For the Senecas’ point man, a history of Togel casino success

“This is as close to a sure thing as you’re going to get in this industry. There is no doubt in my mind that we’re going to knock the cover off the ball in this facility.” G. Michael “Mickey” Brown

 

“A lot of gaming experts have only been involved in operating a casino – they don’t have the kind of experience Mickey has.” Cyrus M Schindler Jr., Seneca Nation President

In 1980, as the first legal casinos outside Las Vegas were about to open in Atlantic City, New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne was concerned that the Mafia might get in on the ground floor.

Byrne wanted someone who would bring an edge to the upcoming licensing hearings.

 

“I want this treated with the same depth and scope of a criminal prosecution,” the governor told G. Michael Brown, a veteran prosecutor.

 

“I told the governor I didn’t think I wanted to do it,” Brown recalled 22 years later, “because I didn’t know that much about legalized Togel gaming – what I knew was bookmakers and numbers runners.”

 

Brown learned quickly, leading hearings that left two founders of Las Vegas casinos, among others, banned from the Atlantic City casino business.

 

Then he left government and went into private practice, helping developers open casinos in Malaysia, Australia and the Bahamas.

 

Today, Mickey Brown, as he introduces himself, is the point man for the Seneca Nation of Indians’ efforts to open a casino in Niagara Falls. Even as construction crews gut the former convention center where it’s planned to open on New Year’s Eve, many in Niagara Falls and elsewhere remain skeptical that it will actually happen.

 

That’s partly because the proposed casino has yet to receive approvals from the federal government and partly because of Niagara Falls’ hard-earned reputation as a place where grand project plans go to die.

 

But people who know him say that despite the obstacles, there’s a factor that tips the odds in favor of the casino’s opening: Mickey Brown said it would.

 

“He’s one of the handful of people here who, if you had a Mr. Gaming, he would be one of those people,” said Michael Fedorko, chairman of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. “He has a fantastic reputation, impeccable.

 

“When he says something,” Fedorko said, “it’s the truth, without question.”

 

From the perspective of Brown’s new office on the ground floor of the convention center, the former offices of the Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau are buzzing with activity. Phones bleat plaintively, and job applicants wait in the lobby. One floor up, seven cranes jockey for position as painting crews apply a coat of blue to the building’s overhanging roof.

 

Brown picks up the cell phone on his paper-crowded desk and looks at the display. “Eight messages . . . That’s why I left it here.”

He is the man in charge

Everybody wants a piece of Mickey Brown’s ear. The Seneca Nation has made it clear that if businesses want to bid on part of the $110 million casino project, Mickey Brown is their point of contact.

 

But Brown and the Senecas have had much of the casino renovation planned since March. Though the project uses local union workers, Brown already had key parts of his development team in place. Construction managers, architects and others with whom Brown has worked on other casino projects were lined up, with details worked out to the level of assuring an adequate supply of cards and dice.

 

“I have a pretty good relationship with the manufacturers – chips, dice, cards, slot machines,” Brown said. “I talked to all of them. They said if you want to do it, we’ll get it done.”

 

Selecting and training more than 2,000 casino workers will take up much of the coming months. A Seneca employment office will open Tuesday in the Rainbow Centre Factory Outlets, and 1,000 applications have already poured in, Brown said.

 

Another significant task will be investigating the casino’s key employees and suppliers, following the regulatory process detailed in the compact the Seneca Nation signed with the state.

 

Just as organized crime was preparing to take advantage of the Atlantic City casinos, criminals will try to make the Niagara Falls casino work for them, Brown predicts.

 

“It won’t be a frontal attack,” he said. “It’ll be an attempt to reap some benefit from the casino indirectly, through suppliers, vendors, frauds, cheats, compromised employees. That’s why the licensing process which is going to be in place is so important.”

 

Employees and vendors must submit to a background check by the Seneca Nation and state gaming authorities before working for the casino. It’s as thorough as the process for licensing used in New Jersey, he said.

 

“If you do a thorough background investigation of the people that manage the place, and then you do an investigation of the suppliers, and they’re not criminals, and you investigate the employees, and on their face they’re not criminals, you have a pretty good head start on keeping the criminal element out,” said Brown.

 

 

Served in Vietnam

 

It was the criminal element that got Brown into casinos in the first place, after all.

