The 1,100-member Mohegan tribe owns Mohegan Sun Resort Casino in southeastern Connecticut. Managed by Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, the tribe secured a foundation for the future. On Oct. 12, 1996, Mohegan Sun was born. “Neon Uncasville” marks its 25th anniversary this year, and we are looking at 25 Years Of Growth at Mohegan Sun.
Who Are The Mohegans?
The earliest clans of the Delaware Tribe included the Wolf clan or Mohegans. They settled in upstate New York (not to be confused with the Mohicans, a different tribe). After migrating to Connecticut, this group became today’s Mohegan Tribe.
During the Pequot War in eastern Connecticut, the Mohegans sided with the English in defeating the neighboring Pequots. The interaction between the two tribes has been interesting, to say the least, to this day.
For more on Mohegan History, click on Our History.
A Related Post – How Did Foxwoods Get So Big?
Federal Recognition and a Casino
The tribe began its campaign for Federal recognition in 1978 but was not granted it until 1992. Meanwhile, Foxwoods led the way, gaining federal recognition in 1986, with a high-stakes bingo hall taking shape and paving the way for Connecticut’s first Casino.
In 1994, The Mohegan Tribe and Kerzner International started the first phase of the Mohegan Sun Casino. With a Master Plan for this 240-acre site along the Thames River in Uncasville, Connecticut, the miracle turned a 400,000 square-foot nuclear propulsion manufacturing facility into a 1.4 million square-foot casino complex.
State officials estimated that the Mohegan slot machines would generate $370 million in revenues from July 1, 1997, to June 30, 1998. Unfortunately, the joint contribution to the state was only $256,075,852. It would take another five years for the total of both casinos to represent the estimated number in 2003.
What Did The Original Property Look Like In 1996
Compared to today’s massive property, the original project included:
- A new 600,000-square-foot casino building on two levels
- This area would support 3,800 gaming positions,
- 180 gaming tables
- a 1,500-seat bingo hall
- Over 400,000 square feet of parking
- seven restaurants and
- supporting entertainment and retail areas.
This initial portion, called Casino of the Earth, respects Indian lore with the rustic wood, tent canvas, four-season coloring, and natural design themes of Native America.
But Where Will Guests Stay?
On the first day, patrons overwhelmed the $305 million Casino of the Earth, and talk of expansion soon followed. But, there was a dire need for hotels in the area. There were only 20+ hotels in Southeastern Connecticut, compared to over 70 today.
Project Sunburst Plan – 25 Years Of Growth at Mohegan Sun
- Phase 1, the 500,000 square-foot gaming project, a super-fast-tracked project, completed in just 12 months
- Phase II, “Project Sunburst,” a five million-square-foot expansion
- Includes a 34-story, 1,200-room luxury hotel, meeting and function space including the Northeast’s largest ballroom, retail shopping, and nine new restaurants.
- It also included a 10,000-seat arena, gaming space, a 300-seat cabaret, a world-class spa, a business center, an indoor pool, and an outdoor terrace.
- Phase III, “Project Horizon,” the 1.4 million expansion, included the Casino of the Wind, a House of Blues venue, administrative space, new retail and restaurant space, a Mandara Spa, and an adult recreation lounge. It also includes a back-of-house area, a 5,300-car parking garage, and a 43-story, 1,000-room gold hotel tower.
Phase I – The Sky Casino
In September 2001, Mohegan Sun unveiled the new second Casino of the Sky. It made Mohegan Sun one of the largest gaming complexes in the world. In addition, it included the world’s largest, fully functional planetarium dome, providing everchanging cosmic displays. Wombi Rock was a multi-level onyx and alabaster rock-like structure that housed a lounge and a dance floor.
Gaming enthusiasts could find over 2,200 slot machines and over 100 table games, a 3,000
square-foot high-limit lounge and a non-smoking gaming area located underneath a giant turtle shell showcasing the Sky.
Two other notable additions were:
- Taughannick Falls – a massive waterfall flowing down to Chahnameeds Island, a bar/restaurant at the foot of the falls, and
- The nearby 25-foot-high glass sculpture by artist Dale Chihuly, called “River Blue,” is a 10,000-pound masterpiece. Thousands of richly colored glass components 2,500 were hand-blown by a team of artisans in Seattle and then fully assembled on-site at Mohegan Sun. The distinctive cobalt blue, silver and clear colored glass sculpture later added different alternate colored lighting depending on events and seasons.
Phase II – Hotel and Arena Take Center Stage
In 2002, at 480 feet, the Sky Hotel would be the second tallest building in Connecticut, after Hartford’s 535-foot City Place office building. Today, it is the fourth highest.
25 Years Of Growth at Mohegan Sun received a massive lift from the Sky Hotel. The hotel’s glittering 34-story glass towers offer a stunning first glimpse of the Casino to approaching visitors. “Rock and crystal forms that are recurring themes in the Mohegan culture,” said Lloyd Sigal, project manager for the architects Kohn Pedersen Fox, “is expressed in the high-tech reflective glass curtain wall of the hotel that angles at the edges and top.”
