Mohegan Gaming receives initial approval to be the first tribe to operate a Las Vegas casino Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports · October 8, 2020 at 7:41 am On paper, the only location that seems to still be missing from Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment’s portfolio is Las Vegas. The business enterprise of Connecticut’s Mohegan Indian Tribe currently manages the gaming operations for Resorts Atlantic City; Indian casinos in Washington and Louisiana, on behalf of other tribes; the Fallsview Casino Resort on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls; and its flagship Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut and the Mohegan Sun Poconos in Pennsylvania. Now, taking over the casino space inside Virgin Hotels Las Vegas signals another first for Mohegan. The tribe, which received a recommended unanimous approval Wednesday from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, moved a step closer to becoming the first Native American gaming enterprise to operate a casino within the Las Vegas Strip corridor. The casino will operate as Mohegan Sun at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. The remodeled and rebranded property is expected to open on Jan 15. Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan noted the Mohegan Tribe did not have to sign a tribal gaming compact with Nevada; Mohegan Gaming is leasing and managing the space from another company, and the location is not on sovereign tribal land. The Nevada Gaming Commission will consider the Control Board’s recommendation on Oct. 22. “We have a phenomenal opportunity here,” Mohegan CEO Mario Kontomerkos told gaming regulators when asked if the tribe might explore other business ventures in Nevada. “(This) is an opportunity to showcase who we are and our brand,” Kontomerkos said, before adding that any additional opportunities are not the focus, for now. The tribe will manage the 60,000-square-foot casino space in the Virgin property, located just east of the Las Vegas Strip. The location was formerly Hard Rock Las Vegas. Longtime Nevada gaming executive Joe Hasson, who was named the casino’s general manager in July, told the Control Board the Mohegan brand won’t be on the building, but electronic signage outside the property will market the name. He said customers won’t be able to miss the Mohegan branding inside the casino space. JC Hospitality, owners of the property, serves as the location’s landlord and has brought in Virgin Hotels to operate the property’s 1,110 guest rooms, which will be part of the Hilton Hotel’s Curio Collection. AEG will oversee the entertainment, and Hasson named off several celebrity chefs who will operate the property’s restaurants. “The entire integrated resort will work closely with JC Hospitality to enhance the guest experience,” Hasson said. The property closed in February for remodeling. Renovation work continued despite the coronavirus pandemic, as construction was deemed an essential business. Hasson told the gaming regulators offers had been made to some 300 former Hard Rock employees who were laid off when the property closed for the remodeling. “What they will find is a completely reinvented resort,” Hasson said. The casino will not have a poker room, and the planned sportsbook operated by Betfred USA Sports, the American subsidiary of United Kingdom-based Betfred Group, may not be open for wagering by Jan. 15. The company is currently going through the licensing process. As for opening with COVID-19 continuing to loom over the casino industry, Hasson said gaming has reinvented itself after many difficult situations. “We are in challenging economic times, both in Las Vegas and worldwide,” Hasson said. “I know that our industry is resilient.” Mohegan is developing a planned $5 billion resort at Incheon International Airport in South Korea and has bid on a potential integrated resort license for the former Hellenikon International Airport near Athens, Greece. The tribe also operates an online gaming site in New Jersey, has owned the Connecticut Sun of WNBA since 2003, and was the first tribal gaming enterprise to access financing from Wall Street. That varied background is one reason the Control Board took almost two-and-a-half hours to discuss Mohegan Gaming during the virtual hearing. Mohegan executives presented their case to the board from a conference room in Connecticut. Kontomerkos told regulators that Las Vegas was a key component in the company’s growth strategy, which targets the operation with having a 22,000-person workforce by 2025. He noted the company’s planned project in South Korea could boost visitation to Las Vegas, adding that Korean visitors are a large customer demographic at the company’s casino in Canada. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.