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Miss America candidates' arrival, week of events expected to raise Mohegan Sun's profile

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Mohegan — Fifty-one Miss America candidates, the current Miss America and many former Miss Americas are scheduled to check in Thursday at Mohegan Sun, where they and members of the Miss America Organization will occupy hundreds of rooms in the casino’s two hotel towers.

Their arrival, to be celebrated at a free public event scheduled for 5 p.m. on the casino's retail concourse, near the Mohegan Sun Arena box office, will mark the start of an event-filled week culminating in next Thursday night’s nationally televised finals of the Miss America 2020 competition.

For Jeffrey Hamilton, Mohegan Sun’s newly installed, 37-year-old president and general manager, that night — Dec. 19 — looms large.

“From our perspective,” Hamilton said, “it’s the biggest night in our history.”

As far as multiday extravaganzas go, the weeklong Miss America competition promises to be bigger than Barrett-Jackson’s Northeast Auction of collector cars, which has drawn record-setting crowds and cable-television cameras to Mohegan Sun in each of the last four years, Hamilton said.

Still, he said, the casino has experienced nothing like the free national exposure it expects to garner Dec. 19 during NBC’s live prime-time coverage of the Miss America finals, from 8 to 10 p.m., six days before Christmas.

As of noon Wednesday, the Miss America Organization had issued credentials to more than 100 members of the media, according to a Miss America spokeswoman.

Growing up in southeastern Connecticut, Hamilton couldn’t have imagined that one day the region would host an event of Miss America’s magnitude, he said, adding, “It’s pretty amazing.”

Already, Hamilton noted, the event has had some local impact, with Nia Franklin, the current Miss America, generating advance publicity by appearing Nov. 30 in Mystic’s annual Holiday Lighted Boat Parade.

Mohegan Sun has gotten good at hosting big events, Hamilton said, thanks in part to its experience with the Barrett-Jackson auctions, which in the last couple of years commandeered both Mohegan Sun Arena and the Earth Expo and Convention Center. The success of the inaugural Barrett-Jackson Northeast Auction in 2016 helped convince Mohegan Sun executives to build the $80 million convention center.

While the Miss America finals will be held in the arena, preliminary talent competitions are scheduled from 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday in the Expo Center. Tickets for the events still were available Wednesday. The preliminary events will be streamed live on the internet, as will the finals.

Hamilton said the arena, once it's configured for the finals, will seat about 7,400 people.

The arena, the convention center and Mohegan Sun’s ability to accommodate big events have become increasingly important to the casino’s economic success, he said. And it extends to the region.

“When we bring 10,000 people to the property and our hotels fill up, other hotels get business, too — and the restaurants and everything else,” Hamilton said.

At the same time it’s hosting the Miss America competition, Mohegan Sun will be auditioning.

Hamilton acknowledged that the casino, which has a one-year contract with the Miss America Organization, would like to become the permanent home of the competition. In Miss America’s 99-year history, it’s only been held in two other locations, both gaming destinations: Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

“We believe we’re perfectly aligned,” Hamilton said of Mohegan Sun and Miss America. “We really value diversity ... and support women.”

The Miss America Organization, a nonprofit, has been transformed in the last couple of years, reflecting, the organization says, the evolution of women in society. Candidates no longer are judged on outward appearance; swimsuit and evening gown phases have been eliminated.

The winning candidate becomes a full-time, paid employee of the organization whose job involves extensive travel and promotional duties.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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