TAMARA AUDI, Wall Street Journal
Two Indian tribes that now own competing Connecticut casinos are uniting in an effort to lure more gamblers to their properties.
Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos today are launching a joint advertising campaign to market southeastern Connecticut as a gambling destination. Behind the idea is that both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun — separated by only six miles of Connecticut forest — can better compete with nearby markets like Atlantic City if they market themselves together.
The alliance between the two tribes, which were old enemies and have become current competitors, underscores the fierce fight for casino customers in the Northeast as casinos across the country struggle through a prolonged consumer recession.
“This is quite historic,” said Michael Speller, president of Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprises, which owns Foxwoods. Mr. Speller said both sides agreed that “we can drive more business together than we can individually.”
The initial ads, on eight billboards in New York City, Long Island and northern New Jersey, target the “battle-zone area between Connecticut and Atlantic City,” said Mitchell Ettess, president and chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which owns Mohegan Sun. “You’re sitting in North Jersey and you think its easier to go down the turnpike instead of driving north. We want to aggressively approach those folks and show them Connecticut is a better destination.”
They also have launched a Web-site contest in which entrants can win a weekend stay at both casinos. Foxwood’s Mr. Speller said the initial marketing campaign could lead to more cooperative business deals between the two tribes.
Tribal casinos, which pay 25% of the revenue from slot machines to Connecticut, have seen their profits fall in recent months along with the entire gambling industry.
According to state figures, Mohegan Sun slot revenue declined 7% in May compared with May 2008; Foxwoods saw a 14% decline.
Atlantic City has seen its revenues plummet for more than a year as consumers have held back on spending during a prolonged recession. Northeastern casinos also have new competition from Pennsylvania, where Las Vegas-based Togel Online Las Vegas Sands Corp. recently opened a new casino in Bethlehem.
The Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods billboard messages take direct swipes at Atlantic City, with messages that include: “Way Beyond the Boredwalk”; “Escape the Jersey Snore” and “Two Worlds Beat One City.”
Connecticut’s tribal casinos were spurred by the same boom-time cycle that saw big projects launch in Las Vegas, and spent tens of millions of dollars on major expansions that opened just as the recession took hold. Foxwoods has 2,250 hotel rooms, six casinos and seven million square feet of space.
Mohegan Sun, which recently completed a $1 billion expansion, has 3.5 million square feet, a 10,000-seat arena and 1,200 hotel rooms.
More than 400 years ago, the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribes were both part of the larger Pequot tribe. But factions within the tribe formed over how to handle the European influx. The Mohegans backed an alliance with the English and split from the Pequots, eventually fighting against them.
In modern times, both tribes gained federal recognition and have become “friendly competitors” in the casino business, said Bruce Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe. But, he added, “after 400 years of separation, we are two very different cultures and two very different resorts.”