Stakes Are High in Reviews For 2 Connecticut Casinos

Connecticut’s rival tribal casinos have sunk more than $1 billion combined into renovations. Now both are seeking new creative shops to handle ramped-up ad budgets and lure bettors with promises of not only gaming but also golf, nightclubs and other amenities.

Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, last week chose four finalists for an account its top marketing executive confirmed will be worth upward of $25 million. The resort spent about $10 million on ads for the first 11 months of last year, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Conn., is in an earlier stage of its review. Sources pegged its ad spending at $25-30 million; Mohegan spent $15 million in the first 10 months of 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

The spending increases of about $25-30 million by the two casinos figure to give another big boost to the casino category, where total ad spending last year was $260 million, up from $200 million in 1998, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

“Foxwoods is the most profitable casino in North America,” said Marc Falcone, a lodging and resorts analyst with Deutsche Bank in New York. “They’ve been going back and forth pretty aggressively with Mohegan Sun in terms of market share in a very powerful market.”

Revenue figures were not available. By one measure, slot-machine collections, the properties each bring in about $9.6 billion a year, according to the state of Connecticut.

Foxwoods’ finalists are Havas’ Arnold in Boston and New York shops Bartle Bogle Hegarty (49 percent owned by Publicis), Interpublic Group’s The Kaplan Thaler Group and independent Wieden + Kennedy.

Foxwoods has sunk more than $200 million into renovations in the last 18 months. Changes include two golf courses set to open early next year and a Hard Rock Cafe set to open in July.

“A slot machine is a slot machine,” said Martin Kramer, director of advertising at Foxwoods. “It’s the bells and whistles and experiences that you wrap around the gaming that define your brand.”

Bill Hooper, chairman of five-year incumbent Trahan Burden & Charles, a Baltimore independent, said the agency dropped out of the review last week, citing an unwillingness to provide the spec creative that will be part of final presentations.

TBC’s most recent work sought to show customers the variety of entertainment, dining and gaming options offered since the casino’s first expansion in 1997, Kramer said.

Mohegan, which launched a review this month, completed $1.2 billion in additions to the resort in 2002, including 1,200 hotel rooms and several restaurants, said Falcone. Recent work by Cliff Freeman, which will defend the business, played up those amenities by showing folks daydreaming about them.