Mohegan Gaming Set to Operate First Tribal Casino in Las Vegas History

There is path a clear for the Mohegan Tribe’s gaming operation to enter the largest gaming market in the United States.

Nevada regulators on Wednesday gave initial approval for Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment to operate the 60,000 square-foot casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, the former site of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, a few blocks from the Las Vegas Strip.

If the Nevada Gaming Commission approves a recommendation by the Nevada Gaming Control Board made — after a virtual meeting with Mohegan Gaming representatives on Wednesday — it will become the first tribal organization to operate a casino in Las Vegas since casinos began operating there in 1931. A decision is expected later this month.

“Becoming the first-ever Native American casino operator in the Entertainment Capital of the World is an important milestone for Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment,” said Mohegan Gaming CEO Mario Kontomerkos in a statement to CT Examiner. “Coming out of a challenging year for the industry, Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas is a testament to our strategic growth trajectory, and we are excited to offer our Connecticut guests a new world-class Mohegan gaming experience in the legendary and diverse Las Vegas market.”​

The former Hard Rock Hotel is expected to re-open in January 2021 as a Virgin resort after being closed since February for $200 million in renovations, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. Virgin founder Richard Branson purchased the property in 2018 for $500 million. 

Virgin announced in September 2019 that Mohegan Gaming would operate the casino at the hotel, which will bear the same name as its flagship Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville. Approval from the state gaming commission at its Oct. 22 meeting will be the final step to make that arrangement official.

There are a handful of tribal-owned casinos in Nevada, but none so far in Las Vegas. The Fort Mojave Tribe operates Avi Resort & Casino on the banks of the Colorado river near the southern tip of Nevada, and the Moapa Band of Paiutes operates a casino on tribal land north of Las Vegas. 

The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California partners with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama to run the Wa She Shu Casino & Travel Plaza in Western Nevada, south of Reno. Of those casinos, only Avi has a hotel, which has 465 rooms compared to the 1,500 room Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

In addition to the flagship casino in Uncasville and the pending Las Vegas casino, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment owns resort casinos in South Korea, Canada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Washington state. It also owns the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun and National Lacrosse League’s New England Black Wolves.

Mohegan Gaming made international news this week as well, submitting a bid of 150 million euros, in partnership with Greek construction company GEK Terna, for a license to operate the casino at a massive resort planned at the site of the former Hellinikon International Airport on the Athens coast. Mohegan is the only bidder remaining after Greek regulators rejected a bid from Seminole Tribe-owned Hard Rock International, according to Casino.com.

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