The opening of the 34-story hotel marked the completion of a $1.1 billion “Project Sunburst” expansion. It also had 186 suites, a 40,000-square-foot spa, a fitness center, and a salon.
“It’s what sets us apart from everybody — not just Foxwoods, but everybody on the East Coast,”… “The arena really became the main driver of people (to the casino).”Mitchell Etess, the retired Mohegan Sun executive.
On Feb. 16, 2000, the management and developers of Mohegan Sun formally announced plans for a massive $800-million expansion. Project Sunburst would triple the area of the existing property, adding more than four million square feet. But besides the 1,200-room luxury hotel tower and the Northeast’s largest ballroom, the 10,000-seat Mohegan Arena would become the show’s star. “[Before the Arena] We had no hotel, no entertainment — things that are now so central to what we market,” Mitchell Etess, the retired Mohegan Sun executive, said. “We had to rent rooms at the Norwich Marriott and did the show in the bingo hall!”
The Arena at Mohegan Sun helped double the visitation to the property in the first year. Five thousand retractable seats can be configured into five standard sports configurations – basketball, boxing, bowling, rodeo, table tennis, and professional indoor lacrosse. In addition, it also can be reconfigured to fit many types of concerts: regular, whole house, center stage, and half-house. As a result, the Arena has won awards for being one of America’s most modern concert venues. It has also been home to the Connecticut Sun, one of the top basketball teams in the WNBA. In addition, it was the first pro team owned by a Native American tribe. The team has called the Arena home since 2003.
They Called It Home
On Oct. 26, 2001, Mohegan Sun Arena hosted its inaugural event. Michael Jordan, the former Chicago Bulls star, returned to action with the Washington Wizards in an NBA exhibition game against the Boston Celtics.
It has also been home to:
- Mohegan Wolves arena football – 2001 to 2004
- New England Black Wolves Indoor Lacrosse – 2014 to 2019
- Martial Arts – 2002 to present.
- Barrett-Jackson’s Northeast Collector Car Auction – Since 2016, its inaugural Northeast show, an estimated 90,000 people have attended. It was a Mohegan Sun Arena record for a three-day event, bringing the car auction back the next few years until the pandemic.
- Miss America Pageant – A three-year contract was signed for Miss America events, and finals will occur at the award-winning Mohegan Sun Arena. In addition, the 100th anniversary Miss America competition will be broadcast live in December 2021.
2007 – The Good News
Before 2007, casinos were doing very well, especially in CT. As a result, the total yearly payments were the highest between 2004-2007, averaging over $400,000,000.
Following its success in the Asian entertainment area, Sunrise Square opened in 2007; Mohegan Sun demonstrated its dedication to its Chinese customers. At that time, Mohegan Sun launched the first Chinese Facebook and Twitter pages by a gaming facility in the United States. In addition, the newly revised Chinese website brought Chinese customers’ Mohegan Sun experience to the next level by allowing guests to obtain the most updated information for entertainment, shopping, dining, and more.
Also, in 2007, Mohegan Sun purchased a golf course with:
- Clubhouse & banquet facility
- Pro Shop
- Driving range & practice putting greens
- Outdoor swimming pool
It was renamed Mohegan Sun Country Club at Pautipaug. This 18-hole private golf course is recognized statewide for its impeccable greens and lavish fairways.
2007 and the Great Recession
The Great Recession of 2007 showed that Casino gaming wasn’t “recession-proof.” In addition to the recession, casino competition from Rhode Island and New York continued to attract gamblers. But, the Massachusetts Gaming Law of 2011 seemed to be the greatest threat to Connecticut casinos. The Commonwealth planned to build three casinos and one slot parlor. As a result, Connecticut would be surrounded by states with casinos by 2016.
But, from 2007 to 2011, Connecticut’s casino revenue would drop by 20%, from $430,475,712 in 2007, to $359,581,127 in 2011. And Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun had laid off more than 1,000 of their casino workers since the recession began. Mohegan halted work on its Project Horizon expansion in 2008, keeping the size of its debt in check but leaving the resort without a second hotel to attract guests. Stopping the construction on Project Horizon nixed a 39-story, 919-room hotel. It was to offer 300 House of Blues-themed rooms accessible through a separate lobby. An additional 40,000 square feet of retail space and a concert venue were also halted.
2013 $50M Retail Expansion Not Meant To Be
The economic recession that began in 2007 took a heavy toll on receipts, and by 2012 both the Mohegan Sun and nearby competitor Foxwoods Resort Casino were still deeply in debt. Still facing the prospect of a planned retail mall at neighboring Foxwoods Resort Casino and new gaming options elsewhere in the Northeast, Mohegan Sun designed a $50 million retail complex.
It was going to feature a 14-screen movie theater and a “retro-modern” bowling alley. An artisan-food pavilion called a Taste of New England Gourmet Hall serving artisan foods from all six New England states, was to be the focal point. It was supposed to finish the 2007 expansion, interrupted by the economic downturn.
