Mohegans Rebound, Focus on Growth, Expansion
Two years ago, Mohegan Sun halted operations for the first time in its then 24-year history.
“We’d never closed our doors, regardless of the circumstances,” Ray Pineault, president and CEO of parent company Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, told 200 business leaders at CBIA’s April 21 Connecticut Economic Update conference in Trumbull.
“We went through blizzards, we went through hurricanes, you name it. We never closed our doors, ever.
“The tribe, and rightfully so, decided we had to close our doors. It was the right thing for the public, it was the right thing for our team members, so it was the right thing to do.”
Pineault talked with CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima about how the company’s pandemic rebound, how it’s addressing the labor shortage crisis, and the future of the company.
“If anything good came out of the pandemic—and I hesitate to say anything good came out of it—it’s that it forced us to reimagine the way we do business,” Pineault told DiPentima.
“We are constantly looking at innovative ways to help our team members and our business.”
Mohegan Sun reopened in June 2021, after MGE made millions of dollars in safety and health investments.
Pineault described the venue’s reopening as something that “couldn’t happen overnight,” due to the considerable work that had to be done in preparation.
For example, employees needed to be contacted, money moved back to the casino floor, and machines powered up again.
Pineault described reopening as similar to “building a building.”
“Down to the last minute you’re putting the last nail in the ground,” he said. “People are about to walk in the door and we were doing last minute touches.”
Safety features including installing hand sanitizers, plexiglass, socially distanced slot machienss, and an air purification system.
In fact, Pineault said the air purification is so advanced that “we’re circulating air more than probably any building in the United States.”
“We’re in the guest services industry,” he said. “Guests need to come and feel safe and comfortable, and that was a primary thing we were focused on.”
Pineault—who served as chief operating officer before assuming his new role in August 2021—also had to grapple with getting employees back to work.
Every team member who was with Mohegan Sun before they shut down was offered an opportunity to to come back, Pineault said.
“We have over 1,000 employees that have been with the organization for over 25 years,” he said, “and I think that’s a testament to the culture that we’ve created.”
Despite offering all employees the opportunity to come back, some would not be returning to their old jobs.
For example, the casino ended their buffet, so those positions were reassigned.
Mohegan Sun guaranteed that no employee would be given a lower wage, Pineault said.
“You either made the wage of the job you were going into, or your prior wage; whichever was greater,” he said.
Although all previous employees were offered a job, Mohegan Sun feeling the effects of the labor shortage, an issue impacting Connecticut worse than other states.
Pineault said they faced it “just like everyone else.”
“We’re constantly exploring innovative ways to find and retain employees,” he said.
“Everyone needs to have a work life balance so we’re focused on that, so we’ll make adjustments when we need to.”
Pineault said Mohegan Sun also pivoted towards automation and remote work.
Certain roles—including front desk work, payroll, and shufflers in the casino are soon going to be automated, whereas many IT employees work remotely.
“Gaming is a constantly evolving, changing business,” Pineault said, “and we’re constantly looking at those innovative ideas, but it also has to help our team members, too.
“Happy team members make for happy guests.”
MGE is also navigating supply chain bottlenecks that are being felt across the nation.
“For the first time in the history of our organization, we were being rationed,” Pineault said.
For example, food companies Mohegan Sun has worked with for years had limited supplies, and could only provide a fraction of needed products.
“In addition to shortening hours when we didn’t have the labor, we shortened up the menus,” Pineault said.
“I would say it’s improved, but the cost of it has also gone up. So we’ve had to be creative in how we go about purchasing.
“We have to be creative in who we work with, what rebates we can get, and the volumes that we buy.”
When DiPentima asked how the company managed to retain positive customer reviews despite being hit by supply chain issues and the labor shortage, Pineault attributed MGE’s core values.
“We truly believe the team is the core of our success and providing for them is very important to the tribe,” he said.
“One thing about the labor shortage and all the innovative things we’ve done is the tribe has not wavered on hiring the right people.
“We only hire leaders and we’d rather leave a job open and find the right person who’s going to be dedicated to delivering that service that the tribe expects.”
The conversation then shifted to the future of the company and the gaming industry as a whole.
“We were the first Native American tribe to enter the Las Vegas strip, we were the first to own a professional basketball team, we were the first to manage a commercial casino as a tribe, so we’re always open to ideas and listening and progressing forward,” Pineault said.
He added that he was “very proud of the tribe and the state of Connecticut for modernizing gaming” with the introduction of sports wagering and online gaming last year.
MGE partnered with fantasy sports and gambling company FanDuel to bring sports betting and digital gaming to its Montville casino.
“They’ve been a great partner all along,” Pineault said, “and they’ve brought a lot to the table.
“Going with an operator their size and their recognition fit very symbiotically with the Mohegan brand.”
One aspect of that partnership is a revamped sportsbook where people can wager on sporting events.
The multi-million dollar venue has over 100 screens, a second deck, private seating, and is among the best of “any sportsbook you’ll see anywhere in the world,” Pineault said.
Focus on Connecticut
Though MGE is expanding to Las Vegas, Niagara, Korea, and more, Pineault still sees Connecticut as home.
“We continue to invest in Connecticut,” he said. “We have future plans and initiatives that are always going to be focused on Connecticut. We’re focused on the generations to come.
“This is the tribe’s homeland, this is where the majority of our tribal members live, this is never going to change.
“The tribe likes to talk about thirteen generations of the tribe have passed, and thirteen generations are to come.
“Regardless of what we do in Korea or anywhere else throughout the world, we’re always going to be focused on Connecticut and making sure we’re providing the best product we can here.”
The Connecticut Economic Update 2022 was made possible through the generous support of KeyBank with additional support from AI Engineers and Santa Energy.
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