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New loyalty program, bar projects could come post-Virgin casino operator change

The head of Virgin Hotels Las Vegas sees Mohegan Tribe’s withdrawal as casino operators as a chance to shake up the property that has struggled to gain footing in the market since its post-pandemic opening.

Cliff Atkinson, president of the property since July, said the split with casino partner and operator Mohegan Gaming, jointly announced Tuesday, will help integrate resort operations in a way Vegas visitors are familiar with.

“I think the goal of going to one experience, one property is similar to how most of the integrated resorts, especially in our market, (work),” Atkinson said in a Wednesday interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “That’s the customer expectation, and that at the end of the day is really what we see as the future growth opportunity for this property.”

The hotel-casino was remodeled and rebranded from Hard Rock Hotel to Virgin three years ago and has faced challenges getting its footing post-pandemic. It’s been overseen by three partners: the tribe, Virgin Hotels and Hilton’s Curio Collection portfolio. Each program had their own loyalty program, for instance — which sometimes confused guests, Atkinson said.

In December, Mohegan reported cash flow at its Las Vegas operation of $3.1 million, down dramatically from the previous year. The tribe attributed the decline at the Las Vegas casino to decreased gaming revenue, because table-game hold — the amount won by the casino — was less than the average normally won.

Another financial results earnings call is scheduled for Thursday morning.

“The property opened at a very challenging time, 2021, during COVID,” Atkinson said. “It takes a while for our properties to stabilize — you can look all across the Strip for examples of properties that have opened, have struggled a bit and then found their way — here is no different.”

The 1,504-room, off-Strip property with a 60,000-square-foot casino opened in March 2021 and was the first commercial casino in Las Vegas to be managed by an Indian tribe. Since then, management of the Palms casino was taken over by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians of California, and The Mirage has been acquired by Hard Rock International, which is owned by the Seminole tribe of Florida.

Mohegan’s withdrawal will take the tribe’s presence out of Nevada.

“Mohegan reviews operations at all of its entities on an on-going basis,” Ray Pineault, president and CEO of Mohegan Gaming, said in a late Tuesday statement. “It was determined that the best path forward was for the hotel and casino to operate as an integrated resort and anticipate that this transition will further integrate the casino, hotel and resort’s many amenities.”

The Nevada Gaming Control Board and Nevada Gaming Commission must weigh in on new operators of the casino.

Before joining Virgin, Atkinson was president of Fontainebleau Las Vegas for about a year before departing in January 2023. He also has formerly served as a high-ranking exec at Mandarin Oriental (now Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas) and Luxor.

Changes to the casino operations that are visible to the guest could come before regulatory approvals are complete. Atkinson said they are working with Mohegan through the transition to integrate the property into one loyalty program. Casino operators may also change the floor layout, and down the line, they could build an homage to the Hard Rock’s famed Center Bar.

“I think people want excitement. They want fun. They’re looking for what this property offered historically,” Atkinson said. “Now it’s packaged and branded in a different way, but we want to continue to deliver on entertainment and excitement and fun.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on X.

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