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MGM at Foxwoods opens with a flourish19 May 2008
Mashantucket, Conn. — Two years ago, when Aziz Gamal visited the site of the future MGM Grand at Foxwoods, he saw nothing but a pile of dirt and a blueprint that had unlimited potential. When the MGM Mirage President and CEO of Hospitality returned this past weekend for the gala grand opening of the new $700-million venue, he saw something that had a very familiar feel to it.
"It looks a lot like home," Gamal said as he gazed at the gold and glitter surrounding him inside the 30-story glass tower on Friday afternoon. "It's beginning to look more and more like Las Vegas around here."
A comment such as that is, perhaps, the best form of flattery for a new casino, especially if you consider the source. The 50-year-old Gamal has more than 25 years of experience in the industry – including a stint as Senior Vice President of Food & Beverage for Bellagio – and has become recognized as one of the architects of the "New Vegas."
More than 4,000 invited guests took a first-glance look at what Gamal was referring to beginning Friday night before the new venue opened to the public at midnight on Saturday night. Those in attendance were the first to witness the end result of what happens when two gaming giants from opposite coasts of the U.S. decide to clash in the deep woods of Connecticut.
"When two entities like Foxwoods and MGM come together, amazing things can happen," said Mashantucket Tribal Council Chairman Kenneth Reels.
And how. The MGM at Foxwoods is a lavish resort and casino that has added another two million square feet to what was already the largest gaming venue in North America. Dubbed "The Roar Next Door" because of its familiar lion logo, the new MGM is designed to "bring the outdoors in" by taking advantage of the resort's natural surroundings through its exterior wall of windows.
The hotel has 825 guest rooms and suites, a 4,000-seat theater, a casino and four restaurants. The hotel also offers another 115,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, bringing the total available convention space available at Foxwoods to 170,000 square feet. In addition there's the 21,000-square-foot G Spa, inspired by Gretta Monahan that offers such amenities as a swimming pool and men's and women's Jacuzzis complete with a deluge water feature.
The MGM at Foxwoods, which is creating more than 2,000 jobs for local residents, is connected to Foxwoods Resort Casino by a covered moving walkway that takes about five to navigate. The property will also house stores like Bally, Dunhill, Grand Effects (an MGM Grand logo store) and MacAppeal, an authorized reseller of Apple products.
Saturday night's grand opening festivities drew a slew of celebrities, including Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jenny McCarthy, Kim Kardashian, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Jamie-Lynn Sigler. Alicia Keys, Josh Groban and John Mayer christened the spectacular MGM Grand Theater, the centerpiece of the new building that features state-of-the-art acoustics with just 126 feet separating the front of the stage from the very last row. And the theater has already booked big name acts such as Gloria Estefan, Jerry Seinfeld and Celine Dion for this summer.
As for the gaming, MGM Grand's casino features 1,400 slot machines and 53 table games including blackjack, roulette, craps, Spanish 21 and 3-Card Poker. The new casino is located just off the main lobby and offers two high stakes gaming areas that are separated from the main casino via framed panels of colored glass, wire mesh and wood lattice giving them a sense of privacy. The aptly named Center Bar, located right smack dab in the middle of the casino, features an array of plasma televisions and video poker machines installed in the bar. Adding to the ambience is a large, glass fireplace and a pair of circular-shaped ultra lounges that can be rented out for private events and functions. The signature drink at Center Bar– Go Grand – is perfect to sip as you take in the scene.
Unlike the Foxwoods Casino next door, dining is available at the MGM on the border of the casino. Chef Michael Schlow's Alta Strada is a 225-seat restaurant with a traditional Italian flair and an authentic Italian wine bar stocked with thousands of bottles visibly hanging from the glass walls. Alta Strada also features a 1,300-square-foot outdoor Mediterranean grill where guests can dine while taking in the scenic Connecticut countryside.
Across the way, Craftsteak is a creation of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio. The 150-seat restaurant was designed by New York-based Bentel & Bentel Architects, and is decked out in bronze, Brazilian walnut, leather and steel.
More casual dining is available at Junior's Restaurant, the first venue of its kind outside of New York State, The Market Place at MGM Grand, which offers six distinct dining experiences, and the Gelato Café that serves more than 20 flavors of Italian ice creams in addition to coffee drinks, pastries and specialty sandwiches.
Much of the crowd this weekend, however, gravitated to Shrine, the Asian kitchen, lounge and nightclub. With its state-of-the-art sound system and authentic Asian design and décor, Shrine was wall-to-wall with guests during the opening festivities, particularly on Saturday night when DJ AM was spinning the tunes. But this is much more than a spot to dance the night away. In addition to 20,000-square-feet of space for enjoying cocktails, Shrine also offers four menus, including lunch, dinner, bar/lounge and late night dining. It also features two levels, two private dining rooms, a 12-person sushi counter and a 225-seat dining room.
Gillian Murphy, MGM at Foxwoods Senior Vice President and General Manager, said that Foxwoods will be targeting the New York market by tripling its advertising in that area. The move puts Foxwoods in direct competition with its main rival, Mohegan Sun, as well as Atlantic City.
"We are thrilled to introduce a new level of luxury and sophistication to visitors and residents of Connecticut alike with the opening of the MGM Grand at Foxwoods," said Murphy, who was previously the vice president and assistant general manager of the Black Hawk casino in Colorado and vice president of corporate hotel operations for Harrah's Entertainment in Las Vegas.
"The services and amenities are on par with MGM standards and the dining, gaming and nightlife scenes will catapult the property to incredible new heights in the worlds of hospitality and entertainment."The MGM at Foxwoods expects to add about 10,000 daily visitors to the current draw of 40,000 and boost revenue by about 20 percent, Murphy added.
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