What has been wrought in the woodlands north of the Mystic coast in the last 15 years is nothing less than astonishing. There was little but trees here when the Mashantucket Pequot tribe received clearance to open a gambling casino on their ancestral lands in rural southeast Connecticut. Virtually overnight, the tribal bingo parlor was expanded into the full-fledged Foxwoods casino, and a hotel was built. That was in 1992.
Within 3 years, Foxwoods had become enormously profitable. Money cascaded over the Pequot (pronounced Pee-kwat) in a seemingly endless torrent. Expansion was immediate -- another hotel, then a third, more casinos, golf courses, and a museum devoted to Native American culture. The tribe bought up adjacent lands and nearby inns and hotels, and opened a shipworks to build high-speed ferries. Foxwoods now claims to be the largest casino in the world.
All this wasn't lost on the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut, which in 1996 opened its own casino complex, Mohegan Sun.
Foxwoods is in the town of Ledyard, and Mohegan Sun is in Uncasville. They're about 5 miles apart as the crow flies, but 11 miles by car, with Foxwoods on the east side of the Thames River and Mohegan Sun on the west.
Residents of surrounding communities have been ambivalent about the development, to put the best face on it. When it was learned that one of the tribe's corporate entities was to be called Two Trees Limited Partnership, a predictable query was, "Is that all you're going to leave us? Two trees?" While there is a continuing danger of damage to the fragile character of this authentically picturesque corner of Connecticut, it is also a fact that thousands of people have found employment here.
Hotels -- The Spa at Norwich Inn, is off-site from both casinos, about 15 minutes from Foxwoods. Note that unlike Las Vegas and other gambling centers, rates aren't kept artificially low at the casino properties as an inducement to gamblers.
Another gigantic hotel, the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, was set to open May 2008. It will have 825 rooms and an attached 4,000 theater, with Celine Dion and Michael Bolton among the performers scheduled for later in the year. See www.mgmatfoxwoods.com.
Dining -- At Foxwoods, more than 30 restaurants and fast-food operations situated throughout the hotel-casino complex cover the most popular options. Unlike in Atlantic City or Vegas, there are no bargains to be found: Except at the Festival Buffet, expect to pay at least $50 for dinner for two, not including drinks, taxes, and tip.
The high-end options are Paragon, with French-influenced cuisine, Al Dente, which features designer pizzas and pastas, and Cedars Steak House, which grills Angus beef and native seafood. All three expect guests to be dressed for fine dining, and they accept reservations. The most popular dining room is the Festival Buffet, with an extensive all-you-can-eat spread. For reservations at any of the Foxwoods restaurants, call the main number (tel. 800/369-9663) and choose the reservations option.
Mohegan Sun also boasts over three dozen dining options, and those in the new "Casino of the Sky" are the more impressive. Among the top venues are those of celebrity chefs Jasper White and Todd English, with the casual seafood of Summer Shack (tel. 860/862-9500) and contemporary Italian edibles of Tuscany (tel. 860/862-3238), respectively, and an outpost of Michael Jordan's Steakhouse (tel. 888/226-7711). The quality of the food is unexpectedly good, too, within the limits of their missions, at Big Bubba's BBQ (tel. 860/862-9800), The Longhouse (beef and fish; tel. 888/226-7711), Bamboo Forest (Southeast Asian; tel. 888/226-7711), and Pompeii and Caesar (Italian; tel. 860/226-7711).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.