Friday, April 3, 2009

The Tribe In The Media: Mohegan Not Scaling Back Massachusetts Casino Proposal

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This installment of The Tribe In The Media is the latest article describing the Mohegan Tribe's scope of a gaming facility the Tribe would like to build someday in Massachusetts if lawmakers there ever legalize slot machines or casinos.

Casino resort proposed
By Jim Kinney
The Republican
April 3, 2009

SPRINGFIELD - The people who run Mohegan Sun are pushing hard for what they describe as a "resort-style" casino in Palmer, despite a poor economy that had Mohegan Sun cutting pay across the board in Connecticut over the winter.

"The recession will end," said Jeffrey E. Hartmann, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Mohegan Sun Tribal Gaming Authority.

"We believe this could grow to be a $9.5 billion market here in New England and the Northeast," he said.

Hartmann said most employees lost 4 percent of their pay, some senior managers lost 7.5 percent and vice presidents took a 10 percent cut as the casino struggled to pay for a recently completed expansion in the face of falling revenues. Revenue at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn., fell 2 percent to $1.49 billion in 2008, according to a University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth study. Revenues at rival Foxwoods Resort Casino near Ledyard, Conn., dropped by 4.7 percent to $1.45 billion in 2008, according to the same study.

The $1 billion casino Mohegan Sun wants to build near Massachusetts Turnpike Exit 8 in Palmer would draw from as far west as Albany, N.Y., and the Catskills, Hartmann said.

"We believe those areas are underserved," he said.

Hartmann and a team including vice president of development Paul I. Brody and Leon H. Dragone, part of the group that owns the 150-acre site Mohegan Sun hopes to use, met Thursday with The Republican's editorial board. This morning, they'll take their case to area lawmakers by hosting a breakfast meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn in Springfield.

Mohegan Sun will open an informational office in downtown Palmer by the end of the month and staff it three days a week, Hartmann said.

State House Speaker Robert E. DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said this week that the Legislature will likely take up the casino gambling issue later this legislative session.

Last year, the state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly against Gov. Deval L. Patrick's bill to license three casinos in the state. In March, Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill floated the idea of licensing slot machines only because they would be quicker to set up and slots are the most popular games at casinos anyway.

But Mohegan Sun wants a casino with table games such as poker, and amenities such as a planned 600-room hotel, restaurants and name-brand shopping.

"We are focused on creating a resort-style casino at the Palmer location," Hartmann said. He wouldn't say that his company would never operate a slots-only casino, just that the resort model would be preferable.

Mohegan Sun operates Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania because that was all Pennsylvania law would allow.

"That was a diversification play for us," he said.

Brody said Mohegan Sun could get a casino built in Palmer within 18 months. But it might have to build the facility in stages if the casino can't borrow enough capital to build it all at one time.

"We'll have to see what the capital markets are doing," Brody said.