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The Nevada Gaming Control Board recommended Wednesday that Mohegan Sun operate the first tribal casino in the Strip corridor and the gaming company said it will be able to drive visitors to Las Vegas from the East Coast, Canada and South Korea.

The former Hard Rock Hotel, whose property is owned by JC Hospitality, has been rebranded the Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas that will open in January. The formal approval will fall to the Nevada Gaming Commission that meets next on Oct. 22.

Wednesday’s recommendation followed a presentation by Mohegan Sun executives and board questions that lasted about 2½ hours.

The Mohegan Sun opened a casino in Connecticut in 1996 and has since expanded to operate into Atlantic City and other locales in North America, including Pennsylvania and Louisiana along with in Canada. It has nine properties and is developing a resort in South Korea that will open in 2022 and there’s the potential to operate in Greece as well.

The flagship Connecticut casino has been ranked the best casino hotel in the nation by USA Today readers and among the top workplaces in the country.

Reward members will be able to transfer points earned from all of its properties. When Mohegan opens in South Korea, even that resort, in addition to other tribal properties, is expected to benefit Las Vegas.

“We have been exploring a location in Las Vegas for many years,” said Mario Kontomerkos, CEO of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment. “In advance of doing that, we surveyed our guests on many occasions, and it’s not surprising many of them had visited Las Vegas and like to continue Las Vegas.  “That was not a notion lost on us during our exploration process. When we run those surveys in all of our properties, whether Connecticut or Pennsylvania or New Jersey, Niagara Falls and even in Korea, we find similar findings. We believe that not only will Las Vegas benefit from all of those different geographies, we think those geographies are underrepresented in Las Vegas right now. We believe we have the opportunity to improve that. But also there’s a certain number of our guests in terms of spend per visit relative to the average regional property in the United States that I think Las Vegas will benefit from. That drives a significant amount of excitement from us when we think about synergy we have between properties and Las Vegas.”

Kontomerkos said they have a “phenomenal opportunity here in front of us to showcase who we are and our brand and technology and our style of service, which is amongst the best if not the best in the industry. He said there are no other plans to operate other casinos in Las Vegas.

“We want to do an excellent job here and if over time that turns to future opportunities we will look at that,” Kontomerkos said. “But for the time being we are focused on making this the best possible experience.”

The Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, which previously operated as the Hard Rock Las Vegas that closed for a remodel in February, will open Jan. 15. It will have a redone casino floor that measures 60,000 square feet with a sportsbook operated by European operator Betfred. Its approval will go before the Commission for approval later this year.

Virgin Las Vegas will have five acres of pools and a 13,000 square-foot outdoor entertainment venue for concerts and parties. There is also 130,000 in meeting and convention space, and it’s a partner of Hilton’s Curio Collection.

“We wanted to make sure the casino and hotel was a seamless integration in terms of design motif and color waves and general ambience,” said casino General Manager Joe Hasson. “It’s a desert motif with a combination of beiges and desert browns with pops of color. What most people will find when they enter for the first time is they will sense familiarity that they had been the resort in its prior life, but they will see complete reinvention. It is a reimagination of the property.”

The casino will have about 650 slot machines, which includes some from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut and more than the Hard Rock previously had in place. Hasson said there will be legacy games in addition to newer models.

“We are bringing to the floor what we think we will be competitive in Las Vegas,” Hasson said. “It will be a rich dimension of video poker, the latest and newest and freshest available by purchase only games from manufacturers. There will be the tried and true games that never seem to fall out of favor in Las Vegas. We focused on the ideal properties to mimic, pattern or follow what we knew historically about the resort and what we think are the up and coming trends.”

There are 50 legacy table games from the Hard Rock, and Hasson said he has purchased five new table games. There is space to add more.

“There will be a full menu of side-bet games where we have options available for what guests appreciate in the Las Vegas marketplace today,” said Hasson.

Hasson said they recognize this is a challenging economic time not only in Las Vegas but nationwide. Having been in Nevada and the industry for many years, he said it’s resilient and capable of reinventing itself and responsive.

“Construction and our pre-opening investments are on time and on budget,” Hasson said.

About the Author

Buck Wargo

Buck Wargo is a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times and has been based in Las Vegas as a business, real estate and gaming reporter since 2005.

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