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(Yonhap Interview) Mohegan Sun eyes entertainment-focused integrated resort

All Headlines 09:57 February 28, 2016

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- Mohegan Sun, a U.S. casino operator, said its envisioned integrated resort in South Korea will present a vibrant mix of world-class performances and Korean pop stars to become a premier entertainment venue in Asia.

A Mohegan Sun-led consortium with Korean chemicals maker KCC Corp. on Friday won a bid to build a 1.5 trillion-won (US$1.21 billion) resort with a foreigner-only casino on Yeongjong Island, a transportation hub west of Seoul.

The Connecticut-based casino operator plans to break ground next year to open the facility called "Inspire Integrated Resort" in early 2020, which would mark its first project outside North America.

Mohegan Sun said the new resort will feature a wide selection of non-gaming elements, such as entertainment, shopping, a theme park, convention venues and restaurants, to attract both locals who are banned from gambling and foreigners.

"We consider ourselves an entertainment-driven company. We'll be one of the premier entertainment venues in all of Asia," Bobby Soper, the president of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Friday.

Soper said the envisioned resort will become "an incubator" for elevating Korean culture by hosting K-pop and performing acts, as well as leading Korean retailers and restaurants located next to world-class brands.

"Our plan is to have international celebrities, both K-pop and Western performers," Soper said. "We want those long-standing successful brands to be able to elevate Korean brands, whether it's food or international celebrity chef restaurants. We want to make sure that those budding high-potential Korean chefs can certainly go toe-to-toe on the international culinary stage."

With two other casino resorts currently under construction on Yeongjong Island, Soper expects his resort will create synergies by providing different types of experiences to visitors.

A consortium by South Korea's Paradise and Japan's Sega Sammy Holdings is building a casino resort that will open in 2017. LOCZ Korea, a joint venture by Indonesia's Lippo Group and Caesars Entertainment of the United States, is set to launch one in 2018.

"(Inspire Integrated Resort) is close enough (to the other two resorts), so they have a certain cluster impact," he said. "Their programming is focused on convention rooms, and our programming is focused on recreational and retail. Those two different types of programming will complement each other very well."

There are 17 casinos in Korea with one open to locals. With the new license, the number of casinos in the country will increase to 20 by 2020.

Soper said the proposed site has huge growth potential as it is close to major Chinese cities and next to Incheon International Airport to bring in more tourists from Asia, the official said.

Incheon airport handles more than 45 million visitors annually and is currently building an additional terminal to increase capacity to about 62 million passengers by 2017.

"The market is so significant. There are several million Chinese whose jurisdiction is so close to our resorts relative to any other location," he said. "(The airport's expansion) also presents a great opportunity."

Although Beijing's anti-corruption campaign had serious impact on Macau, which focuses on the high-end gaming section, it wouldn't have much impact on his integrated resort that focuses very little on the VIP casino business, Soper said.

"Our business is more of mass gaming. From our perspective, that type of crackdown (by the Chinese government) does not affect our business," he said.

Soper expects the new resort on the island to contribute to the local economy by creating a wider "multiplying effect" as a rising number of visitors to the area bring in more business opportunities down the road.

"When you are generating significant jobs and significant wages, it's gonna have a positive effect on the community."

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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