Ray Pineault was appointed the interim president and CEO of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment in 2021, and was given the permanent position two years later. He’s in charge of all day-to-day operations of MGE, which includes operating several casinos, overseeing development of the company’s digital business and developing the first international expansion of MGE in the Inspire project in South Korea. He’s a member of the Mohegan tribe and has worked his way up through the company for over 20 years. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at G2E in October. To hear and see a full podcast of this interview, visit GGBMagazine.com.
GGB: Since we last spoke, there’s been a lot of activity with Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment. What has the last year been like?
Pineault: It’s been a crazy year. Actually, it’s been crazy for the last three years. We’ve been dealing with the pandemic, closing down, opening back up. We’ve really been working on opening our digital business, and we’re currently in Connecticut and Ontario. And we’re going to be opening up in at least one other jurisdiction this coming year.
Let’s start with your flagship in Connecticut. How long has it been since that opened?
It’s our 27th anniversary this year. Time flies by. The property continues to really generate great revenue. As you know, this business is very capital-intensive, and we continue to make changes. We just completely refurbished all of our high-end suites. We’ve added some new retailers to our lineup. We’ve added some new restaurants. As an example, the Tao Group opened a restaurant at Mohegan. It is a spectacular property and it just continues to outperform the market.
You seem to have weathered the Massachusetts competition.
At the end of the day, Wynn, MGM and Penn are all phenomenal and experienced operators, but I remember when they were talking about Massachusetts, and it would be the doomsday of Connecticut properties—Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are gonna fold. They’ll never survive this. And quite honestly, when you come to our property, the guest service that we provide, the loyalty from our guests, it has withstood the test of time. And I believe that will continue even when New York comes online.
With Mohegan Sun Pocono, you were the first tribe that ran a commercial casino when you won a license in Pennsylvania. How’s that doing?
Mohegan in Pennsylvania is in a nice protected market in the northeast part of the state. It’s got a fantastic customer base. We just refurbished the entire hotel there. We just completed it at the end of last year. We wanted to make sure we continue to maintain that guest loyalty, make sure that we’re refreshing our product.
You’re also managing the ilani property in Washington state. That will come to an end soon now that the Cowlitz tribe wants to take over management there.
The property’s absolutely beautiful. They actually just opened up their hotel this spring—beautiful property, beautiful hotel. But it’s a natural evolution of any Native American tribe. You get it open, you get it operating with experienced operators, and then you take it over yourself. I’m very proud of what we accomplished with them. We’ve been with them for almost 15 years. It took them seven years to even get their federal recognition. We stuck with them the whole time as a tribe-to-tribe relationship; we got them going. Now they’re ready to take over and control their own destiny.
So let’s talk about Inspire Korea. That’s an incredible project at the Incheon International Airport. After pandemic delays, you’re close to announcing an opening date.
We’re looking to nail down the opening date. The construction process itself is now two years, and I like to compare it to Mohegan Sun because they are both 3 million-square-foot facilities. There are a few less hotel rooms there—about 1,250 versus Mohegan Sun with almost 1,600. Inspire has a bigger arena, 15,000 seats. It will have a big convention center, dining, shopping, and they’ll have a beautiful, spectacular pool dome. So, basically, it’s Mohegan Sun in Korea.
How are you looking at the market over there? Asia is really booming right now, especially the Philippines, and Macau is coming back strong. How do you expect you’re going to fit into that market?
Great question. So, a couple things. One, it’s a foreigners-only casino, as is all of South Korea, except for one casino that’s a couple hours outside of Seoul. So obviously, we’re relying on two things. One, Seoul is a city of 26 million people and there are over 2 million dual passport holders and foreigners that live in Seoul. So that’s going to be part of our day-to-day market.
Second, Incheon was the fifth busiest airport in the world last year. Millions of people go through that airport every day, and the average layover is six hours. Those people are looking for something to do. We’re only a couple miles away from the airport. We will run shuttles from there. Chinese travelers are actually among the top visitors too, and not just for layovers but people who are actually staying there. So there’s hundreds of thousands—or millions—of Chinese visitors that go there every year, and we want to make sure that we penetrate a part of that market.
And we think we have a great opportunity. We’re building a spectacular property, and I think our brand of culture, our brand of guest service will resonate in Southeast Asia. Obviously, it’s a competitive set; whether you’re looking at Macau, or whether you’re looking at Marina Bay Sands, or wherever, it’s definitely going to be competitive. But I do think that given the spectacular facility that we’ve built, considering all the non-gaming amenities that we’re adding to the facility, we’ll get our fair share of foreign travelers.