AP NEWS

In Massachusetts, an Encore for former Foxwoods gaming executive

May 6, 2019

Medford, Mass. — His casino career has taken him from Mashantucket to Bimini to the brink of Boston.

It began in Bozrah.

That’s where Doug Williams grew up, and in 1991 that’s where he was living when, as a 22-year-old Thames Valley State Technical College student, he made a rather fortuitous decision. The Norwich school, which soon would merge into Three Rivers Community College, had surrendered its gymnasium to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which needed a place to train table-games dealers for the casino it was preparing to open.

At a job fair, Williams opted to roll the dice.

“They asked me if I’d like to be a craps dealer,” he recalled here Friday in an interview. “They said it would be part time, then they hired me full time. … I never looked back.”

Hands folded, leaning forward, the 49-year-old Williams recounted the career path that led him to a Medford office building near the site, in next door Everett, of Encore Boston Harbor, Wynn Resorts’ 35.5 million in fines against Wynn Resorts and its current CEO, Matthew Maddox.

“Now we know it’s a real thing,” Williams said of Encore’s impending debut. “Until the news confirms it, nothing’s for sure. … Not that I ever believed it wouldn’t happen — but there was some muddy water there.”

The allegations against Steve Wynn surfaced in a Wall Street Journal article in January 2018. Williams didn’t take the Encore job until two months later. Since then, he’s overseen a dealers’ school modeled after the one he enrolled in decades earlier, offering instruction in the finer points of dealing blackjack, craps, roulette, poker and the like.

“You can teach people how to deal,” he said. “But you can’t teach them the most important thing, which is customer service. They either have that ability or they don’t.”

About 300 locals signed up for the classes. Hundreds of others with casino experience answered the call, including as many as a hundred from Foxwoods and about the same number from Mohegan Sun, Williams said. Twin River in Rhode Island, Resorts World Catskills in New York, MGM Springfield in Massachusetts and casinos in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Wynn Resorts properties in Las Vegas also supplied talent.

Williams said the dealers have come for some of the same things that attracted him to the business: opportunity, the chance to advance rapidly, the excitement of an opening. At Encore, he said, there’s also the casino’s luxurious surroundings as well as everything a major metropolitan area like Boston can offer.

Williams was working as the vice president of gaming operations at Resorts World Bimini, a small casino in the Bahamas, when Robert DeSalvio, Encore’s president, called to gauge his interest in a job. Williams had known of DeSalvio when DeSalvio was an executive vice president at Foxwoods, a post he left in 2006.

“I was home for Christmas and had a one-on-one interview with him,” Williams said. “It was an opportunity to come back home. I didn’t sign up to live in Bimini.”

He’d ended up at the island resort when his previous job with Resorts World, as vice president of gaming operations for First Light, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s ill-fated casino in Taunton, Mass., failed to materialize. After a groundbreaking for the casino, a lawsuit called into question the federal government’s decision to take land into trust for the tribe, including the casino site.

Malaysia-based Resorts World, which was to manage First Light, had hired Williams away from Foxwoods in 2016.

During his more than 24 years with Foxwoods, Williams climbed through the dealers’ ranks, learning to deal a variety of games and becoming a supervisor and then a “pit” manager overseeing dozens of tables at one time. In 2002, he took charge of Foxwoods’ high-limit room and when the Mashantuckets opened MGM Grand at Foxwoods in 2008, he shifted there.

In the southeastern Connecticut casinos’ heyday, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun combined to generate $3 billion in annual revenues, Williams said, but opening MGM Grand, into the teeth of a recession, turned out to be “bad timing.”

Still, he said, the biggest hit to Foxwoods table games came in 2013, when Twin River in Lincoln, R.I., introduced tables for the first time.

“When I left Foxwoods, we were still doing healthy numbers,” Williams said. “My leaving really was just for an opportunity for career advancement. I knew MGM (Springfield) was coming, I knew Encore was coming …

“It was almost a matter of time” before opportunity became greater elsewhere, he said. “Do you want to decommission a ship, or christen a ship?”

With opening day seven weeks away, Williams worries about whether he’s hired enough people.

“Tell everyone in Connecticut, If they’re looking for an opportunity, come see me,” he said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com