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Best of Gary Trask
Live poker returns to Mohegan Sun with the grand opening of Casino of the Wind1 September 2008
UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The new poker room at Mohegan Sun's Casino of the Wind had been open for literally five minutes when Bruce Dixon wiped the sweat off his brow and took a deep breath.
Anxious poker players hoping to be among the first to be dealt a hand in the new room were coming at him from all angles, looking for assistance to their seat. The two lines at the registration table were already 20 people deep, as were the four windows at the cage where the players were buying chips.
Meanwhile, Dixon, the casino's new Poker Room Director, was holding a clipboard in his hand, doing all he could to satisfy their needs.
"I expected it to be busy," Dixon said with a smile on his face. "But this is unbelievable."
"Unbelievable" was a pretty good way to describe the scene here on Friday morning at 10:21 a.m. when Mohegan Sun officially unveiled its new Casino of the Wind. The day started with a brief Tribal blessing ceremony and some opening words from Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe. Then, Mohegan Sun's President and CEO Mitchell Etess called for the huge white curtain hiding the inside of the new casino to fall. The song "Beautiful Day" by U2 blared from the loudspeakers and hundreds of eager patrons rushed into the casino.
What they saw when they entered was the first major phase of Mohegan Sun's $925 million expansion. Casino of the Wind is 64,000 square feet of striking décor, including a first-of-its-kind 35-foot high by 50-foot wide kaleidoscope of water and air. As for gaming, 650 brand new slot machines are scattered throughout the room while there are 28 tables hosting blackjack, craps and roulette. There is a 30-seat center bar, complete with big screen TVs and video poker terminals in front of each stool, as well as Chief's Deli, a walk-up, quick-service restaurant.
Behind a huge glass wall sat another new restaurant, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, which is set to open Sept. 29. The festive-looking venue is a 16,000-square foot, two-level cathedral to passionate "Parrot Heads." When it opens the marina-like restaurant will feature live music, a retail outlet, tiki huts, palm trees, sailboats and an eight-foot tall giant blender that sits smack dab in the middle of the restaurant with a simulated bottle of tequila falling into it. In addition, there will be a terrace overlooking the scenic Thames River, making it Mohegan Sun's only venue with waterfront, open-air seating.
But while many of the new patrons were gasping at the beauty of the casino, there was no doubt that the most excitement on Friday centered around the new poker room. The original room closed in 2003 to make room for more slot machines, but the popularity of the game pushed the casino to bring it back in the form of 12 automated PokerTek poker tables back in November.
But with the opening of Casino of the Wind, live poker has made a triumphant return to Mohegan Sun.
"We never regretted the fact that it was gone because we know it was the right decision at the time, but there's no question that having poker back is a boon for us," said Etess, who also was happy to report that 350 new permanent jobs were created for Casino of the Wind, as well as more than 850 construction jobs. "It's the most beautiful poker room anywhere. And Bruce Dixon has done an awesome job putting together an amazing staff. It's poker done the way we like to do things. We're really excited about it."
The poker room features 42 tables – including seven in the semi-private, high-level area – and has 23 LCD 50-inch televisions hanging from the rafters. Texas Hold'em, Seven-Card Stud and Omaha are available for play and the poker room already has its first big tournament scheduled. Mohegan Sun's $750,000 Guaranteed Super Stack Tournament will kick off on Wednesday, Oct. 1 with daily qualifying tournaments held through Tuesday, Oct. 21. The $1,000 buy-in, no entry fee Main Event begins Wednesday, Oct. 22nd, with the final table set for Sunday, Oct. 26.
"Tournaments are a regular part of poker marketing, so you're going to see a lot of these types of events in the future," Etess added.
Nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino, which opened the new MGM Grand at Foxwoods in March, has had a stranglehold on the poker market in the area for the last five years with its expansive 100-table World Poker Tour poker room.
But Dixon, who has previously helped open poker rooms at the Tropicana and the Borgata in Atlantic City, promised that his staff's customer service and the room's dazzling décor will immediately begin attracting all types of players to Mohegan Sun.
"We're ready to meet all of the expectations out there and impress the entire nation," Dixon said about an hour after the room opened and nearly every table was full. "The players will love us for our service and you're simply not going find a better looking poker room than this one. We're excited that opening day is here. It's going to be a blast."
The entire Project Horizon is expected to be completed in 2010 and will add more than 1.4 million square feet to Mohegan Sun's existing structure. In addition to Casino of the Wind, there will also be a 920-room hotel, featuring 261 House of Blues-themed rooms and a members-only House of Blues Foundation Room, as well as additional retail and restaurant space. Mohegan Sun's first major expansion was completed in 2001 and brought Casino of the Sky, The Shops at Mohegan Sun and a 34-story, 1,200-room hotel.
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