What’s in a name? Often quite a bit, actually. For decades, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (MTGA) has carved out a successful niche in the gaming world, developing one of the largest tribal casinos in North America (Mohegan Sun) while branching out to own, operate or partner in gaming properties in Pennsylvania (Mohegan Sun Pocono), Atlantic City (Resorts Casino Hotel), Louisiana (Paragon Casino Resort), Washington (ilani) and South Korea (Inspire). Recently, executives at MTGA decided to change the company’s name to Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE), which they deemed better represented the entity’s growing domestic and international portfolio of integrated resorts while aligning its all-encompassing brand image as an entertainment destination with its future expansion plans.
“The change in the name to MGE has been made to better reflect where we are today as far as an overall entertainment company and our advancement as a major player in commercial gaming worldwide,” said Mitchell Etess, CEO of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment in a recent press release. “Our brand has become synonymous with outstanding gaming operations so this change is an organic development aligned with our brand evolution.”
What is important to note in the new name is the emphasis it places on entertainment. Sure, MTGA growth originally centered on its casinos and gaming offerings; however, it is the non-gaming aspects of its namesake resort and the way these amenities were marketed to customers that sent it into the stratosphere of popularity, and a change in name. Indeed, since opening the doors to its flagship property in Connecticut in 1996, Mohegan Sun grew quickly into one of the Western hemisphere’s premier integrated resorts by delivering unforgettable experiences to more than nine million visitors each year. From dining and shopping to professional sporting events and arena-sized performances, the brand’s commitment to provide new and exciting non-gaming offerings translated into more than 45 dining restaurants, bars and lounges; a full retail shopping center; a lavish spa; an 18-hole golf course; and three high-energy entertainment venues, including Mohegan Sun’s award-winning Arena that opened in 2001 and has since grown into the world’s highest grossing concert venue of its size.
Lately, Mohegan Sun has been on a renovation spree, with many of the projects involving non-gaming amenities.
“We didn’t have many renovations for quite some time, but we did capital improvements… maintaining our properties is very important to us, we want to keep it up to a level where it looks new every single time you’re coming,” said Jeff Hamilton assistant general manager at Mohegan Sun. “Over the course of the last three years is where we have really been able to do some expansions like building a beautiful hotel tower and planning the expo center. For the long-term, we have also bought a large parcel of property across the river from our property that we are working on developing.”
These recent renovations included a $50 million hotel renovation for Mohegan Sun’s original 1,200-room Sky Tower, and the opening of the brand new Earth Tower. “We are going into the rooms and we are updating everything about those rooms,” said Hamilton. “We are bringing them up-to-date from a technology standpoint and really trying to create a state-of-the-art room in our premier tower, which is our Sky Tower.”
Opened last November, The Earth Tower, which brought 400 additional hotel rooms to Mohegan Sun’s riverfront property, features the full-service Mandara Spa along with a fitness center, pool, a fire pit lounge outside on the Earth Tower Terrace. Recent additions to the Earth Tower’s non-gaming offering include the Bean and Vine Terrace, Mohegan’s first al fresco casual dining spot that features an all-day menu with options ranging from hand-crafted coffee and breakfast specialties to sommelier-selected wines and seasonal small bites for sharing.
“In the morning it is a high-end coffee bar where you can get a cappuccino or an iced coffee with a breakfast sandwich, and then at night it turns into a wine bar,” said Hamilton. “But really the best part about this area [Earth Tower exterior] is the outdoor terrace. Our customers have been looking for an outdoor area at our casino… and we truly haven’t had an outdoor area besides our pool. There really wasn’t a place that… if you wanted to get outside at the casino and have a cocktail before the show or a night out, we really didn’t have that. So when we created our Earth Tower, we also created the Earth Terrace.”
Resort guests and visitors are also now invited to embrace summertime with the Sun Terrace Pool’s enhanced amenities and contemporary updates, including the brand new Sun Terrace Pool Cabanas. The pool cabanas feature a cool outdoor space for hot summer days amidst plush pillows and soothing colors—and are marketed as a great outdoor entertainment lounge for friends and family.
