said Guyot. “A lot of things need to happen to get it through the legislature, but we want to get sports betting up by fall, in time for the NFL season. That would be the goal.”

While some people believe the onset of iGaming could siphon business from the brick-and-mortar operation, Guyot isn’t unduly concerned. “What we’ve seen from other jurisdictions is that it’s an incremental thing; individuals still want to experience live entertainment and stay at hotels.”

New Frontiers

Other frontiers for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation lie outside the continental U.S. and abroad. In January, the Pequots announced a partnership with LionGrove LLC, a private equity firm, to reopen the El San Juan Casino in Puerto Rico at the old Fairmont Hotel (l.). The tribe will invest $12.5 million in the venture and rebrand the property as the Foxwoods El San Juan.

“That’s expected to open in November of this year,” Guyot said. “We have a team down there working hard to get it up and running. The hotel is already open; the casino will be open later this year.”

In addition to Puerto Rico, Foxwoods is looking at Japan, which legalized integrated resorts with gaming in 2016 and will license three IRs in the first round of liberalization.

“We continue to look into new opportunities outside the U.S. and domestically,” said Guyot. “We want to expand the brand. We’re the first tribal casino in the U.S. There was Las Vegas and Atlantic City and then Foxwoods. That still resonates. That’s still important to us and speaks to the iconic brand of Foxwoods.”

‘Right Leader, Right Vision’

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler praised Guyot for steering the company through one of the most turbulent periods in its history, calling his appointment “a special milestone for Foxwoods as well as our tribal family. What Jason has done over the past 12 months has been remarkable, taking the helm of Foxwoods at the onset of the pandemic, building safety guidelines from the ground up to ensure guests feel safe, and championing a new kind of culture for our team members.

“Jason Guyot is the right leader with the right vision to drive Foxwoods through its next phase of evolution,” Butler said, “and we are equally proud that Jason is our first Pequot CEO.”

Meanwhile, business at the resort in Ledyard, Connecticut is gradually returning, and is currently at “60 to 65 percent capacity,” said Guyot. “We haven’t reopened the hotels completely, but we see a lot of pent-up demand for places where people can go and be safe. We’ve proven this is one of the safest places you can visit. We’re excited to get back to the new normal, hopefully by fall.”

Entertainment has also returned to Foxwoods’ Grand Theater. “We’ve booked four shows with Dave Chapelle at 90 percent capacity” for this summer, he said. “We’re mandating Covid rapid tests for entry. We’re definitely trying some new things so we can provide a safe experience for our guests.” Additional safety measures include enhanced contactless ticketing, mandatory face masks and a maximized ventilation system for fresh air flow.

Guyot said his new position is not “a pit stop” in his career. “I’ve been here for over 18 years. I live here. This is my home, and I’m completely invested in the success of this tribe.”

Asked his advice for young people who want to achieve at his level, Guyot said, “My goal is to offer tribal members the same opportunities I was afforded. A lot of the drive needs to come from inside, and if I can inspire that, I would feel well about the role I’ve played. You have to make a lot of sacrifices, but if you’re resilient, stay focused and expose yourself to uncomfortable situations, you’ll be more well-rounded. You’ll be comfortable leading anything at the drop of the hat.

“You never know how you’re going to be called upon,” Guyot said. “The more you challenge yourself, the better off you’ll be in general—and not just at this organization.”