Mohegan Inspire still eyes 1Q24 casino debut: president

The new Mohegan Inspire Entertainment Resort in South Korea, which had a soft opening on Thursday for non-gaming facilities including its 1,275-room hotel and 15,000-seat Inspire Arena, is still hopeful it can launch its foreigner-only casino in the first quarter of next year, affirmed Chen Si, property president, in an interview with GGRAsia.

Inspire (pictured) – with a “Phase 1a” capital expenditure of as much as KRW2.00 trillion (US$1.55 billion) – will then offer 150 table games and 700 machines: slots and electronic table games (ETGs).

Regarding projections for quarterly gross gaming revenue (GGR), in the first few quarters after the casino opens, Mr Si said: “We have internal budgets, but they’re non-public. We don’t expect to be fully ramped until 2024 or later because it takes four to six quarters.”

The resort promoter Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, trading as Mohegan Gaming, hopes that “two or three months” on from the non-gaming soft launch, it will be able to open the casino, said the executive. Mr Si reiterated the complex can only apply for the gaming permit once it has obtained a five-star rating for Inspire’s hotel. Such procedure follows the terms of South Korea’s Tourism Promotion Act, with the implementation of that statute overseen by the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

After Thursday’s non-gaming opening, “a series of inspections and mystery shopper and evaluations are required… that is the reason we need the time to open our casino venue,” Mr Si explained.

He pointed out that when Inspire’s neighbouring Incheon-district casino resort Paradise City opened in 2017 with its foreigner-only casino immediately activated, that was “a different case because they had their casino licence transferred from a different… local casino… We are applying for a new casino licence.”

Even before Inspire’s casino opens, “dealer-level staff are starting to come on board, mostly from South Korea, starting next week through to next January and February,” stated Mr Si.

Inspire will also invite some Mohegan corporate staff and leaders from its home base in the United States, to support gaming operations initially, though they will not be permanent postings.

Inspire has so far hired 1,113 employees, and will have 3,000 at completion of what the promoter terms “Phase 1a”, in the second quarter of 2024.

Talks on Phase 1b amenities

“We’ve committed to the [South] Korean government to continue to build out Phase 1b, to add more amenities… surrounding Phase 1a,” to boost the “cluster effects” of Incheon as a South Korea tourism destination.

“The ongoing capex [capital expenditure] and opex [operating expenditure],” beyond the KRW2.00 trillion already declared, and projected rate of return on capital for Inspire are “non-public information,” stated the resort’s president.

“As a hospitality company, we value distinctive, engaging customer experiences over numbers. All we can do is develop customer-friendly services and experiences, and hopefully the [balance sheet] number will follow,” said Mr Si in his remarks to GGRAsia.

Phase 1b would focus on “making sure the Mohegan cultural heritage is being shared and projected in the rest of the world,” said Mr Si, adding that the Inspire opening team “will be very honoured” to make that happen.

The resort’s promoters are still “working through various ideas” for Phase 1b. The group has already held a series of open forums with what it identifies as “renowned professors in South Korean tourism and hospitality,” to help generate ideas for Phase 1b.

“We have a list of ideas that we’re discussing both with the business partners and potential investors, as well as the [South Korean] government,” said Mr Si.

“We committed to the government to provide a full business idea and plan for Phase 1b around 12 months after the casino opens, therefore, probably early 2025, and then we can go from there.”

He noted regarding the issue of potential regional competition from Japan’s first casino resort at Osaka, that it was still “a long time” before that scheme launches. A date early in the next decade has been mentioned by the Osaka authorities.

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