MOHEGAN, Conn. – Mohegan Sun officials are betting that a glitzy new $740 million expansion project will draw Asians, a younger gaming crowd, and a bigger profit share of the ever-expanding gaming industry.
Project Horizon is a massive expansion that will add 1.4 million square feet to Mohegan Sun’s existing structure, including an additional 115,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and a new 64,000-square-foot casino that will include the return of poker to Mohegan Sun.
At the core of the expansion is a new partnership with House of Blues, a Hollywood, Calif.-based global entertainment company that owns and operates a number of music arenas and amphitheaters throughout North America.
The partnership is a bid to draw in younger gamers in the sought-after 25 – 34 age group, said Mitchell Etess, Mohegan Sun’s president and CEO, at a Nov. 16 press conference to unveil the project.
Project Horizon will feature a new 1,000-room hotel featuring a “House of Blues experience,” including 300 House of Blues-themed hotel rooms that will be owned and operated by Mohegan Sun. The 43-story hotel will be the tallest building in the state. The hotel is slated to open in 2010.
House of Blues will own and operate a 1,500-capacity Music Hall, a 300-seat casual dining restaurant, a 3,000-square-foot special events room, and an 800-square-foot House of Blues retail shop.
A new 64,000-square-foot “Casino of the Wind” will feature a new Asian gaming area, bus lobby, virtual Hong Kong street food outlet and gaming floor offering 900 slot machines, 45 table games, including Sic Bo and Pai Gow poker. The Asian area is scheduled to open in 2007.
The project is expected to bring in 1,400 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs to southeastern Connecticut.
Tribal officials announced the new expansion with enthusiasm.
“We’re thrilled to unveil the next phase of our evolution,” tribal Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum said. “The future of Mohegan Tribe and Mohegan Sun shines bright as we continue to develop as an overall entertainment destination and position Mohegan Sun as an industry leader our Project Horizon will further expand upon our cultural heritage and traditions to offer our customers a spectacular, one-of-a-kind experience in the Northeast.”
For around a half-dozen years, the only poker games in the area were found at the nearby Mashantucket Pequots’ Foxwoods Resort Casino. Project Horizon will bring poker back to Mohegan Sun.
“Our poker room wasn’t working out at the time and the previous council made the decision to get rid of poker and add more slots; and not long after we closed poker, we saw that poker was taking off nationally, and it was like, ‘Oh, if we could go back we would,’ so now we see the need for poker here. It’s pretty hot everywhere,” Bozsum said.
Mohegan’s development parallels a project at nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino, which has teamed up with MGM Mirage in a $700 million expansion that includes a 30-story hotel, a 4,000-seat theater and 50,000 square feet of new gaming space.
While the Mohegans and Mashantuckets compete with each other, they are currently the only gamers in New England and will likely hold the market for the foreseeable future. Mohegan’s expansion announcement came on the heels of a vote by Rhode Island residents to reject a bid by the Narragansett Tribe to open a casino in partnership with Harrah’s. And the casino plans of the nearby Eastern Pequots and western Connecticut’s Schaghticoke Tribal Nation were dashed last year when the BIA reversed both tribes’ federal acknowledgements. STN is in the midst of appealing that decision.
State officials fought ferociously against both recognitions because they opposed more tribal casinos in the state. But State Comptroller Nancy Wyman, who attended the press conference, praised the Mohegan expansion.
“It’s wonderful to be here. As Connecticut state comptroller and on behalf of the Connecticut state government and all the people of the state, I want to congratulate the Mohegan Tribe, the tribal council, the elders and the people who make up the Mohegan Sun team. … Every day, Connecticut’s 169 towns directly benefit from your slot machines. I love it,” Wyman said.
Project Horizon will increase Mohegan Sun’s total number of slot machines to 7,600 units. Both tribes contribute 25 percent of gross slot revenues to the state, for a combined total approaching $450 million a year. Without competition from other Indian casinos, the Mohegan’s and Mashantucket’s current combined revenues of $2.3 billion could reach around $4 billion – the estimated saturation point for the gaming market in the area. If another Indian casino were to open, the state would be required to renegotiate its current gaming compacts with the tribes.