In 1998, the Mohegan Sun Casino Resort, owned by the Mohegan tribe of American Indians, decided to embark on a $1bn project to extend its casino in Connecticut in the northeast US. The resort is situated on 240 acres along the River Thames in south-eastern Connecticut within easy reach of Boston, New York, Hartford and Providence.
In May 2008 the casino resort won the 2008 Casino of the Year award from the Academy of Country Music (the casino had also gained the award in 2005).
Mohegan Sun’s expansion made it the largest private development project on the east coast of North America and one of the biggest casinos in the world.
The project was called ‘Sunburst’ and tripled the size of the existing property to more than four million square feet.
Project Sunburst details
In 1998, the company was discussing ways to improve the casino business, and decided to expand the existing one. By 2000, Mohegan Sun were ready to start planning the new development.
The new facilities opened in 2002. Casino of the Earth was the original gaming area and Casino of the Sky (having its own planetarium and 55ft indoor waterfall) was opened in the 2001 expansion.
The 4.9 million square foot expansion was carried out on a 36-month schedule. Although the overall completion date was April 2002, the Mohegan Arena opened one section at a time throughout the year.
In September 2000, Mohegan Sun reached the first significant milestone of the construction schedule when the final steel beam was placed on the external structure of the new Mohegan Arena.
The interior of the arena was completed during the course of 2001. Due to the size and scope of the project, each component had its own timeline for construction and its own schedule for completion.
Luxury Mohegan Sun hotel
The expansion included 1,200 guestrooms in a 34-storey luxury hotel tower (opened in 2002) as well as meeting and convention facilities. All the rooms have individually controlled air conditioning and central heating. Disabled facilities were also built into the development.
Importantly for the casino, guests in the hotel have access to 24-hour banking facilities and all the rooms are equipped with free Wi-Fi. The project also included the northeast’s largest ballroom, a 10,000-seat arena, more gaming entertainment, retail and dining options, a full-service fitness centre and a world-class, 20,000ft² spa.
World-class casino complex
The additional gaming entertainment makes Mohegan Sun one of the largest casino complexes in the world. A large number of shops and boutiques were opened in a two-storey atrium with around 25,000ft² of retail space, giving a total of 130,000ft².
The 315,000ft² casino has 300 gaming tables, more than 3,200 slot machines and a poker room with 42 tables. The games arranged in the casino include the normal blackjack, craps and roulette, along with other attractions such as Caribbean stud poker, keno, baccarat, bingo, casino war roulette, racetrack and money wheel. In September 2007, Casino of the Earth had two important additions. The first was an additional 200 slot machines with the latest technology. The other was the new Birches Bar and Grill in the middle of the Casino of the Earth floor. In addition, Casino of the Sky opened a SolToro Tequila Grill (owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan and his third restaurant in the resort).
In August 2007, the casino opened Sunrise Square, an Asian-themed area offering south-eastern Asian cuisine, a bus lobby and juice bar, a food court, a gaming area and a new retail outlet. During 2007, Sky Tower also underwent a complete refurbishment to all of its 1,200 guestrooms and suites, which required an investment of $13.8 million.
The casino racecard allows patrons to bet on horse and greyhound racing around the world. The resort also features 27 different restaurants, bars and coffee shops (there are 3,000 restaurant seats) and three different entertainment venues. Entertainment venues include the Mohegan Sun Arena, Cabaret Theatre (350 seats) and Wolf Den (300 seats).
In addition, there is also a multitude of meeting and conference spaces, including one of the largest ballrooms in the region.
Lead contractors involved with Project Sunburst
The Perini Building Company was the lead contractor in the construction of Project Sunburst, responsible for daily construction operations, logistics and scheduling.
In addition to Perini, the design of the Mohegan Sun development was a collaborative effort by several big US firms including Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, architects of Mohegan Sun’s exterior, and Rockwell Group, which created a Mohegan-inspired design for the new gaming space, hotel lobby, retail and dining areas. Hirsch Bedner Associates designed the hotel guest areas, such as the guestrooms and meeting rooms.
Much of the software for managing the facilities came from Progress. The American supplier produced software for management of the patrons and casino operations, as well as the more general management of the hotel. Individual elements in the software were supplied by International Game Technology, Gaming Hospitality Solutions Inc and BMH Inc.
New expansion plans for the Mohegan Sun casino resort
In January 2005, Mohegan Sun branched out and acquired a new property to add to its portfolio. The casino bought a racetrack for $280m from Penn National Gaming.
The Ponoco Downs racetrack (now called Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs), which is in Plains, Pennsylvania, was extensively refurbished and in November 2006 reopened as a slots casino and racetrack.
A new expansion project was announced in November 2006 called ‘Project Horizon’. The expansion, which requires an investment of some $925m, was planned to open in two phases in the period leading up to 2010.
Phase I, which was worth $350m, began in June 2007. Phase II was to include a 39-storey ‘Earth Tower’ with more than 900 hotel rooms. Earth Tower was to be connected to the new retail and restaurant space, and was to be made of a curtain wall of glass and aluminium to the existing Sky Tower.
Phase II was expected to be complete by October 2010. Both the phases were, however, suspended in 2010 before major construction could begin. The company paid $58.1 million impairment charges to the contractors for halting the work.
The current casino facilities were to be added to by the new ‘Casino of the Wind’ (64,000ft²), which has 826 slot machines, 28 gaming tables, 42 ‘House of Blues’ poker tables and a 35ft-high electronic animated water wall as projection screen for entertainment.
The project was also to include more than 1,000 new hotel rooms, of which 300 were to be ‘House of Blues’ themed. The hotel was to feature a 22,000ft² spa and a 1,500 seat House of Blues Music Hall, as well as 115,000ft² of new retail space. There would also have been a 300-seat restaurant and a special lobby design with 13 springs and a reflecting pool to represent the spirit of the Mohegan Tribe.
Casino of the Wind
In January 2008, Casino of the Wind was topped out with the placing of the final beam. It features a 45,000ft² gaming floor, a 16,000ft² (366 seats) Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant, the Chiefs Deli (26,000ft²), 35ftx50ft electronically activated water wall, 30ftx8ft giant blender and other additional dining and retail offerings.
The Jimmy Buffett’s restaurant (part indoor and part outdoor) features a Florida-styled theme with tiki huts and palm trees, as well as an 8ft-high cocktail blender, a 30ft spinning waterspout (these produce margaritas on a grand scale for guest consumption), an outdoor dining terrace and a 26ft-long model of a humpback whale. The casino opened in autumn 2008.