Changes are coming in the Mohegan Sun, which is located on 185 acres along the Thames in southeastern Connecticut. One of the country’s largest gaming resorts — home to entertainment, dining, shopping and the recommended Forbes Travel Guide Sky Tower hotel — it is embarking on a $15 million renovation that includes a new 6,500-square-foot VIP lounge and bar in the casino from the grounds, which will debut in The autumn ; redesigned the most luxurious accommodations, the Royal Suites; and significant improvements to the 18-hole Mohegan Sun Golf Club over the next three years.
To find out more about the updates, the Forbes Travel Guide spoke to Jeff Hamilton, a Mohegan clan member who took over as president and general manager in 2019 but has worked at the Mohegan Sun since 2004. Hamilton shared the casino changes that will remain after – the pandemic, what you can expect of renovations and bigger expansion plans in store.
How have games changed throughout the pandemic?
The future of gaming includes an online component. We don’t think it’s replacing resort destinations like Mohegan Sun, but I would say from an epidemiological perspective that what we’ve realized is that people want a little bit more space, and I think they might have wanted that before, but we haven’t defined it.
One of the things we look at is really thinking about our gaming experience. With slot machines, we make more capsules, which leads to the separation of the machines. I used to cram them in an area and people would sit shoulder to shoulder playing with it. We have created a more comfortable experience.
When you are seated at a blackjack table, you will find six people packed. We made the decision, even after the pandemic, to work with four people at a blackjack table of the same size. We think this gives people a little more space, a better experience, and hands a little faster, which is good for the player and the casino. Our customers have grown to enjoy this.
What kind of trends do you see in the Mohegan Sun right now?
Our non-gaming business has grown significantly. I think people came to partially experience [our offerings] Because they could not travel or chose not to travel. People have had the opportunity to rethink how they want to spend their travel money. Even today, I think the pandemic is still affecting people who get on a plane – people still have different levels of comfort. Then you think about air travel and how difficult it is, with cancellations and the limited price of flying.
We see people coming here who’ve never been here before, staying a day or two, going to our restaurant, the show, the games, and the non-game revenue was very important to us. I’m so excited to see our reports after this summer now that we’ll have a full lineup of entertainment.
From a gaming perspective, we have fewer customers, when you compare the visits to what we did in 2019. But our premium customers are back.
The renovations seem to cater to luxury travelers more. How have the needs of luxury travelers evolve in gaming resorts?
They have always been an important part of us. We would like to be able to offer a luxurious VIP experience with butler service and luxurious suites for our premium players. The player’s lounge is a destination. We have some great food options, which have been hugely beneficial to us.
One of the things we noticed is that you have to try to create an emotional experience, and people want to go to places they can share and talk about — a destination within a destination. We’ve seen it with the addition of TAO – when you go there, you don’t feel like you’re in the Mohegan Sun. Ambience and design – everything kind of works out, and people want to come back to try it again. So we’re looking at how to create that immersive emotional experience in our VIP experience.
Tell us more about the new VIP lounge.
One of the things that has always been a competitive advantage is our momentum player club. We believe that even with the increased competition, it has allowed us to be leaders in gaming destinations. Part of the Momentum program is a great lounge experience. We’ve always had a great lounge experience but we’ve had two fairly old lounges since we opened in 1990 that have been remodeled but didn’t quite meet that immersive experience. This new hall is in a new location [next to BALLO Italian Kitchen & Bar]. It’s designed by Rockwell—it’s a design where when you go, you say, “Wow.” It will have a wonderful fire element that will be rooted in our tribal heritage.
Since you mentioned that the online industry sector is growing, is the Mohegan Sun doing anything to bridge this experience online through Momentum and personal gambling?
This is an important strategy for us. We have always felt that our online assets should help our traditional assets. We’ve added Momentum to our online casino, so you’ll win redeemable Momentum rewards right here on our property. We hope to expand that to status points. So, you can go online and earn status points and achieve additional higher levels that can be used in addition to your Momentum dollars here in person. These rewards and status points will determine whether you are able to obtain tickets to a show or access certain lounges, so being an online VIP player will allow you to experience these VIP experiences on our properties.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind the renovation of the Royal Suites?
The two Royal Suites measure approximately 3,500 square feet at the top of the hotel tower on the 35th and 36th floors. When they were finally designed, we created mirror images of the floors. We took a different approach this year and created two unique experiences that revolve around the natural elements to create this “cool!” When you enter, the design amaze you. There will be a cold fire element with the design on the 36th, and there will be a cold water and sky element in the design on the 35th. We’re excited about the unique design elements that will be on both wings.
What’s more excited to see than the renovations?
The lounge is exciting to me because it affects so many of our important clients. This is only the first stage: we will be going to the Earth Lounge and then moving to the Sachem Lounge at our Sky Casino. We are planning to create a great outdoor entertainment area at one of the old car park entrances [with a permanent outdoor bar, a deck, a music stage and a redesigned area for activities].
Aside from games, what are the most popular resort amenities?
Definitely our fun place. We are the number 1 arena by our size in the world, and we are proud of that. There aren’t many people who haven’t played here: Bruce Springsteen was here, Prince was performing here before he died, U2 and Taylor Swift played here. Leisure is part of our DNA and is a great driver of possessions.
We have a great exhibition center that opened about three years ago, so we can put on great shows and exhibitions on the weekends too. We host a food and wine festival every January, and do a Connecticut auto show in the middle as well.
I think TAO was a huge plus. Lots of people have gone to TAO, whether it’s in Vegas or New York, but ours is different. It’s smaller and more immersive, and it’s a hit. Michael Jordan sports bar [MJ23 Sports Bar & Grill] Just redesigned, and that was a great experience. The non-gaming components of our brand have grown significantly after the pandemic. We are about to open two new food and beverage offerings that take the experience to a whole new level.
You have a lot of activities at the resort, but what are your long-term goals?
The tribe agreed to buy property from us across the river. There is a huge plot of land that was formerly a hospital which has been closed for about 30 years now. The next stage is to clean that up, and then the Mohegan tribe plans to develop that land with non-gaming amenities.
I believe having this space will create the ability to do some really cool and unique things that will add a whole other element to our resort, both of which create a connection from our property across the river and become a complete destination in and of itself. It will add new entertainment options to both the Northeast and our properties.
Thinking of the Mohegan Sun five or 10 years from now, this will be a major component of our development and a way for our property to continue to be an entertainment center in the North.