A sure sign that the timing was right for these major projects has been the recent uptick in business at the property. “We’ve had growth in business over the course of the last two years,” Hamilton said. “However, as the economy has come back in the northeast, so has increased competition. In response, we’ve really dialed in and followed our recipe: great guest service, up-to-date products, a beautiful looking property and great entertainment. I really think our Arena and the level of shows that we are able to provide to our customers is really a competitive advantage for us.”
When it comes to entertainment at the property, Mohegan Sun is a cut above most gaming properties thanks in large part to its Arena, where concerts and other events often break attendance records.
“[The Arena] has become one of the major league venues in the world today,” said Tom Cantone, vice president of entertainment at Mohegan Sun. “We have just about every national tour… and it has become one of the top stops in the country.”
Executives at Mohegan Sun have found that large crowds at the Arena translate to a spike in business on the gaming floor. According to Cantone, people attending an event at the Arena often arrive early to try their luck at the slots and table games. Concert goers are a particularly lucrative group for the resort property as a whole, and Mohegan Sun has altered its entertainment strategy to take advantage of this phenomenon. “Years ago I would have never really booked a young show with a young artist, now I book them every Saturday night because mom and dad drop off the kids and have nothing to do so they may walk around the property or maybe go and play and enjoy themselves for a couple of hours,” Cantone said. “Some of our biggest revenue nights come from the younger artists.”
Concerts aside, the Arena and Mohegan Sun also do well with sporting events; so well in fact that it is now home to two professional sports franchises: the Connecticut Sun of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) at the New England Black Wolves of the National Lacrosse League (NLL). These sporting events, combined with the concerts, bring millions of additional customers to the resort each year, something no other gaming property in the region can claim.
“When you have 10 million, soon to be 11 million people this year come to one room, it’s mind-blowing,” Cantone said. “That’s a differentiator for us against all of our competition. No one can really counterpunch or match us because of it. It is a great asset to have from a marketing standpoint because it truly drives volume, and who ever drives volume wins.”
The popularity of the Arena has led to gains in other marketing areas as well. “We are the number one social media venue in the world; meaning when we book something, more people are talking about Mohegan Sun Arena than any other venue in the world,” Cantone said “That includes facilities such as Madison Square Garden and Staples Center… we sort of outgun everybody when it comes to that. Our social media exposure and how people talk about us is off the charts.”
Mohegan Sun does approximately 190 events at the Arena on top of the other 500-600 events at the property as a whole. In a marketing effort to bring them all together, Hot Summer Fun was created. “One thing that we really do well is our summer program called Hot Summer Fun,” Cantone said. “This [promotion comprises] everything we do from special events and parties to promotions and hotel packages.
Cantone believes this combination of events creates a unique—and marketable—identity for Mohegan Sun. “It is the personality of the property that really makes you want to come here,” he said. “And our personality is entertainment, make no mistake about that. When we focus on entertainment, we do it better than anyone else and the world takes notice.”
What about if you need a place to escape the casino for a few hours? Just ask Cantone and he might very well drive you to their newly renovated golf course (or you could do what most guests do and take the provided shuttle). This amenity has proven to be a great added value for the property during the summer months. “It’s great to give the stars, entertainers, celebrities and our customers this benefit; a lot of other regional casino properties do not have a golf course, so for us it is a nice advantage and added value,” Cantone said.
The commerce and the entertainment spend is kept a close eye on by Cantone himself, who states that it is “unreal.” And that spend does not just stay at Mohegan Sun—it trickles outside of the property to the area businesses where the trade it generates makes a noticeable impact on the region to which it resides.
To see more on what Hamilton and Cantone had to say about non-gaming trends at Mohegan Sun, subscribe to Casino Journal’s YouTube station (www.youtube.com/user/CasinoJournal).