The Downtown District did not come to fruition due to the annual economic downturn in earnings and Mohegan and Foxwoods’ deep debt. But a few years later, Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment had a new expansion plan.
Phase III – Project Horizon
“The expansion will allow us to continue to compete not only with East Coast casinos, but those in Las Vegas as well.”
Project Horizon called to build a second hotel to be completed in 2010. With 43 stories, it was supposed to double the number of rooms at the resort and give Mohegan Sun more space than Foxwoods. The existing 34-story hotel was 93 percent occupied on average. The hotel would include 300 themed rooms operated by the House of Blues, an entertainment company. In addition, a members-only House of Blues Foundation Room would be built on the hotel’s upper floors.
Mohegan Sun would add 115,000 square feet for shops and restaurants and a 64,000-square-foot casino, about as much gambling space as the Foxwoods Resort Casino.
In a reversal, Mohegan Sun returned to Poker after several years of absence. But unfortunately, Mohegan Sun ended the game just as Poker took off on television.
“The new addition represents the future of the tribe; the existing casino [of the Earth] tells the history of the tribe.”Mark Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council at the time
The new third gaming area, “Casino of the Wind,” and the new hotel would cap off Project Horizon. Casino of the Wind would have 64,000 square feet of new gaming and dining space. It also features over 650 slot machines, 28 new table games, and a new Poker Room with 42 tables.
Server Based Technology
Mohegan Sun introduced a new server-based, networked technology in the Casino of the Wind. It had just been introduced in casino resorts like Aria in Las Vegas. The new WAGE-NET (Wide Area Game Enhanced Network) system supplied by WMS Gaming Inc. offered state-of-the-art technology that gives players increased access to game content and flexible betting configurations. It was the first of such to hit the East Coast at the time.
By offering slot machines with these advanced technologies, Mohegan Sun had the flexibility to change specific game themes. In addition, players would benefit through increased availability of the games they wanted to play when they wanted to play them. This incorporated several popular multi-line video games such as Zeus™, Lucky Penny™, and Hot Hot Super Respin.™.
Unfortunately, the pandemic gave good reason to close the third Casino. The Sun also relocated the poker room to the Casino of the earth.
Finally, a Second Hotel
In 2014, Mohegan had its most substantial profit margin in eight years. So, the tribe broke ground on the new 400-room Earth Hotel in March 2015. The 13-story tower, a $130 million second hotel, would complement the Sky Tower Hotel. Mohegan now had 1,600 rooms between its two hotels.
The new hotel included a restaurant, pool, fitness center, and the latest tech-wired rooms. It also offered outdoor space for guests, which the first hotel did not.
A Hotel Within The Hotel
Another innovation in Sky Tower was Aspire. A luxurious experience for hotel guests, Aspire at Mohegan Sun is located in the 1,200-room Sky Tower, on floors thirty-one through thirty-six. Aspire accounts for 93 rooms on the top floors of Sky Tower. In addition, guests can take advantage of exclusive access to a fully remodeled VIP luxury food & drink experience entitled, Thirty-Three on the 33rd floor, overlooking the Thames River.
Related Post – Aspire at Mohegan Sun Is a Fabulous Experience
But Wait, There’s More
Mohegan Sun opened the property’s $80 million expansion on May 18, 2018. The Earth Expo & Convention Center became the largest and most attractive exposition site in the Northeast. It also has more than
The Earth Expo & Convention Center at Mohegan Sun provides the perfect venue for corporate and association trade shows.
The entire expansion accounts for 250,000 total square feet that including:
- 15 meeting rooms, including an Executive Boardroom
- world-class service, technology, and amenities
- 125,000 square foot column-free Earth Expo Center and
- 20,000 square foot Earth Ballroom, with ample pre-function space outside their doors.
- Two hundred seventy-five thousand square feet of flexible meeting and event space.
Its first event was the Barrett-Jackson Northeast Auction of collector cars on tap June 20-23, 2018. Additional highlights of the new Earth Expo & Convention Center at Mohegan Sun include:
- 20,000 square-foot Ballroom, divisible into two and featuring over 3,000 square feet of pre-function space
- Free parking,
- 15 meeting rooms total, ranging from 360 square feet to 675 square feet
- A 1,263 square-foot Executive Boardroom with 230 square feet of pre-function space and a private outdoor terrace
- 3,500 square feet of outdoor space, including a large wrap-around terrace
- A 5,360 square-foot kitchen
- State-of-the-art technology with cutting-edge audio & visual capabilities, digital and free wi-fi
Mohegan Sun President & GM Ray Pineault is proud to be part of Mohegan History. But, he said, “[it] started in 1996 as a 170,000 square-foot Casino with just a smaller sized free music venue, and a few restaurants and shops. [We] are now one of the largest, most impressive, all-encompassing gaming, entertainment, and resort destinations worldwide.”
The following 25 years will be exciting for Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment.
Robin Aubin, NETimeGambling