- The Connecticut casino opens the first phase of a $1-billion addition today despite the weakening economy.
BY ANDREA L. STAPE
The Mohegan tribe opens today the first phase of a $1-billion addition to its Mohegan Sun casino, two weeks after terrorists attacked New York and sent an already sluggish economy spiraling toward recession.
Project Sunburst — complete with an indoor mountain, the largest planetarium dome in the world, a 10,000-seat arena, an 85-foot waterfall, 2,500 new slot machines, 130,000 square feet of shops and nine new restaurants — is nothing short of breathtaking.
But are Americans really in the mood to gamble?
The terrorist attacks have put a damper on consumers’ enthusiasm for the slots. Turnout on Mohegan’s existing 180,000-square-foot gambling floors has been soft over the past two weeks, according to Mitchell Etess, executive vice president of marketing for Mohegan Sun.
Plus, the opening occurs in the midst of a slumping economy that analysts say is moving toward recession. Economists and Wall Street analysts are predicting a short-term slowdown in entertainment revenue. Rhode Island’s tourism industry has felt the negative effects.
Despite the bleak picture, Mohegan Sun officials remain undaunted.
“We didn’t feel it was appropriate to be celebratory in nature. But we didn’t want to stop,” Etess said.
Although the tribe scaled back today’s celebration, canceling the indoor fireworks and toning down an advertising campaign, the ribbon will still be cut, the slots will flash and more than 21 shops will be open for business.
Mohegan Sun also has no plans to stop construction on the second phase of its expansion project, a 1,200-room hotel tower and 100,000-square-foot convention center, which are scheduled to open in April.
The casino still expects to pull in 14 million people annually and is projecting $1 billion in sales next year, according to Etess.
“Historically, in times of recession, gaming facilities have still been able to grow,” Etess said. “People aren’t traveling far from home and they aren’t getting into airplanes right now, but people still want to do things.”
Etess predicts the casino, with its larger facilities, will be able to capitalize on the 22-million people who live in New England and New York.
Mohegan now gets 20,000 visitors a day, and almost all of them are day-trippers, according to Etess. About 20 percent of those customers come from New York, while 7 percent drive from Rhode Island. Most of the rest come from Massachusetts and Connecticut, he said.
After the hotel opens in April, Mohegan is expecting to attract an additional 16,000 guests a day.
At least one Wall Street analyst agrees.
“Mohegan is more of a regional business and wouldn’t be hurt as badly as some casinos,” said Tom Graves, a gaming analyst with Standard & Poors in New York. “The gaming facilities that rely more on long distance destination travelers are going to be hurt more.”
Mohegan’s Sunburst …