The COVID-19 pandemic may have temporarily shuttered all 7 of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment’s (MGE) casinos, but the economic setback, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars each month (March-June) has not slowed down MGE’s plans to proceed with “turning Greece into a top destination for entertainment and business conferences in Europe,” CEO Mario Kontomerkos told Reuters.
INSPIRE Athens is moving forward, and Mohegan Sun’s corporate parent plans to begin construction, with partner GEK Terna Group, on the integrated resort casino at the Hellinikon site soon. The area served as Greece’s main airport up until 2001. Since abandoned, the grounds played host to several Olympic competitions in summer 2004.
MGE was awarded the casino license in Athens by the Greek government’s Hellenic Gaming Commission in January 2020. That said, Hard Rock International has appealed its rejected bid for the sole license in Greek court. A ruling is required before the Hellenic Gaming Commission names the official winner.
The grand vision is to turn Hellinikon into a large urban metropolitan park. Plans for the nearly $9 billion redevelopment project call for a hotel, conference and convention space, numerous restaurants, shopping district, a marina and nearly mile-long beach, offices, and sports and cultural areas. “It is our hope that INSPIRE Athens would be the catalyst that sparks the entire development of the Hellenikon area into the coveted Athenian Riviera, forever redefining the modern identity of Greece,” Kontomerkos previously said.
Kontomerkos has also said that MGE’s vast experience in global developments “will be a game-changer for the local and national tourism industry. The project will create thousands of workplaces while it will offer multiple benefits to the Greek economy.”
The first phase of construction, demolishing some 900 buildings and structures, will commence as soon as possible.
Kontomerkos also noted that the Coronavirus pandemic will not impact the long-term project, but actually bolster the company’s commitment to buildout, reported a Greek publication. The health and financial implications of COVID-19 have hampered Greece far less than nearby Italy. So, Kontomerkos remains optimistic.
“Looking overseas, as a foreign investor in both Canada, South Korea and Greece, we couldn’t be more pleased with the decisive and effective actions these three governments took to protect their citizens from the spread of this disease,” Kontomerkos told Yogonet.
Domestic & International Presence
MGE’s expansion has happened quickly, and without concern for borders or physical proximity. In addition to its Connecticut-based flagship casino, Mohegan Sun, MGE owns and operates Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and manages Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.
Last 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 ( ilani Casino Resort in La Center, Washington) and the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe (Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, 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.
In South Korea, MGE is proceeding with a gaming resort at the Incheon International Airport near Seoul, a $1.6 billion project that’s slated to open in 2022. “In terms of our properties under construction, our Project INSPIRE in South Korea remains on schedule for launch in 2022 and our new Las Vegas property is on schedule to open later this year,” Kontomerkos told Yogonet in June.
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.
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.”