Mohegan Sun, partners win South Korean gaming license

Project Inspire (Courtesy of Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority)
Project Inspire (Courtesy of Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority)

A partnership headed by Mohegan Sun has secured a South Korean gaming license that will enable it to tap a resort market numbering in the hundreds of millions of people. 

“There’s nothing like this in northern Asia,” Bobby Soper, president and chief executive officer of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said Friday of Project Inspire, the $1.6 billion first-phase development the authority intends to build on 800 acres at the Incheon International Airport near Seoul.

Plans call for additional phases to be developed over 20 years, requiring a total investment of $5 billion.

The first phase is expected to include a three-tower luxury hotel complex with 1,350 rooms, more than 20,000 square feet of retail space and more than 20 food-and-beverage options; a 15,000-seat arena, which would be the largest venue of its kind in South Korea; a cosmetics and beauty “hub,” an area in which Korea is dominant in Asia; a Paramount Studios-themed indoor-outdoor amusement park; a separate park featuring indoor rock climbing and zip lining; a 20,000-square-foot casino with 250 gaming tables and 1,500 slot machines; and an adjacent private air terminal.

Soper, in a phone interview from South Korea, said Mohegan officials learned Friday that the South Korean government had awarded them the license.

A five-person contingent from Mohegan, including Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, which owns Mohegan Sun, traveled to South Korea earlier in the week to deliver a presentation to South Korean authorities.

Afterward, Soper said, they felt pretty good about their chances.

“We were somewhat optimistic, but in a very competitive process like this, you never know,” he said. “We thought our location, our partnerships and our application were very strong.”

In the last couple of years, the Mohegan authority has lost bids to win licenses for casino projects in Greater Boston, upstate New York and Philadelphia.

The authority is partnering with KCC Corp., a South Korean company specializing in chemicals and building supplies, which has a 24.5 percent stake, and the Incheon International Airport Corp., owner of the site. 

In addition, Miura Holdings Asia, an investment firm focused on gaming, hotel and food-and-beverage projects in the United States and Asia, is part of the development team.

Soper said the process that culminated in the license award began a year ago, when 36 applicants responded to the South Korean government’s request for conceptual proposals.

Ultimately, only six applicants submitted final applications late last year, he said.

Mohegan Sun was the only U.S. gaming operator to apply, Soper said.

While the South Korean government had been authorized to grant up to three licenses, Soper said it was his understanding that only the one was awarded.

Only foreigners will be able to gamble at the resort, in accordance with local law, but all other resort amenities will be open to South Koreans, about 20 million of whom live within an hour to 90 minutes of the site, according to Soper.

The Incheon airport, among the 10 busiest in the world, serves some 45 million passengers a year, a figure expected to increase considerably when a new terminal opens in 2018.

The resort site is a 30-minute subway ride from downtown Seoul, Soper said.

Moreover, he said, the resort will be the closest gaming destination for some 700 million residents of northern China, a population with a “propensity for gaming.”

The authority plans to break ground for the project in early 2017 and to open it in early 2020.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Twitter: @bjhallenbeck

Project Inspire (Courtesy of Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority)
Project Inspire (Courtesy of Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority)

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