Connecticut to get taste of Las Vegas

Nov 20, 2007 5:45 AM

Next May, when the MGM Grand at Foxwoods opens its doors, its patrons will find a taste of the Las Vegas Strip — in eastern Connecticut.

Spacious, 10-foot aisles and spread-out groupings of 1,500 slot machines and nearly 50 table games will converge around a trendy bar and lounge located about a third of the way into the casino. The flue of a gas fireplace at the center of the bar and lounge will rise up into a huge, luminous canopy that glows to create a focal point, says architect James Carry of Wilson & Associates of Dallas.

"MGM is going to be an upbeat, fun place, a strong copy of MGM in Las Vegas," adds Kevin O’Sullivan, senior vice president of gaming for the MGM Grand at Foxwoods. "Anywhere you turn, you see product. It’s going to be cool to move around and hang out. This is Las Vegas in Connecticut."

O’Sullivan, who is from Zimbabwe, has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Zimbabwe Technical College in Bulawayo, and has opened seven casino properties, including five in the United States, one of which was Casino Majik in Mississippi.

"We come in and decide what kind of shape the casino’s going to take," he says. "You want to think of it from a customer’s point of view."

The bar and lounge will not be literally central, but will be the heart and soul of the casino, even though patrons can get drinks while they play if they choose, says Mancini. The bar has a raised floor, lounge seating around the fireplace and off to the sides, and plenty of televisions, says Carry, the architect.

"We put the center bar in the one third/two third position of the casino," he says. "You actually see it when you come in from both the hotel entrance and the auto park entrance."

Competition with the nearby Mohegan Sun, which is also expanding, and with possible new entrants into the northeast gaming market in nearby Massachusetts make an over-the-top, Vegas-style attraction like MGM Grand a smart, if not necessary, move.

Michael Pollack, managing director of the Spectrum Gaming consulting company, which produces the Gaming Industry Observer, agrees. The Mashantucket Pequot tribe, which owns and runs the nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino, can’t go wrong with a Vegas model, he says.

"We’re at the point in time where Las Vegas is an absolutely positive attribute for a casino," says Pollack. "The word Las Vegas, the image, connotes affluence, fun, luxury. It can never hurt you in the gaming business. And the MGM brand is an asset that is going to serve that property well. If you can get the MGM experience without leaving Connecticut, that’s an asset."

Although the 50,000-square-foot MGM Grand gaming floor now under construction is about a third the size of Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, the Strip’s largest casino, patrons in Connecticut will be able to look out above the 200 different types of slot machines from most of the aisles and head toward their favorite games, says Foxwoods Resort Casino Spokesman Saverio Mancini.

Poring over a blueprint of the gaming floor, O’Sullivan says the "sight lines" would make this possible because they’re open and inviting. He achieved the roominess by avoiding rigid "blocks" of slot machines or grids, aiming instead for a more "organic" design.

O’Sullivan points out the different groupings of slot machines, which add to the comfort level by not crowding people in. They range from as few as four to a standard grouping of 10 to a long row of 18 slot machines. Table games are located closer to the bar.

"You want them to see the variety that’s there for them, what we call ”˜the mix,’" O’Sullivan says. "Because people who come have already gamed somewhere, they’re going to look for what they know, and we want to make it as easy as possible for them to find it."

Shops and restaurants will circumscribe the casino as well, and customers will be able to scout for their favorite shop or eatery from the surrounding walkway, while still looking into the casino.