MGM-Mohegan Sun rivalry to play out on WNBA courts, too

Rivals in a pitched battle over Connecticut casino-goers, Mohegan Sun and MGM Resorts International will soon compete in another arena — or, quite literally, arenas — as owners of WNBA teams.

MGM Resorts, it was announced Tuesday, has bought the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars and will move them to Las Vegas, where they’ll play at MGM’s Mandalay Bay Events Center. The arrangement mirrors Mohegan Sun’s ownership of the Connecticut Sun, which has been playing at Mohegan Sun Arena the past 15 years.

In the last couple of years, MGM has been battling Mohegan Sun’s owners, the Mohegan Tribe, as well as the Mashantucket Pequots over their response to MGM’s development of a billion-dollar casino in Springfield, Mass., which threatens the tribes’ respective casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.

The rivals have been pulling out all the stops, with the tribes preparing to build a third Connecticut casino in East Windsor and MGM unveiling plans for one in Bridgeport. MGM Resorts sued the state over the law that authorized the tribes to form a casino partnership and has vowed to pursue further litigation.

“It seems they’ve been having trouble beating us in court; maybe they’ll have better luck on the court — but I don’t think so,” said Mitchell Etess, who last week concluded an interim stint as chief executive officer of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, Mohegan Sun’s parent.

Etess continues to serve as the Mohegans’ representative to the 12-member WNBA Board of Governors, which had to approve MGM Resorts’ purchase of the San Antonio franchise.

He said he’s known about the league’s newest owners for days.

“Our model is very successful. I’m not surprised that another casino has copied it,” Etess said. “Not many casinos have an arena that can work, but the Mandalay Bay arena is one of them. Like ours, it has about 10,000 seats. When we were doing research for our building, that was one of the buildings we looked at.”

The Mandalay Bay Events Center is part of Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, where a gunman fired on a nearby crowd from a hotel room earlier this month, killing 58 people.

“You can see what’s happening in Las Vegas, where they’ve got a hockey team and a football team that’s coming,” Etess said. “You can see professional sports locating where there are lots of retirees. It’s not a bad idea to put a WNBA team there. It has the right demographics. And being indoors in air-conditioning in the summer (when the WNBA plays) is a plus.”

He said he could see the Connecticut Sun striking up a rivalry with the Las Vegas Stars. Right now, he said, the Sun’s natural rival is the New York Liberty, largely because of its geographic proximity. He recalled that for a time Foxwoods sponsored the Liberty, which put the Foxwoods name and logo on the team's jerseys.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

 

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