Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas has agreed to pay a $60,000 fine as part of a settlement for violating the state’s COVID-19 protocols when it opened on March 25.
The matter, which now goes to the Nevada Gaming Commission, was addressed Wednesday in front of the Nevada Gaming Control Board when new CEO Ray Pineault apologized for the infractions during a licensing-suitability hearing in which the board recommended approval.
Pineault ascended to the chief executive position after the Connecticut-based Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment’s former CEO, Mario Kontomerkos, stepped down from the company on March 31, six days after the Las Vegas casino opening.
Mohegan Gaming has a multi-year management deal with JC Hospitality, which acquired the off-Strip Hard Rock Las Vegas and closed the property for a remodel in February 2020. Mohegan manages the 60,000 square foot casino, the first tribe to do so in Las Vegas.
The complaint filed by the Gaming Control Board cited photos of celebrities and patrons that were widely disseminated and showed multiple violations of health and safety protocols in place at the time.
The citation issued April 27 by the Nevada Occupational Safety & Health Administration accused the casino of not maintaining social distancing among employees and guests and not enforcing the mask mandate for guests at table games. A photo published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed evidenced that none of the guests was drinking, eating, or smoking, which would have allowed mask removal.
The citation pointed to another photo of similar occurrences in a lounge area of a bar. Yet another photo showed people walking through the casino without masks.
The hotel’s own Twitter account showed a picture of actor Mario Lopez, without a face covering, throwing dice at a crap table, the complaint said. Similar photos were posted with other maskless patrons.
“We’ve agreed to settle involving our Nevada property stemming from the incidents that occurred on the night of our opening,” Pineault said. “As the lead of the organization, I take full responsibility for the lapse in judgment and failure on the part of our team to uphold the standards of the Gaming Control Board on the date in question. Nothing is more important to me and our organization than the safety and security of our team, guests, and the community, and I recognize there is no excuse for this behavior. We take the concerns and violations that were raised very seriously and after becoming aware of the incidents, we took immediate remedial action.”
Pineault told the board that he hopes the Nevada Gaming Commission will agree with the stipulation, so they can “put the matter to rest.”
Pineault’s residency status came up during the hearing. Mohegan Gaming owns its flagship Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut, and the Mohegan Sun Poconos in Pennsylvania. Pineault said he will continue to reside in Connecticut.
Gaming Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson said some Nevada casino CEOs have lived in other parts of the country and around the world over the years. However, she added, “Former Commission Chairman (Tony) Alamo one time cautioned a CEO in front of his board that he needed to keep an eye on his Nevada property. I would caution you the same way.”
Pineault has been with the tribe since 2001, when he started as legal counsel, and most recently was chief operating officer before becoming CEO.
Gibson asked Pineault why Kontomerkos departed the company.
“My understanding is the contractual agreement between him and the board had expired and they were unable to agree on an extension, so mutually they agreed to sever the relationship,” Pineault said.
Pineault said the past year-plus has been challenging for the resort and casino industry due to the pandemic, but he feels confident about the Sun’s operations that have reopened. Their Canadian businesses haven’t reopened yet.
The board asked what the Mohegan’s future plans were. The tribe is developing a $5 billion resort in South Korea and has bid on a potential integrated resort license near Athens, Greece. No agreement has been finalized in Athens, but Pineault said the Incheon, South Korea, project — a foreigners-only casino — “is moving along,” even though COVID-19 has impacted development timelines. He said it will be completed in mid-2023. The tribe has touted the casino as having the potential to boost visitation to Las Vegas.
“We have a lot of things on our plate right now,” Pineault said. “My initial assessment is that in the short period of time I have been in the CEO position, we seem to be weighted heavily toward development. I would like to get a few of those cleared off our plate before we add more to it. I do anticipate that we’ll continue to look at opportunities that make sense for the organization, but I don’t want to burden the organization with too much development.”
The company also manages the gaming operations for Resorts Atlantic City, Indian casinos in Washington and Louisiana on behalf of other tribes, and the Fallsview Casino Resort on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.