Mohicans new casino thrives despite recession

Gale Courey Toensing

Mohicans new casino thrives despite recession

BOWLER, Wis. – When leaders of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians decided to launch a $100 million new casino and resort expansion to open in the fall of 2008, the last thing on their minds was a meltdown in the economy.

But here’s the good news: The new North Star Mohican Casino, which opened in December, is quite successful so far.

“It’s doing very well,” said Candy Miller, the casino’s promotions assistant manager and a Munsee-Stockbridge tribal member.

“I guess maybe we were like everybody else and didn’t think the financial situation would get so bad, but the casino is really doing very well. We’re getting a lot of new people in. It’s a casino that’s got a kind of Vegas flair to it. It’s big. It’s beautiful. It has high ceilings, and a beautiful center bar. We have a lounge and we never had a lounge before in our old casino; we just had a café. We have a new café that’s actually a bit smaller than the old one, but we also have our new Longhouse Restaurant, which does buffets and menu style orders as well.”

Month for month, business at the North Star has outdone business in the old casino at the same time last year, Miller said.

“To a certain point, we’ve seen the downturn in the economy, but it’s not phenomenal. I can’t complain as far as what I hear and see. Mondays are our slow day, but that’s kind of true everywhere. Tuesdays are our senior’s day, so they pack in. Then Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday it’s hard to believe – people just come to the casino. It used to be that New Year’s Eve was our ultimate night, but now there have been several weekends that have been bigger than New Year’s even; they’ve been off the chart.”

The North Star Mohican Casino is the reincarnation of the tribe’s old casino – the Mohican North Star Casino – which began as a bingo hall in 1986 in a pole building that seated 650 patrons.

The new North Star is a world class facility with a 66,000-square-foot gaming floor, a non-smoking area with 1,225 slot machines with denominations from 1 cent to $1; 14 table games, including Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Let it Ride and 3-Card Poker; and exclusive high-limits areas where slot denominations range from $5 to $25.

The centerpiece of the new gaming area is a 54-seat center bar set beneath a large skylight in the heart of the casino. The second bar area, The Groove, is an entertainment lounge for musical performances on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s bigger and allows for better entertainment than the previous casino, said Miller, who books all the casino’s entertainment.

“In the bingo hall, we didn’t have a lot of national acts. Now we’re going up a notch and doubling the size so we can bring some really great acts to this area.”

The casino is open 24-hours a day on the weekends, and from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. during the week.

The new casino continues the tribe’s bingo tradition with Mohican Bingo, a separate space within the facility with a regular schedule of games.

North Star Mohican Casino is located between Green Bay and Wausau in Shawano County.

In the next phase of development, the tribe will build a 150-room hotel, a 13,000-square-foot convention center, and other meeting space. The facility, which is being developed as a resort destination, will include a 1,400-seat performance center, a luxurious day spa, a fine dining steakhouse and other informal dining areas. In addition, a cultural display is integrated into the design paying tribute to the Stockbridge-Munsee Band. The hotel and resort amenities are scheduled for completion in 2010.

Stockbridge-Munsee President Robert Chicks said he places great hope in the casino as the tribe’s engine for economic development.

“The new North Star is a great accomplishment for the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, and I look forward to the future benefit that this casino will bring to all of our trial members. This entertainment destination is an important achievement in our history, and will continue to lead us down a brighter path in the days ahead. At the same time, we are privileged to be able to provide new job opportunities and economic growth to the greater Shawano community, which will positively impact everyone in the region.”

The new casino employs just over 400 people, including about 60 tribal members. The Munsee-Stockbridge Band has around 1,500 enrolled members. The expanded resort facilities are expected to create 200 new jobs.

The casino was built behind the old one, which will be demolished once construction of the hotel begins. The casino hardly skipped a beat during the transition from old to new.

“We were closed for four-and-a-half or five days, that’s all,” Miller said. “We moved everything. The employees were awesome. You couldn’t ask for better employees. If it wasn’t for them there was no way we could have opened in the time frame that we did.”

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