International edition
September 26, 2021

Interview with Mario Kontomerkos, CEO of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment

"We have not altered Mohegan Gaming's long-term strategies"

"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 unveiled.
United States | 06/17/2020

In an exclusive interview with Yogonet, the CEO of one of the largest casino operators in the U.S. delved into the coronavirus health crisis, the impact it had on the local and foreign gambling industry as well as the company, and provided details on the resumption of operations in some of its facilities. "We have safely reopened the majority of our properties across the United States and Canada utilizing a phased approach," he explained.

W

hich have been the consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak for your company and the entire gaming industry

The novel coronavirus resulted in significant challenges worldwide for society, not just business. For many industries, including gaming and entertainment, the coronavirus clearly caused unprecedented, sudden disruption to businesses. While the financial costs have been challenging, we have already begun to recover. Most important has been the renewed focus on the health and safety of our guests, employees, and the communities in which we live and work, and that has and remains our top priority.

As Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE) looks at the current landscape, we have safely reopened the majority of our properties across the United States and Canada utilizing a phased approach in close consultation with local and state health authorities. We are happy to be able to welcome guests to our properties and to bring much-needed jobs and revenues back to local communities. The majority of our guests visiting our U.S. and Canadian properties travel by car rather than flying, so airline travel does not significantly impact our current business.  

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.

These milestones, combined with our recent winning bid in Greece for INSPIRE Athens, the first Integrated Resort and Casino in that country, are all signs of positive momentum for our business.

Which were the measures your implemented voluntarily or had to adopt in accordance with local policies when the coronavirus burst? Has the situation changed now?

The safety of our guests and team members remains the top priority for Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, and our actions proved this. In mid-March, MGE made the decision to temporarily suspend operations across our U.S. and Canadian properties to slow the spread of COVID-19. As we began to contemplate reopening, our Board directed our executive team to develop the highest standards for safety in the industry, and that is what we did. By working with local government and health officials, and guided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we developed a package of new safety protocols and operating procedures that exceed the minimum standards recommended in every major gaming jurisdiction in the United States and that also exceed the standards published by our industry peers.

As examples, we have implemented state-of-the-art automated thermal temperature screens at all our entrances, installed ultraviolet (UV) air handlers, hotel room disinfectant misting, installed plexiglass and hand sanitizing stations at every transaction station, including at table games and hotel check-in, turned off alternative machines and more to comply with social distancing guidelines. Additionally, all staff and our guests will be required to wear face masks.

Has the approach of the government officials in the different jurisdictions you develop your business been appropriate given the circumstances?

The response from domestic and international government and private industry has been more than appropriate given the unprecedented challenges presented by the novel coronavirus. Surely we have all learned from this experience and should be better prepared if we were to face this situation again. That said, the sheer scale of the coordination and commitment between health experts, government bodies, private industry, and the general public during this crisis to ensure safety and minimize the impact of the coronavirus has been absolutely remarkable. 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.

Has this situation changed your company's short- and long-term strategies and business plans?

It hasn’t changed the way we think. In fact, it has reinforced it. We have always taken a long-term, 13 Generations view, which is a reflection of our Mohegan heritage and commitment to the Mohegan tribe. This mindset is foundational to who we are and separates us from our competitors. It can be tempting to focus on short-term gains or quick fixes, but it is more valuable and ultimately more beneficial to our stakeholders to remain focused on the long-term future.

We view our business through this 13 Generations lens, and we have not altered our long-term strategies.

Do you think the tendencies and customer behavior expected for this year and beyond will change in light of the pandemic?

The feeling of safety has always been of paramount importance in our industry and at Mohegan, we take the notion of safety to the highest level. Going forward, we believe that the pandemic has only amplified the importance of safety for all stakeholders, and we have endeavored to create an environment in our facilities that goes above and beyond the standards set by our peers to ensure that employees and guests feel protected. As examples, we have implemented state-of-the-art automated thermal temperature screens at all our entrances, installed ultraviolet (UV) air handlers, installed plexiglass and hand sanitizing stations at every transaction station, including at table games and hotel check-in, turned off alternative machines and more to comply with social distancing guidelines. Additionally, all staff and our guests will be required to wear face masks.

Recall, however, that we are in the entertainment business, and our guests, once safe, are here to have fun. MGE has always attracted loyal entertainment lovers who value tradition and seek one-of-a-kind, high-quality experiences. We don’t anticipate that changing in the long term and are looking forward to providing those experiences for many years to come. Early indications of business volumes at our re-opened properties are strong, showing that this is indeed the case

How much time and resources do you estimate it will take for the global and local industry, as well as your company, to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic?

I believe everyone is taking the right approach, meaning measured and multi-phased. MGE is only in the very early phases of reopening – not just for our industry but most segments of the economy. It’s difficult to put a timeframe on the recovery because of the unprecedented nature of this situation, but our initial results from our reopened properties show that people are comfortable today looking for entertainment options provided there are safety precautions in place.

Are there any bright sides to this situation?

The ancients used to say that every trial brings some good. I believe that. So while this situation has been a terrible one overall for much of the world, all of us have also had the opportunity to pause and reflect on what is really important. For MGE, we have utilized this moment of reflection to recommit to the core values that make us great, our amazing legacy, our culture, and our people.  For example, I cannot possibly recount the amount of good done by our employees over the past 75 days for themselves, for other employees, and for others who were hurt by this pandemic. We donated more than 15,000 meals to furloughed employees. We gave out 75,000 free masks to the general public. We volunteered our facility in Connecticut to be a PPE distribution station for the National Guard. You cannot put a price on the value and goodwill of a community of incredibly good-hearted and dedicated employees like the kind we have. This is our competitive advantage and no one else cannot even come close.

Are there any similar situations you have experienced that can relate to the current difficulties that the industry is experiencing as a result of the pandemic in any way?

This pandemic is certainly unique, as are most worldwide crises. In terms of the abrupt halt of all leisure activity, and the ensuing fear to board a plane or enter a crowded area, the comparisons could be to 9/11. In terms of the government response, particularly on the fiscal side, the comparison could be to the Great Recession of 2008. But as far as most of the world being on lockdown at the same time, nothing anyone has experienced really compares. Similar as in past major events, our industry will take things one step at a time. It’s been proven throughout history that people are resilient, they are adaptable, they are social, and that entertainment will continue to play a vital role in their lives.

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