Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment will operate Virgin Hotels Las Vegas casino

A rendering of the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
A rendering of the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Virgin Hotels Rockwell Group

In a first for the Las Vegas gaming corridor, a Native American gaming enterprise will manage a casino when the Hard Rock Hotel transitions into Virgin Hotels Las Vegas next year.

Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE) reached a multiyear agreement with JC Hospitality to operate the 60,000-square-foot casino, pending regulatory approval by the Nevada Gaming Commission, the company announced Sept. 17.

"It’s historic, the first time a tribal gaming operator will be managing a casino in Las Vegas," said David G. Schwartz, gaming historian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "This speaks to the growing economic power of the tribes, as well as their increasing expertise in gaming management."

The rebranding of the resort, which will be closed during the renovation, is expected to begin after the Super Bowl in February and be completed by November 2020. The property will be affiliated with Curio Collection by Hilton.

"Aligning the MGE brand with Virgin Hotels Las Vegas extends our growing reach into yet another legendary global entertainment capital," said Mario Kontomerkos, MGE's CEO, in a statement. "Together with Virgin Hotels, experience-seekers all over the world will have the opportunity to partake in an extraordinary guest journey that only our strategic alliance can deliver."

The Mohegan Tribe owns MGE, which opened its first casino, the Mohegan Sun, in Connecticut in 1996. MGE also has locations in New Jersey, Washington state, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. MGE is owner and operator of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun.

"The timing was right (to enter the Las Vegas market)," Kontomerkos said. "MGE's portfolio of major strategic partners such as Live Nation and Paramount Pictures combined with our international reach ideally position us to drive business to the Las Vegas market."

Continuing its aggressive strategy, MGE is working with Paramount Pictures to open MGE's Inspire Entertainment Resort near Seoul, South Korea, in 2025.

"This new and exciting relationship brings together two 'Best in Class' organizations and continues the Mohegan Tribe's tradition of blazing new trails for others to follow," said James Gessner Jr., interim chairman of the Mohegan Tribe.

"Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, as an extension of the Mohegan Tribe, pride themselves on traditional principles, in sync with modern values. We are excited that Virgin Hotels Las Vegas will be their first entry in the Las Vegas market," said Richard "Boz" Bosworth, president and CEO of JC Hospitality, owner of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. "MGE further expands on our commitment to partner with best-in-class operators for the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas transformation."

UNLV's Schwartz sees the relationship as a win for both parties.

"The fact that Mohegan has a national reach will help Virgin Las Vegas. In return, the ability to cross-market will benefit Mohegan's national portfolio," he said.

Kontomerkos did not provide details about changes planned for the casino, located at Paradise Road and Harmon Avenue, about one mile east of the Las Vegas Strip.

"Millions of guests in the MGE, Virgin Hotels and Hilton networks will now have the opportunity to consider and visit our unique offering in Las Vegas," Kontomerkos said. "Beyond a refreshed gaming offering in a beautifully designed setting, MGE will introduce to the market our Momentum rewards and loyalty program and the elevated guest experience MGE is known to deliver."

Schwartz said he believes the partnership may provide a hint of what Virgin's longer-term plans might be.

"It is telling that [Virgin] did not partner with a management company with deep experience in Las Vegas, but instead chose to work with a predominantly regional operator," he said. "Could this mean that Virgin is planning to launch other casinos nationwide? Perhaps."

Calling the Nevada regulatory program "one of the standard-bearers in the world," Kontomerkos said he doesn't expect any issues with the licensing process.

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