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Mohegan Gaming to manage Virgin Las Vegas when it opens in 2020

When the Hard Rock Hotel transitions to Virgin Hotels Las Vegas next year, the casino will be run by a tribal gaming enterprise, a first for Las Vegas, the company announced Tuesday.

Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, developer of the Mohegan Sun hotel- casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, will operate the 60,000-square-foot casino pending approval by Nevada regulators through an agreement with Hard Rock owner JC Hospitality LLC.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, as an extension of the Mohegan Tribe, pride themselves on traditional principles, in sync with modern values,” said Richard “Boz” Bosworth, president and CEO of JC Hospitality. “We are excited that Virgin Hotels Las Vegas will be their first entry in the Las Vegas market.”

Mario Kontomerkos, CEO of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, said aligning the Mohegan brand with Virgin will extend the property’s brands into a “legendary global entertainment capital.”

“Together with Virgin Hotels, experience seekers all over the world will have the opportunity to partake in an extraordinary guest journey that only our strategic alliance can deliver,” he said.

The Hard Rock will close in February for an eight-month renovation, then reopen in late 2020 as Virgin Las Vegas. The property will be affiliated with Curio Collection by Hilton, an upscale brand.

Virgin Hotels, founded by entrepreneur Richard Branson in 2010, announced in 2018 that it would acquire the Hard Rock. Branson has often expressed his fondness for Las Vegas, launching the city’s first nonstop air service from London on Virgin Atlantic Airways, initiating one of Virgin America Airlines’ first air routes between San Francisco and McCarran International Airport and rappelling off the Rio in one of his classic stunts.

Branson also is invested in Virgin Trains, which intends to begin building a high-speed rail line between Southern California and Las Vegas next year.

Kontomerkos said Mohegan’s participation in the project is a major milestone for all tribes.

“As a company, this is our first foray into the Las Vegas market, which is important to all the entertainment destinations we want to be in.” Kontomerkos said in an interview last week. “This obviously opens that up for us, but the other big milestone is that this is going to be the first time that a Native American tribe is operating in the Las Vegas Strip market. That’s a huge milestone not only for us, but all of Indian country as well.”

Strong on entertainment

Kontomerkos didn’t offer any details about what venues within the Hard Rock would be preserved in the Virgin property, but he noted that Mohegan has been on the front end of entertainment and he expects that to continue.

“We have one of the busiest arenas of its size (in Connecticut),” he said. “Entertainment for us is probably one of our biggest calling cards. We’re one of the biggest providers of headliner entertainment in the industry with more than 1,500 shows per year. You can imagine that the fact that there’s a very successful venue there for concert entertainment is very appealing to us, so I think you’re going to see more of that concert entertainment as we play a part in this.”

Mohegan’s 1,600-room resort in rural Connecticut is the company’s flagship. Located on the banks of the Thames River on the forested 240-acre reservation, Mohegan Sun’s best suites, including the 4,200-square-foot Royal Suite, have views of southern Connecticut’s foothill landscape.

The 12,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena at the resort is home to the WNBA Connecticut Sun basketball team — one of four teams currently in the WNBA playoffs along with the Las Vegas Aces.

A centerpiece attraction off the main hotel lobby is “River Blue,” a 10,000-pound glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, the artist who created the multicolored glass ceiling piece above the front desk of Bellagio in Las Vegas. The 2,500 blown-glass pieces were assembled at the base of Taughannick Falls, a 55-foot indoor waterfall representing a treacherous crossing of converging waters during the tribe’s migration.

‘Powerful opportunity’

Mohegan is in a major growth spurt and owns or operates properties in Atlantic City; Pennsylvania; Louisiana; Niagara Falls, Ontario; and is developing a resort in Incheon, South Korea. The company expects to compete for licenses in Greece and Japan.

Kontomerkos expects the international exposure will help draw customers to Las Vegas through the company’s Momentum loyalty-card program.

“We’ve got access to very affluent and very mobile demographics, global demographics,” Kontomerkos said. “When you add that together with Virgin, which also has a very significant, similarly positioned database with all its businesses, I think you have a very powerful opportunity to drive some new visits and new customers into Las Vegas to this property.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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