Mohegan Sun to expand

Uncasville, Connecticut (AP) – Mohegan Sun, already one of the world’s largest casinos, unveiled plans Thursday for an estimated USD 740 million expansion that will include the return of poker and a new House of Blues music hall.

Tribal gaming officials hope the expansion will help them better serve existing customers and draw in new ones, including people in their early 20s and Asians.

„We’re drawing some new customers but serving our existing customer base better,“ said Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Hartmann. „The number one entertainment venue in the Northeast resides here in Uncasville, Conn.“

Mohegan Sun, which has been celebrating its 10th anniversary, has about 10,000 employees and expects to add about another 2,000 in the next five years. The tribe’s casino attracts 35,000 visitors daily and generates about USD 1.5 billion annually in revenue.

The expansion, known as „Project Horizon,“ will include a 38-story, 1,000-room hotel slated to open in 2010. Inside will be a smaller, House of Blues-themed hotel. The House of Blues music hall, which will hold about 1,500 people, is scheduled to open in 2009. There will also be an adjoining restaurant and store.

Greg Trojan, acting CEO of House of Blues, said his company and the tribe first began talking about a joint project about five years ago. House of Blues, which was recently purchased by the firm Live Nation, is in the midst of an expansion plan. It hopes to build at least three to five sites a year. Trojan said the nearest to Mohegan Sun will likely be in New York and Boston.

„We just think their property complements our brand very well,“ he said.

The casino already has a 1,200-room hotel, but it is 93 percent full on an average night, meaning the casino has had trouble accommodating larger conventions because it can’t guarantee hotel space, said Hartmann.

The new hotel tower, which will also include a new spa, is set to open in 2010. Other elements of the project are expected to open sooner, spring of 2008, including more restaurants and shops, and a new Casino of the Wind, which will add 964 slot machines to the 6,000 the casino already has.

A new Casino of the Earth opening in the summer of 2007 will aim to draw Asian customers with table games and a Hong Kong street food outlet.

Casino officials are also hoping to bring in more young people by opening a 45-table poker room. The poker room at Mohegan Sun closed in 2003 to make room for more slot machines, but televised tournaments and online gaming have made poker so popular that the casino is bringing it back.

Mohegan Sun and nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino have been rapidly expanding since they opened.

„We need to make sure we plan for the future, like generations before us did,“ said Lynn Malerba, vice chairwoman of the tribe. She said the tribe now has 1,700 members – 45 percent of whom are under 18 years old. The tribe had 994 members when it received federal recognition in 1994.

The Connecticut casinos caught a reprieve earlier this month when voters in nearby Rhode Island rejected a measure that would have allowed gambling giant Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. to build a resort casino with the Narragansett Tribe near Providence. But officials are still talking about opening casinos in the Catskills in New York.

Nearly half of Mohegan Sun’s customers come from Connecticut, with most of the rest coming from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York.

Mohegan Sun this week opened slot machines in Pennsylvania and is considering casino development deals with other Indian tribes in Wisconsin and Washington.

In 2001, Mohegan Sun completed a USD 1.1 billion expansion that included its Casino of the Sky, a convention center and several brand-name restaurants and shops, such as Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Yankee Candle.

Both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods send 25 percent of their slot revenue to the state in return for exclusive rights to operate slot machines.

Foxwoods has broken ground on a USD 700 million expansion that will include an 825-room hotel, convention space and more restaurants and nightclubs. The expansion will add more than 2 million square feet to the resort and is scheduled to open in the summer of 2008.

Indian gambling has had explosive growth since the legal framework was created in 1988, and the nation’s 408 Indian gambling facilities brought in USD 22.6 billion in revenue last year.