A Personal Gamble
Former U.S. Congressman Bob Steele's new novel 'The Curse'
After he left Greenwich more than two decades ago, former U.S. Congressman Robert Steele settled in Ledyard, right on the edge of the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation. The Southeastern hamlet gave him a front row seat for witnessing the remarkable development of two mega-casinos by the descendants of once rival Native American tribes. From the inherent political controversies to gambling’s sometimes addictive allure, Steele found the impact the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos had on his adopted corner of Connecticut fascinating. “It occurred to me I was living through one of the most remarkable stories in the state’s history. Really, it was the stuff of a novel.” So he wrote one.
The former gubernatorial candidate spent five years researching, writing and imagining The Curse, a multigenerational epic that takes readers from Connecticut’s Puritan beginnings and the Pequot Wars of 1637 and spins its ways to the roulette wheels of a fictional third casino. Bob, who has returned to Greenwich and its environs as part of his ongoing book tour, explains the novel became a creative way to express his fascination with the history, politics and conflict that brought casino gambling to Connecticut in the ’90s. He sets the stage for his yarn with a poignantly brutal account of the real-life Indian attack on Puritans at Wethersfield—and an equally violent retaliatory attack—but quickly moves forward 350 years to explore casino development through fictional descendants of these early clashes. “What many people don’t realize is that our early Indian and Puritan history impacts us to this present day,” says Bob. Beyond looking to the past to inform the present, “I wanted to write a riveting and engrossing novel that would also set the stage for what is about to happen here.” For Bob imagines the drama that unfolds in The Curse as a sort of prequel to a bleak future he envisions for the state’s gaming industry. He notes that growing efforts to bring casino gaming to neighboring New England states and New York are encroaching threats. “The dynamics will never be quite the same. The market is saturated. Once a new casino is built, it will be successful the first year, but after that I expect they will all struggle,” he says. He notes that slot revenues in Connecticut casinos—once the two biggest in the world—have already dipped from an annual peak of $430 million down to $300 million and counting. Does that mean he’s penning a doomsday sequel? “No, no, no,” laughs Bob, who says his inaugural effort was so consuming he needs a creative hiatus. Still, expect the casino story to continue to be a page-turner. —Beth Cooney Fitzpatrick