Foxwoods' pursuit of younger clientele to hit high gear in '18
Mashantucket — You might think the folks at Foxwoods Resort Casino would be all tuckered out at year's end, having spent 2017 celebrating the casino's 25th anniversary.
You'd be wrong.
Next year, in fact, may one day be remembered as the year Foxwoods really upped the ante. Come spring, if the latest timetable holds, Foxwoods' much-anticipated HighFlyer Zipline should be fully operational, sending riders downward from the roof of the Fox Tower hotel at speeds approaching 60 mph.
By the end of May, gasoline-powered go-karts ought to be zipping around a maze of an indoor track soon to be installed beneath the tower in an area originally designed as a bus terminal.
Work on both attractions progressed this month, which was marked by the debut of Foxwoods' Rainmaker Stadium, a state-of-the-art gaming area featuring live dealers and terminals where blackjack and mini-baccarat can be played simultaneously. Earlier in the year, Foxwoods rolled out the Play Arena, a similar interactive gaming center, and a couple of months later opened the Thrill Tower, which comprises two rides — Sky Drop and Sky Launch.
"It's all part of our drive for a younger demographic," Jason Guyot, Foxwoods' vice president of resort operations and development, said while leading a recent tour of the sprawling property. "We're changing the dynamic. ... It's going to take some time to change how people think about us."
First envisioned more than two years ago, the zip-line project has encountered some obstacles, causing the target date for its completion to be pushed back several times. The view from HighFlyer's starting point atop the 350-foot Fox Tower hotel suggests it'll be worth the wait.
Looking down along the attraction's four parallel lines, which stretch to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center and an adjoining observation tower, Guyot indicated the horizon and beyond. Long Island Sound and Fishers Island could be seen in the distance.
"It'll be on people's bucket list," Guyot said of HighFlyer.
Rachel Metzger, the zip line's director of operations, estimated she's made about 10 test runs so far, attesting that she's hit speeds of more than 50 mph. The first run was a bit nerve-wracking, she admitted.
Riders will take an elevator to the hotel's 30th floor, where a wall has been removed and two rooms converted to a "flight check" area. There, Metzger said, riders will view a safety video, sign a waiver and don a harness that will connect them to one of the four lines. Then it's up a couple more floors to the rooftop.
The 3,750-foot run to the museum can take up to a minute and a half to complete, depending on a rider's weight, Metzger said. The heavier the rider (300 pounds is the limit), the shorter the time.
With all third-party approvals in place except for state certification, Foxwoods is aiming for a HighFlyer "soft launch" on March 15. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony is expected in April.
Foxwoods officials detailed plans months ago for an indoor go-kart track at the casino, traveling to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., to make the announcement. At the time, Felix Rappaport, the casino's chief executive, called the project "the next logical step" in Foxwoods' evolution. Construction began in earnest in November, when heavy equipment began excavating a 61,000-square-foot area in the Fox Tower garage.
As of last week, some 200 truckloads of material had been removed from the area.
Originally intended to serve as a bay for buses, the space was equipped with a ventilation system that will come in handy, given Foxwoods' decision to operate gasoline-powered, 9-horsepower karts as opposed to electric ones. The choice is in keeping with the casino's commitment to "a true motorsports experience," Guyot said.
"Gasoline engines provide more of a racing feeling. Electric karts tend to feel more like a rollercoaster," he said. "We're talking about a multi-level, European-style track here."
Foxwoods is partnering with On Track Karting, a Connecticut company with operations in Wallingford and Brookfield. The track is being manufactured by PGK Design in Italy, which is scheduled to ship it in pieces overseas to Connecticut in February, according to Marty Tyrrel, On Track's chief executive officer.
It'll be assembled like an Erector Set, Tyrrel said.
The concrete track is being covered with a special resin that the karts' tires will be able to grip.
Once they've gained some experience, drivers should be able to navigate the 1,500-foot track in about 40 seconds, with a "session" consisting of eight minutes behind the wheel, said Chris Tyrrel, Marty's brother and On Track's chief operating officer.
Skilled drivers will be able to reach speeds of up to 45 mph. As many as 20 karts could be on the track at any one time.
The track area will be separated by a glass wall from a bar and event space designed to accommodate spectators and groups that may want to reserve it for parties and fundraisers, Guyot said.
Still more attractions are in store for the Fox Tower in 2018.
Given the high demand for "stadium gaming options" like those introduced in the Rainmaker Casino, Foxwoods plans to open 24 more of the play terminals and three new games in the Fox Tower. Players in the Rainmaker Stadium and Fox Tower will be able to bet on games at both locations — a total of six table games at once — from a single station.
"Everything we do here is to enhance the customer's experience," said Wayne Theiss, Foxwoods' vice president of table games.
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