PLAINS TWP. — Seven years to the day that Mohegan Sun opened the doors to the state’s first casino, officials gathered Thursday in front of the venue to mark another historic day: Dedication of Luzerne County’s largest hotel and convention center.
As a cold westerly wind blew, hundreds of people — including plenty of Mohegan Sun employees and tribal gaming authority members — gathered under the hotel’s porte-cochere to see the end result of more than a year’s worth of construction.
But while ground was broken last spring and work began last fall, the idea of a hotel adjoining the casino has been on the master plan for the site since the Mohegans purchased the racetrack from Penn National Gaming in 2004.
“It’s not all the time you see something on paper and it translates so well in reality, but here it really did,” said Bobby Soper, who was the local casino’s first president and was in command when the hotel plans were announced, but was promoted to take over the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn., last October.
He returned to Northeast Pennsylvania this week to see the hotel ceremony and was among the first to spend a night in the hotel.
He said the end result was as he envisioned it way back when the idea was first discussed a few years ago.
“We always hoped to incorporate the hotel as part of the destination experience,” Soper said. He said the convention center and hotel were pieces of the puzzle that were always going to fit; it was just a matter of figuring out when.
Mike Bean, who succeeded Soper last fall, told the crowd “today is a day of celebration — of the growth and strength of this organization — and of this community and region. We have come a long way since opening seven years ago and I am excited to see where the future will take us as we embark on this journey and evolution in our history.”
There were 400 employees when the casino opened with 1,200 slot machines in 2006. In July 2008, the full-scale casino opened with restaurants, bars, shops and expanded slot machine gaming areas.
The employment number ballooned to more than 1,000. In July 2010, table games were added and an additional 700 employees joined the ranks. With the hotel and convention center employees the property now employs about 2,000, making it one of the largest employers in the region and the largest entertainment venue in the northeast part of the state.
While two-thirds of the hotel’s rooms will be available beginning tonight for guests, not all of the hotel’s amenities will be. Crews were still working behind the scenes on a planned swimming pool, bistro, spa and fitness center and some rooms on the upper levels of the hotel.
Mohegan Sun spokeswoman Cathy Soper said it’s likely they’ll all open within two months.
But while the work went on upstairs and behind the scenes on the first level, employees celebrated with dancing, games, food and fun at a pep rally inside the Keystone Ballroom.