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Running the numbers: Mohegan Sun turns 25 years old

Mohegan — In 25 years, Mohegan Sun has run up some pretty big numbers.

Since opening on Oct. 12, 1996, the casino has generated $25.4 billion in net revenue, paid $4.8 billion in wages and contributed more than $3.9 billion in slot-machine winnings to the state’s General Fund.

It attracts 9 million visitors a year, many of them drawn by the performers who play Mohegan Sun Arena, which opened in 2001. The arena has hosted some 3,000 paid events that have drawn more than 13.5 million guests. Twenty-seven major acts have launched tours at the arena.

Gaming aside, in fact, Mohegan Sun has put southeastern Connecticut on the map through its entertainment offerings alone, said Jeff Hamilton, Mohegan Sun’s president and general manager, who acknowledged that Foxwoods Resort Casino, Mohegan’s Sun nearby rival (which had a four-year head start) has played a part in transforming the region.

“We’ve hosted world title fights, Aerosmith, Springsteen, U2 and events like Barrett-Jackson and Miss America,” Hamilton said. “We’ve made hospitality and tourism around here into a much bigger thing than it ever was.”

“In the ’80s, we were built on defense and some destinations in Mystic, but the casinos have changed the dynamics,” he said.

Mohegan Sun has continued to stoke the trend during its 25th anniversary celebration, a three-day event that ends Sunday. The celebration actually began Thursday night with the first of two sellout Harry Styles concerts in the arena. The second Styles show Saturday night followed a Friday night performance by Blake Shelton.

Run-DMC performed for free Saturday night in the casino’s Wolf Den theater.

Hamilton, reflecting on Mohegan Sun’s 25 years, noted that more than 450 of Mohegan Sun’s 5,000 current employees were on the payroll when the casino’s doors opened.

He was not one of them.

A Fitch High School freshman at the time, Hamilton recalled that he did, however, visit the casino with his dad and sister during private “mock nights” leading up to the casino’s public opening. Limited to playing arcade games, he didn’t imagine he’d eventually even work at the casino, which he started doing summers during college.

Career path

Dan Webster, Mohegan Sun’s senior vice president of resort operations, is among the employees who were on board when Mohegan Sun opened its doors 25 years ago. Except for the 11-week coronavirus-induced shutdown of 2020, those doors have never closed.

A lifelong resident of Griswold, where he serves on the Board of Finance, Webster was trained as an HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) engineer and had worked at Backus Hospital in Norwich when he cast his lot with Mohegan Sun.

By 2008, he was chief engineer, overseeing all engineering departments, and in 2013 he was promoted to vice president of facility operations, which put him in charge of the transportation and security departments in addition to engineering.

Instrumental in the planning and execution of Mohegan Sun’s safety plan for reopening in June 2020 following the COVID-19 shutdown, Webster was named to his current position in September 2020. He added to his responsibilities the hotel, housekeeping, environmental services, food-and-beverage, banquets and convention services departments, putting him in charge of the entire nongaming operation.

Ten directors report to Webster, who oversees some 1,700 to 2,000 employees, including 180 to 190 tradesmen and women.

“When I came here, I was looking for a place that afforded some room for advancement,” he said. “Back then, the options were the sub base, EB (Electric Boat) or the hospital. I thought I would get experience and move on, but advancement came quickly, I had good co-workers and I found Mohegan Sun had the same core values I did. You were respected and listened to.”

“… Lo and behold, it’s 25 years later,” he said. “I thought I’d be here three to five years max.”

Not everyone thought Webster was making the right decision when he signed on with Mohegan Sun. His parents and siblings questioned the wisdom in leaving the hospital to work for the region’s second casino. Some questioned whether the region even could sustain a second casino.

“My mom worked at Backus, too, and retired after a long career there,” Webster said. “When I told her I was leaving to further my career, she was apprehensive and that made me a little apprehensive.”

But within a year of Mohegan Sun’s opening, it was clear it was here to stay, Webster said. Plans for a huge expansion already were starting to take shape.

“When I talk to my mom today, she says, ‘I can’t believe I tried to talk you out of it,’” he said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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