Native businesses now compete in the global economy, operating outside of Tribal lands and even in locations that are an ocean away — just look at Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE) under the leadership of CEO Mario Kontomerkos.
Kontomerkos came on board as CFO of MGE in 2012. In 2016, the company won a license to develop a casino far from Tribal homelands — in Incheon, South Korea. Kontomerkos took over as CEO in 2018, the same year the company announced it would partner with Paramount to install a movie-themed park at the resort, which is to be called Inspire. “We literally are 1,000 feet away from the Incheon International Airport, which is the fifth busiest in the world, 70 million people go through that airport every year,” Kontomerkos told HotelBusiness.com in June.
Kontomerkos: We’ve got access to very affluent and very mobile demographics, global demographics. Click To Tweet
MGE’s expansion in the Kontomerkos era is happening quickly, and without concern for borders or physical proximity. Earlier this year, MGE became the service provider for Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The company has also partnered on gaming resorts with the Cowlitz Tribe (in Washington state) and the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. When the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opens in 2020, it’ll be MGE running the casino operation within, making MGE the first Native gaming operation with a presence in Vegas.
The Momentum loyalty plan, started at Mohegan Sun, is a key component in Kontomerkos’ plan to become the world’s top casino resort developer. “We’ve got access to very affluent and very mobile demographics, global demographics,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He foresees a loyal customer base that plans vacations within a network of MGE establishments all over the world. As an example, he notes that Niagara Falls is a favorite destination of Korean tourists.
At this moment, MGE is one of two gaming giants competing to build a casino at the disused Hellenikon airport location near Athens, Greece. The other? Hard Rock International, which is owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The winner will have an effective monopoly on gaming in the Greek capital. Previously, MGE was seeking to develop a resort-casino in Hokkaido, Japan. (But the Hokkaido prefecture recently dropped out of the bid to secure one of Japan’s three casino licenses. Now Kontomerkos has taken a step back, as far as Japan is concerned, acknowledging that any forward movement by MGE in Japan is now “extremely speculative at this point.”)
Japan aside, MGE’s expansions reflect potentially explosive growth. Yet Kontomerkos says the values of the Tribe ensure that it is not reckless growth. “I think [the owners of Fallsview] were comforted by the heritage of the Mohegan Tribe,” he told hotelmanagement.net. “The way we make business decisions is not for the next month or the next quarter, and sometimes not even for the next year. …Our decisions have to be sustainable for 25 to 50 years because the whole purpose of this organization, the reason that this organization exists, is for the generational sustainability of the Tribe and also the communities that it operates in.”
Mario Kontomerkos, CEO Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, was named a Top 30 CEO in Indian Country by Native Business Magazine. His profile originally appeared in our 2019 Leadership issue.