Mohegan Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas celebrates two years as city’s first tribal-operated casino

June 21, 2023 10:17 PM
Photo: Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (courtesy)
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
June 21, 2023 10:17 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

More than two years after becoming Las Vegas’s first casino operated by a tribe, the Mohegan Casino at Virgin Hotels continues to market itself as a newcomer to grow its customer base that depends on locals and neighboring states.

The former Hard Rock Casino reopened in March 2021 after a one-year closure for a major remodel and ownership change. Connecticut-based Mohegan (formerly Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment) took the reins of the 60,000-square-feet gaming venue with 650 slot machines and 50 table games at the new Virgin Hotel.

Earlier this month, Mohegan Casino Las Vegas announced a partnership with Virgin Voyages to allow its Momentum Rewards members to earn a cruise on their first visit and gave away five seven-night Mediterranean cruises.

The 1,500-room property that opened in 1995 is just under two miles east of the Strip and has counted on amenities to attract guests, including a five-acre pool and 4,600-capacity theater operated by AEG Presents.

Mohegan’s tribal presence in Las Vegas was followed by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, who purchased the Palms from Red Rock Resorts, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, through its Hard Rock International, buying The Mirage’s operations from MGM Resorts International.

Mohegan owns, develops, and/or manages entertainment resorts in the U.S., Canada, and Korea, and owns the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA.

Casino General Manager Joe Hasson told CDC Gaming Reports that Mohegan is pleased to be operating in Las Vegas, the tribe’s first opportunity in Nevada.

“We planted our flag here for our guests, particularly those from the East Coast where Mohegan does business. That includes Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the state of Washington,” Hasson said. “We’re here to take care of Mohegan guests and to make new guests.”

Earlier this year at a tribal gaming symposium at UNLV, a gaming lawyer said that he’s optimistic about the Mirage being on the Strip, but it’s been difficult for tribes to make inroads in Las Vegas off the Strip.

Hasson said the casino reopened during the pandemic, which he called “well behind us,” and that the property has benefited from the resurgence in the Las Vegas market.

“The pent-up demand that the entire marketplace was fortunate to have banked, once that demand could avail itself of Las Vegas, we felt the lift as well,” Hasson said. “Much like all hospitality operators in Las Vegas when consumers are expressing their appetite for the kind of good care, great hospitality, and terrific accommodations that operators can provide, we experienced it, because the Mohegan brand has existed for more than 25 years. Bundling the 25 years of history at this location and the 25 years of Mohegan means 50 years of knowhow going on in this business.”

Hasson said the vast majority of the casino’s 300 employees are veterans of the resort and know how to take care of guests and work together. That created a great formula to start back up and get to where they are today.

Hasson credited Virgin and its partners refreshing the entire resort for making a difference since the reopening.

The lion’s share of guests are Las Vegas residents and those within a four- to five-hour drive from southern California, Arizona, and Utah. Most of the rest are from the East Coast and Canada, where the Mohegan brand is strong.

Even the legacy database of the former Hard Rock is fully marketed to today, Hasson said.

“Many of those guests have tried the new resort. Certainly locals have a long history here and it’s a relatively easy drive out of southern California and Phoenix. They’re easy to reach and we going to continue to market to them because of their proximity and that’s the lion’s share of our business.”

Mohegan will continue to reach East Coast guests, but given the distance to travel and the need to plan ahead, they’ll always be a smaller portion of business.

“But it’s an important portion, given it’s already connected by the Momentum loyalty club that permeates our other businesses,” said Hasson, who added that the hotel “enjoys terrific demand and a portion of that demand is fueled by Mohegan (properties). We have the good fortune in terms of our business relationship with Virgin Hotels to have thousands of rooms in our control on the Mohegan side, where we can take loyal casino-centric guests and place them in the hotel.”

Hasson has been in Las Vegas since 1998 and his management team has Las Vegas-centric experience. He admits there are “pluses and minuses” of being off the Strip. Some guests want to be on the Strip, but the plus of being off the Strip is once the “guest is in your midst, you’ve got them for a while. They can’t simply walk to the next joint next door. That’s a dynamic that has to be managed, where you recognize what the guest wants and what can you do to fulfill it. Our lodging product is terrific. The food is top-notch. The gambling is Strip-like. And the people who ultimately make the difference are the team.”

The casino operated nearly two years without a sportsbook, which opened just in time for the Super Bowl with a newcomer to the Las Vegas marketplace, Betfred. The pandemic delayed the licensing of the UK operator.

“They ‘e up and running and I’m excited that they are here,” Hasson said. “I love seeing a vibrant book every day and it’s an essential ingredient in any casino in Las Vegas or elsewhere in Nevada.”

Casino consultant Brendan Bussmann, managing partner of B Global, said not having a sportsbook hurt the property on its opening. Many locals, including those who work on the Strip, had placed their bets at the former Hard Rock.

Bussmann said the property was also initially hurt by having two names, Mohegan and Virgin Hotels, which created some confusion for potential guests to overcome. It would have been easier to simply brand the property under the Virgin name.

Although the removal of the former Hard Rock Café in front of the property is a lost draw, Bussmann said Virgin has done “a fabulous job of redoing that property” and that opportunities with the Mohegan database continue on the East Coast. Although it’s challenging to draw customers from California, unlike the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians who have a base there, Bussmann said the recovery of the convention industry will help.

“Some business customers want to go straight from a hotel off the Strip to the Las Vegas Convention Center and as those continue to return, I see an opportunity for that,” Bussmann said.

Hasson remains optimistic about where the property is heading and touched on tribal gaming in Las Vegas. The two tribes coming to Las Vegas since Mohegan’s arrival show Las Vegas continues to “invent and reinvent itself.” Whether it’s commercial, tribal, or entrepreneurial operators, they all have a place in Las Vegas, he said.

“I don’t think there will ever be a day, no matter how far out you look, that Vegas won’t continuously reinvent. The easy conclusion to reach is to look at the past and what Las Vegas always was and always became – something new for someone all the time.”