We’re a better player
CEO Mitchell Etess says Mohegan Sun is better than the Las Vegas legend
commonwealth: Steve Wynn says you have an inherent conflict of interest owning a casino in Massachusetts that would be 111 miles away from your casino in Connecticut, in part because the tax rate on table games in Massachusetts is 25 percent and zero in Connecticut.
mitchell etess: He thinks if he keeps saying things they become the reality. He is also excited about bringing up our partner, Brigade Capital Management. We have a contract with Brigade that forbids us to operate the casino in Massachusetts in any way other than to benefit the casino in Massachusetts. The reality is that the Commonwealth can’t be more protected than they are against that issue. Conversely, there is an 8 or 9 percent tax rate in Las Vegas and a 25 percent tax rate in Massachusetts, and he has absolutely no protection for the Commonwealth in that regard.
cw: Are you saying Massachusetts would be off limits to your Connecticut casino?
cw: You’ve pointed out that Mohegan Sun Connecticut brought in $911 million in gaming revenue last year, more than any other casino in the Western Hemisphere. Steve Wynn boasts that his Las Vegas operation brought in more than $1 billion in nongaming revenue? Which is better?
etess: This isn’t the Massachusetts non-gaming bill. This is the Massachusetts gaming bill. It’s another example of the vast differences between a Las Vegas casino and a Northeastern casino. He’s not really focusing on what this is all about, which is driving gaming revenue. This is not Las Vegas. This is about gaming revenue and giving 25 percent of gaming revenue to the state. In Las Vegas, they’ve got 5,000 hotel rooms or whatever it is; he’s got a 600-room hotel here. I don’t think he’s suggesting he’s going to have $1.3 billion of non-gaming revenue in Massachusetts.
cw: Your site is ready to go, so can you start building much faster than Wynn?
etess: We can start within six months and have 30 months of construction. There’s a tremendous amount of obstacles to the Wynn project that he doesn’t even think about, such as addressing the traffic situation. We haven’t seen all the plans and how they’re going to work that out. Not to mention all the environmental issues. And the changes in the gaming law. Look, we’re not asking for any changes in the gaming law. He’s demanded and asked for changes in the gaming law over and over again, so I find that to be somewhat fascinating.
cw: But some of the changes he’s asked for, particularly the tax withholding provision, have received support at the Gaming Commission and on Beacon Hill. When you say you aren’t asking for changes, does that mean you don’t want them?
etess: We will work with the regulators in whatever shape or form they want. If they want to increase [the withholding provision], we’re certainly not going to stand in their way. But we’re not saying that has to change or we’re not going to operate.
cw: If there’s a referendum question that makes it to the ballot to overturn the gaming law, would your company be involved in trying to defeat it?
cw: The Gaming Commission voted 3-2 in favor of the Plainville slots proposal, with the three in the majority saying the continued operation of harness racing was a key factor in their decision. How does that bode for your proposal since you’re going to be propping up Suffolk Downs?
etess: The owners of Suffolk Downs have stated in writing to the commission that they will keep Suffolk Downs open for 15 years from the time we get the license and they will keep operating between now and the time we open. So, basically, without Mohegan Sun Massachusetts there will be no more Suffolk Downs. I guess that certainly seemed to be a factor in the awarding of the slots license. I would certainly hope we’ll be the beneficiary of the same thing, but I don’t really know how they’ll view this versus that.cw: Why does Wynn put Mohegan Sun down?
etess: Steve Wynn is Steve Wynn, OK? He revolutionized the gaming industry in Las Vegas, right? Boston is a sports town, so I was thinking about it in terms of a sports analogy. Tiger Woods obviously revolutionized golf. He changed the entire way professional golf was played and he was dominant. He was, therefore, a legend in the business. Well, right now, he hasn’t won a major tournament in like five years, or whatever it is. There’s other people out there who are now better players. That doesn’t make him any less of a legend, nor does it make Steve Wynn any less of a legend. All the things he’s meant to this industry, which is earth-shattering and incredible, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not a better player right now, and we really are.