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Mohegans; Casino of the Wind debuts with dramatic flair

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - After a traditional smudging and prayer by Mohegan Chairman Bruce ;'Two Dogs'' Bozsum and a few short speeches, the Mohegan Tribe introduced its newest addition to the gaming world - the Casino of the Wind - with pounding drums, flashing lights, and the dramatic unveiling of a 100-foot-long curtain that covered the casino entrance.

A huge crowd including tribal and elder council members, business people, local elected officials and other dignitaries, and the media gathered Aug. 29 for the official opening of the Casino of the Wind, the third elementally-themed casino to be added to the tribe's monumentally successful Mohegan Sun Casino.

''Today we're all before you, Creator, giving thanks for all the good thing's you've given us. We thank you for this beautiful day. We give thanks for all the good things that will come,'' Bozsum said.

The opening of the Casino of the Wind marked the completion of the first phase of Mohegan's ambitious $925 million expansion plan, called Project Horizon. The development, which is expected to be completed in 2010, will add a 39-story hotel with 261 House of Blues-themed rooms, a House of Blues Music Hall, restaurant and exclusive members-only House of Blues Foundation Room, and additional retail and restaurant space.

The Casino of the Wind is the Mohegan Sun's second gaming expansion in the 13 years since it opened the Casino of the Earth. The addition came in under budget by almost $9 million less than its original $125 million estimate, and ahead of schedule.

''Today we begin a new phase of Mohegan Sun's continuing growth as one of the premier gaming and entertainment destinations in the world,'' Bozsum said. ''Following in the footsteps of Casino of the Earth and Casino of the Sky, the Rockwell Group again utilized our tribal traditions in their design and conception for the new Casino of the Wind.''

Bozsum thanked the councils, planning team, the supportive local communities, and employees, who he called ''members of our Mohegan family.'' He also lavished praise on the Mohegan Sun's patrons ''who make all of this possible.''

''Anybody ready to play some poker at Mohegan Sun?'' Mohegan President and CEO Mitchell Etess asked moments before the veil was pulled off and hundreds of guests and patrons surged into the new casino where table dealers stood ready to greet their first customers.

The 64,000-square-foot Casino of the Wind has 45,000 square feet of new gaming space and is aimed at poker players of all levels. The space features a 42-table poker room with a semi-private high-level area featuring seven high-limit tables. Almost two dozen televisions broadcasting a variety of programs are suspended around the poker room.

The new casino marks the return of poker to the Mohegan Sun after a five year hiatus. Just after the Mohegan Sun closed its poker games in 2003, poker exploded on the national scene with the World Poker Tournament and a following as dedicated as sports fans. Foxwoods Resort Casino just 10 miles down the road and Mohegan's biggest competitor has been the only poker game in town during the past five years. Now the Mohegan Sun will be able to attract poker players to its facility.

Foxwoods recently underwent its own expansion with the completion of the new MGM Grand at Foxwoods, a $700 million project that opened in May.

The new Casino of the Wind also offers more than 650 new slot machines and 28 table games.

Hundreds of regular patrons showed up for the opening of the Casino of the Wind and a large line formed at the sign up desk for the poker tables.

Among the regulars was Bruce Harding from Westbrook, Mass. Harding said he comes to the Sun every week and only plays blackjack. He said he and his wife used to go to Las Vegas every year but the downturn in the economy has made that impossible.

''This is cheaper. We're retired. It's the only thing we do that doesn't cost money because we win more than we lose,'' Harding said.

The casino's design is meant to interpret traditional Native themes including the spirit of the four winds. But one of the most spectacular constructions features water; It's a 35-foot-high by 50-foot wide water wall of granite that acts as a projection screen for a constantly changing shimmering array of lights, colors and shapes.

The Casino of the Wind welcomed back the Chief's Deli, a quick service restaurant, after a two-year absence. A Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville Restaurant will open in October.

A month long celebration of the new casino is planned for October. The festivities will include a poker tournament with one of the largest guaranteed prize pools on the east coast, daily car giveaways, and celebrity entertainment in Mohegan Sun's 10,000-seat arena.

The new addition has created 350 new permanent jobs and provided more than 850 construction jobs. A total of 1,500 jobs will be added when the entire Project Horizon is completed.

The tribe is moving forward with a hugely expensive expansion while the economy is gloomy and slot revenues have dropped over the past several months, but Bozsum was positive about the future.

''It says we'll be ready when the economy changes, when things come back, which they will soon enough. We're open and we're ready to go,'' Bozsum said.

With a Casino of the Earth, a Casino of the Sky, and now a Casino of the Wind, is the tribe's next expansion going to be a Casino of the Water?

''We haven't discussed that yet, but that's a good thought,'' Bozsum said.