Mohegan Sun set to expand

Jan 23, 2008 1:00 AM

Staff & Wire Reports | In the midst of a $925 million renovation project, the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut is on target to become one of the largest casinos in the world.

Earlier this month, casino officials held a topping-off ceremony for their new, 64,000-square-foot Casino of the Wind project, scheduled to open in fall 2008.

The ceremony included the hoisting of an American flag, a flag of the Mohegan Tribal Nation and an evergreen tree as part of a tradition that began in Scandinavia more than 1,000 years ago as a gesture of goodwill.

In addition, Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, the Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, blessed the area and performed a smudge ceremony, as part of a hallowed tradition of Mohegan culture.

"Today is a proud day for Mohegan, as we have reached a major milestone in our Project Horizon expansion," said President and Chief Executive Officer for Mohegan Sun Mitchell Etess, who emceed the event along with Bozsum. "I would like to thank all the men and women who have dedicated countless hours of hard work and commitment to this project and have made this all possible."

When it opens in the fall of 2008, Casino of the Wind will feature 45,000 square feet of new gaming space, including a 42-table-themed poker room, 826 slot machines, and 28 table games.

"2007 has certainly been a busy and exciting year for Mohegan Sun, and 2008 looks to be even better," Etess added.

The original poker room at Mohegan Sun closed in 2003 to make room for more slot machines, but the popularity of the game has pushed the casino to bring it back to Mohegan. This past November, the casino introduced 12 automated PokerTek poker tables, which will make due till the new poker room opens.

The Casino of the Wind will be located adjacent to the existing Casino of the Sky, and will feature a unique Mohegan Sun design that draws inspiration from solar phenomena. The focus of the space is an electronic and animated water wall, which acts as an immense projection screen for programmed video entertainment. The other casino currently at Mohegan Sun is called the Casino of the Earth.

After completing the Casino of the Wind, Mohegan will turn to the next phase of the project, which will be the opening of the House of Blues, set to open in the fall of 2009. The House of Blues will also own and operate a 1,500-person capacity Music Hall and a 300-seat casual dining restaurant and retail shop.

The final phase of the project (which has already required the use of more than 50,000 man hours, two million pounds of steel and 4,500 yards of concrete) will be the opening of the 1,000-room hotel tower that will include 300 House of Blues-themed rooms and a 7,500-square foot members-only House of Blues Foundation Room. The structure will also feature a 20,000-square-foot Mandara Spa.

When the entire expansion project is completed in 2010 the Mohegan Sun will feature 365,000 square feet and vault into the Top-5 largest casinos in the world list, just ahead of its Connecticut rival, Foxwoods Casino (344,000 square feet).

Tribes all-in on gambling props

At the other end of the country, the battle over expanded American Indian gambling agreements has become one of the most expensive ballot initiatives in California history.

Those supporting and opposing the agreements have raised nearly $94 million.

Propositions 94 through 97 would allow four Southern California tribes, including the Pechanga band near Temecula, to add a total of 17,000 slot machines in exchange for giving a larger share of their revenue to the state.

Typically, campaigns raise from a few millions to as much as $20 million, said Kim Alexander, a political analyst.

The most expensive single ballot initiative campaign in the state was 2006's Proposition 87, which unsuccessfully sought to impose a $4 billion tax on oil companies to promote alternative fuels and energy-efficient vehicles.

It raised a total of more than $155 million from both sides.

By comparison, the $94 million raised on Props. 94 through 97 is more than the $93 million that tribes and their opponents raised in 1998 on Proposition 5, which legalized tribal gambling in California (though in today's inflation-adjusted dollars, Prop. 5's $93 million would be $118.3 million).

Prop. 5 was later ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, leading to a $69 million fight over Proposition 1A, which set the current rules for tribal gambling.

Political analysts say the reason that tribes are willing to wager such huge amounts is clear.

"If tribes are willing to spend tens of millions of dollars, there's got to be a lot more money at stake here," said Alexander, president of the watchdog group, California Voter Foundation.

There is, economists say.

California's tribal gambling industry generated an estimated $7.7 billion in 2006, according to Alan Meister, an economist with the Analysis Group consulting firm in Los Angeles.