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Connecticut's Two Casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods,
Offer Insights to Friendly Competition

By Karen Florin, The Day, New London, Conn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Feb. 18, 2006 - Mohegan Sun has offered free headline act performances in its Wolf Den auditorium for 10 years. Foxwoods Resort Casino recently started booking free concerts of the same caliber in its Club B.B. nightclub.

Foxwoods began granting slot players "double points" on their Wampum player's club cards a few years ago. Mohegan Sun countered by designating certain banks of machines as double-point slots.

Mohegan Sun started a player's card "swipe and win" promotion, where visitors went to a designated area in the casino to swipe their player's card and win cash, sweepstakes entries and other prizes. Foxwoods soon instituted its own swipe-and-win program, installing kiosks at several points throughout the casino.

As hard as Connecticut's two casinos work to distinguish themselves in their brand-focused advertising efforts, they sometimes "flatter" each other with imitation when it comes to promotions. Executives at both properties swear they don't spend a lot of time worrying about the latest program at the other place, and they vow not to engage in the kind of promotional wars that ultimately result in lower earnings. But they do admit to keeping up with the competition and sometimes responding with their own promotions.

Mitchell Etess, president and chief executive officer of Mohegan Sun, opened the entertainment section of the local newspaper last week to discover that Foxwoods had a full-page advertisement that was strikingly similar to the one Mohegan Sun has been running.

"I was maybe more than a little taken aback by the appearance and similarity in those ads and the number of comments I have received on them," Etess said.

Across the river at Foxwoods, a staffer noted recently that Mohegan Sun is putting upcoming entertainment acts on its highway billboards. Foxwoods began using that type of billboard a couple of years ago.

"This is something that's been ongoing forever and ever," said Anthony Curtis, president of LasVegasAdvisor.com. "As soon as you get two casinos next to each other, there is going to be some sort of competition. They see somebody's doing something and it's cutting into their market share, they're going to act."

An expert on gambling promotions who can tell you where to go in Vegas for a 99-cent shrimp cocktail, free photo with Elvis or complimentary gambling coupons, Curtis said this type of competition almost always benefits the consumer.

"In the casino business in general you're going to get more imitation," he said. "You have follow-the-leader mentality. They like to look at what others have done and maybe do the same and notch it up a stitch."

Asked if Mohegan Sun started offering double points as a result of Foxwoods' program, Etess owned up to a bit of corporate copycatting, but noted the two promotions are different. Foxwoods offers double points to slot players throughout the entire property during specific days and times, while Mohegan Sun has banks of slot machines that always offer double points.

"It was clearly a response. It's slightly different, but...OK," Etess said.

Robert DeSalvio, executive vice president of marketing at Foxwoods, did not acknowledge any modeling of Foxwoods' swipe-and-win program after Mohegan Sun's.

"You can take the same concept and come up with 600 variations on how to do it, and that's what promoters are interested in," he said. "It's how you apply it and how you communicate it."

The latest trend in competitive promotions is in mail offers to player's club members -- "what the customer of your slot club is going to get for what level of participation," according to Curtis from Las Vegas. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun market aggressively to their player's club members through the mail, sending coupons for food and retail products, offers of reduced rate hotel rooms and other complimentary services. It's a safe bet that employees at the two Connecticut properties are checking the mail to see what the other casino is offering.

Foxwoods opened first in Connecticut, in 1992, followed four years later by Mohegan Sun. The newer casino did not truly rival Foxwoods in size and revenue until it expanded in 2001, but has recently been consistently out-winning Foxwoods in slot machine revenue or, as Mohegan Sun executives boast during conference calls with investors, "captured more than our fair share of the market."

Foxwoods has broken ground on a $700 million expansion and taken other steps to catch up. DeSalvio, the marketing vice president, would rather talk about some of the casino's new marketing initiatives than its head-to-head competition with Mohegan Sun. He said the purpose of the new, full-page newspaper ads is to promote the two types of entertainment now being offered at Foxwoods -- ticketed shows throughout the week and free performances on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"Our Atrium lounge, which normally presents live entertainment seven nights a week, is closed for renovations," he said. Though nonheadliner acts typically played at the Atrium, some known names will perform there when it reopens, he said.

Without saying the new approach has anything to do with Mohegan Sun's free performances, DeSalvio said, "This really has everything to do with Foxwoods."

"We peacefully co-exist," said DeSalvio of the two properties, which are just eight miles apart across the Thames River. "We have and continue to do so, and we work together on larger tourism issues to promote the region. But yet we're competitors, and in business you do things to increase your share of the market. It's a healthy, normal thing to do."

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To see more of The Day, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.theday.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Day, New London, Conn.

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