First tribal casino in Strip market still on track to open this year

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A rendering of the lobby at Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, expected to open in the fourth quarter of this year.
A rendering of the lobby at Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, expected to open in the fourth quarter of this year. Photo Credit: Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment

With renovation and rebranding work uninterrupted by the pandemic and on pace to open later this year, the Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas announced the hiring of two key executives this month.

Longtime local casino executive Joe Hasson will be the general manager, and Tyler Conover will be the director of marketing for Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment's first foray in Las Vegas.

Hasson "has opened up lots of facilities that have been very successful both in Las Vegas and outside of Las Vegas," said Mario Kontomerkos, MGE's chief executive officer, in an interview with Travel Weekly on July 2. "He's come in, and he's been a great fit right off the bat. He's going to have a great impact."

Hasson will oversee the strategic direction of business operations and financial performance of the casino property. A former executive vice president, COO and general manager for Station Casinos/Red Rock Resort, Hasson also worked for Harrah's Entertainment and Penn National Gaming.

The former Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, just east of the Strip, closed in February for extensive work to convert it to Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. MGE will operate the 60,000-square-foot casino.

"To put our international brand into one of the most legendary gaming and entertainment markets in the world is very important for us," Kontomerkos said. "To lead Indian country and be the first Native American tribe to open up an integrated resort on the Las Vegas Strip resorts corridor is a really big honor for this tribe. We've spent a lot of time thinking about Las Vegas because we want to make a big impact. And we've got a lot of players on the East Coast who want to visit Las Vegas. And so we think it's going to be a great match.

It will open with MGE's Momentum Loyalty Rewards Program, which provides opportunities for guests to earn and redeem rewards and discounts at more than 100 dining, shopping, nightlife and entertainment options, hotels, spas and golf courses at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut; Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania; Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City; and ilani in Washington.

"Folks from all over the country who are using it are going to be able to use that in Las Vegas, so that is going to be a key differentiator," Kontomerkos said. "Having Virgin's brand and what they represent is so different to what is already in the Las Vegas market. It's kind of an irreverent brand. It's a really cool design that they're putting on this facility."

The connection with Hilton will be another big factor in the property's prospects. "A lot of the meeting and convention business that comes through the Hilton system that wants to go to Las Vegas now has a big outlet to be able to do that," he said.

Kontomerkos says the tribal casino will have a relaxed, friendly, relationship-driven environment built for the long haul.

"We bring our culture and our values to every operation that we that we play a part in, and that is really the difference," Kontomerkos said. "If you walk into any Mohegan-managed or -operated facility in the United States or in Canada right now, there's a certain vibe that you get. The employees are happy. The guests are happy."

Mohegan's service scores generally far outstrip those of commercial casinos, he said. "We come from a tribal organization where culture and community and values are very important. When you think about a tribal business, you're talking about a business that is not a quarterly business and it's not a monthly business. It's a generational business. It's a business that's built with the express intent of lasting and sustaining generations for hundreds of years."

The safety measures and protocols implemented at other MGE properties throughout North America are intended to be "the highest level in the industry," said Kontomerkos, who anticipates many of the measures will be in place in Las Vegas.

In addition to encouraging social distancing, they include automated thermal temperature screens at all entrances, ultraviolet air handlers, disinfection of every hotel room every night, and plexiglass and hand sanitizer at every transaction station.

"The feedback that we've gotten so far from our reopened facilities has been extraordinarily positive in terms of folks feeling safe, and I think we're going to be able to do the same thing in Las Vegas."

The property's proximity to McCarran Airport and ease of travel into Las Vegas are other key factors for MGE, Kontomerkos said.

"Airlift for me is going to be important because we want this property to be a key destination within our portfolio," Kontomerkos said. "We've got these real, true destination geographies in our portfolio here in Connecticut and Niagara Falls and now in Vegas, and we want to make sure that those places are accessible."

"Easy and economically accessible airlift for us is going to be the way that we're able to transport our players throughout the system -- how comfortable people are feeling, getting onto an airplane and going to Las Vegas."

In addition to the casino, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas will feature three hotel towers totaling more than 1,500 chambers and suites; a 5-acre pool area; 117,000 square feet of indoor meeting and events space; live music and entertainment venue The Joint operated by AEG Presents with a capacity more than 4,500; and 12 dining venues including Nobu and luxury steakhouse MB Steak. For more information, click here.

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