 

After growing up in New Jersey and being educated in Catholic schools, Brown got his law degree from Seton Hall Law School in 1967. He was sent to Vietnam with his New Jersey National Guard unit in 1969 and eventually assigned to the Staff Judge Advocate’s office. He got his first trial experience there, handling court-martial cases.

 

After being discharged, Brown was hired by Essex County as a prosecutor in 1970, and two years later became a deputy director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. By 1980 he was a senior trial attorney, assigned to prosecute 10 members of the Genovese crime family.

 

The case was billed as the first time the government would prove the existence of the Cosa Nostra in court. Within range of government microphones and hidden cameras, the defendants “were dividing up New Jersey,” Brown said. “Who got the drugs, who got the prostitution. Who got the loansharking. And how they were going to divide up Atlantic City.”

 

Before the trial was over, the governor asked Brown to become the first director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. Brown asked for time to decide and won convictions of four defendants. A week later, he took the job.

 

Two years later, when Brown left the office to enter private practice, the founders of Ballys, Caesars World and Playboy’s Hugh Hefner had all been denied licenses. And New Jersey had earned a reputation as being “very strict on gaming regulation,” Brown said.

 

 

A reputation for results

 

Brown had earned a reputation as well, as an adept gambling regulator. In the years that followed, he was hired by governments and developers to offer advice on controlling gambling operations, or getting them open in the first place. His firm worked for officials in Queensland and Melbourne, Australia, and helped negotiate the opening of casinos in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the Bahamas.

 

In 1990 the Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut, already operators of a bingo hall, hired Brown to help the tribe open a casino. Brown helped represent the tribe in negotiations with the state and federal governments and found it an investor at a crucial time in its development, after the tribe had been turned down by numerous U.S. banks.

 

Brown had helped Genting Berhad, a Malaysian company headed by billionaire Chinese businessman Lim Goh Tong, open an Australian casino. Brown introduced the cash-poor Pequots to Genting Berhad officials. In 1991, the Malaysian company agreed to lend the Pequots about $60 million to finance the first phase of construction at Foxwoods.

 

From 1993 to 1997, Brown was president and chief executive officer of Foxwoods, overseeing development and operations. He left after the tribal leadership changed hands, and he clashed with the new tribal council, he said. By the time he resigned, Brown had overseen the growth of a bingo hall into what was then the largest resort casino in the world.

 

The local communities haven’t been pleased with some of the Pequots’ plans for expansion, but Mickey Brown had a reputation as a straight shooter, said Wesley Johnson, mayor of Ledyard, Conn.

 

If Brown says he’ll have a casino open by New Year’s, “he’ll do it,” Johnson said. “They move fast, and he’ll get it done.”

 

Foxwoods had 240,000 square feet of gambling space, 11 full-service restaurants, three hotels totaling 1,500 rooms, a conference center and 12,000 square feet of retail space. It has since expanded further, and the 25 percent share of slot machine profits it submits to Connecticut makes it the single largest contributor to the state treasury.

 

If proceeds from Foxwoods’ 6,600 slot machines stay on track, it will contribute almost $200 million to the state’s coffers this year.

 

 

Senecas wanted Brown

 

Brown’s record at Foxwoods convinced the Seneca Nation that he was the gambling consultant they wanted, said Seneca Nation President Cyrus M. Schindler Jr. Brown was especially helpful in closing details of the compact with the state.

 

“A lot of other gaming experts have only been involved in operating a casino – they don’t have the kind of experience Mickey has,” Schindler said. “He’s very confident about this project and has the track record to back it up.”

 

Brown is an employee of the Seneca Niagara Falls Gaming Corp., which was created to handle the nation’s casino ventures. The corporation insulates the nation from financial risk if anything unforeseen happens, Brown said.

 

Brown said he thought long and hard before announcing the New Year’s Eve opening.

 

“I’m an extremely conservative, calculating person,” he said. “And if I’m going to take a position on performance, delivery and execution, I take that very seriously.”

 

He’s a gambler, too, in his private life. He likes craps and roulette, the thrill of chasing the long shot. “I’ll buy in for an amount, and either make a lot of money or go get a Coors Light in 40 minutes,” he said.

 

But to Mickey Brown, the opening of the Niagara Falls casino isn’t much of a gamble. “This is as close to a sure thing as you’re going to get in this industry,” Brown said. “There is no doubt in my mind that we’re going to knock the cover off the ball in this facility.”

 

 

 

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