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May 9, 2022

As competition intensifies, CT casinos spend millions on new resort amenities, upgrades

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Foxwoods Resort Casino

Even as Connecticut casinos face a choppy recovery from the pandemic, they appear to be bullish on the future, recently announcing plans to start new projects and spend millions to update their properties.

One factor behind the new spending is the usual upkeep. But the investments are particularly important to maintain or gain market share as premiere resort destinations, and not just gambling establishments, as Connecticut’s two casinos confront an increasingly competitive Northeast market.

In fact, past surveys have shown that one in five guests at the state’s tribal casinos don’t gamble at all, but are there to experience non-gaming amenities from entertainment complexes to bowling alleys, golf courses, family-oriented amusements, shopping and dining, according to Clyde Barrow, a gambling industry expert and professor at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun executives said their revenue streams are generated from a 70/30 split between gaming and non-gaming operations, respectively, and both are working to move the needle even more toward non-gaming dollars by adding new amenities and square footage to attract conventions, trade shows and other corporate and sporting events.

Foxwoods is marking its 30th anniversary with a lineup of new property expansions and renovations.

In February, a new partnership with Wisconsin-based waterpark operator Great Wolf Lodge was announced to build an indoor water park, family entertainment center and hotel adjacent to the current property and scheduled to open in 2024.

Foxwoods’ current bingo hall is being transformed into a 75,000-square-foot event space named “Rainmaker Expo Center,” and the former Festival Casino space is being converted into a new high-stakes bingo hall and 30,000 square feet of additional event space with more than 2,200 seats, planned to open this spring.

In March, Foxwoods announced the renovation of The Veranda Café into an exclusive VIP players lounge with 225 seats, and a new retail experience, CardVault, where guests will be able to buy, trade and sell cards from various sports leagues and purchase premium sports collectibles and unique artwork.

Additional announcements are scheduled during the rest of the year, said Jason Guyot, chief executive officer at Foxwoods.

“The more we continue to build out this resort and make it an intriguing place to visit and stay for multi-nights, the better we’ll be able to compete in this market,” Guyot said.

High-end customers

In April, Mohegan Sun announced $15 million in new investments across various projects, including opening later this year a new 6,500-square-foot VIP lounge and bar in its Casino of the Earth. It will include dining, a full bar, and a new fireplace located in the center of the venue.

In addition, there’s major revamping underway at its two most luxurious suites, known as the Royal Suites, located on the highest floors of the Sky Tower.

In total, more than $3 million will be invested in the renovations, which will be highlighted by a fire- and water-themed makeover. The Royal Suites are 3,500 square feet and feature two master bedrooms, two Jacuzzis, butler service, and a large circular living room.

Other changes include more than $1 million in improvements at its nearby 18-hole championship golf course and yet-to-be announced new additions to its restaurant lineup, which currently includes more than 40 food offerings.

A key upgrade is also underway at the resort’s summer entrance, where tribute bands are usually booked, including the addition of a permanent outdoor bar, deck, music stage and re-designed area dedicated to activities and lawn games. “We’re growing our market for entertainment, and at the same time improving amenities for high-end customers,” Hamilton said.

Connecticut’s tribal casinos face an increasingly competitive market, said Barrow, not only from casinos currently operating in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but also from up to three new resort-style casino projects that are awaiting state approval and may soon be underway in the metropolitan New York City area.

“We’re reaching oversaturation in the Northeast,” Barrow said.

The strategy, he said, is for the tribal casinos to differentiate themselves from competitors old and new.

“These expansion plans are a way to keep ahead of the market and be the best destination,” Barrow said.

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