Facing intense casino competition, Foxwoods promotes outlet stores to broaden entertainment

Industries Associated Press

Foxwoods Resort Casino opened a $129 million retail outlet center Thursday to throw some elbows in a crowded market, draw more visitors, make a play for younger gamblers and promote an enterprise that's increasingly an entertainment destination rather than a gambling mecca.

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Felix Rappaport, president and chief executive officer of Foxwoods, said the 315,000-square-foot Tanger Outlets with 80 stores is intended to attract visitors who don't necessarily play the slot machines or work the poker tables.

"There are lots of great customers who barely gamble," he said. "They come by for the spa, to play golf. We really want to focus on being a destination resort. It only makes sense as an industry that we become less gaming-centric."

Steven B. Tanger, president and CEO of Tanger Factory Outlets, also cited the outlet stores as an entertainment site.

"For the casino we're going to entertain the non-gambling members of the family while the person who likes to game can do that, so everyone is happy," he said.

Foxwoods, which is promoting the Tanger Outlets with weekend activities that include a tightrope walk 80 feet up by Nik Wallenda, and neighboring Mohegan Sun face stiff competition from Massachusetts. The Bay State awarded resort casino licenses for an $800 million MGM project in Springfield expected to open in late 2017 and a $1.7 billion Wynn Resorts project in Everett scheduled to open in 2018. Brockton voters on Tuesday narrowly approved a casino referendum for a $650 million resort.

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In addition, Connecticut's two casinos face competition from gambling sites in New York City and Rhode Island.

The Mohegan Sun also is expanding its non-gambling attractions. Though it announced in June 2013 a $50 million project calling for more retail space, a multiplex movie theater, bowling and clothing stores, its plan now is to build a second hotel in Uncasville.

The 400-room, $120 million hotel is "our main focus," spokeswoman Lauren Long said.

Foxwoods hopes shoppers in their 20s and 30s who visit outlet stores such as American Eagle Outfitters, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein and other stores will become loyal casino customers.

"We're always concerned that our demographic tends to skew a little bit older," Rappaport said. "This will give us a new generation of people, not just new people, but people who are not serious slot or table game players, but who will say, 'While I'm here shopping, maybe I'll spend a little time on the floor.'"

Gambling market expert Clyde Barrow at the University of Texas said 65 percent of slot users are women 40 and older.

Casinos have been adding non-gambling activities at casinos for 10 years, with slot machines "essentially commodities" available anywhere, he said. Shows, stores, golf, restaurants and other non-gambling attractions account for 50 percent of Las Vegas' business and 30 percent at Atlantic City, he said.

Offering other forms of entertainment keeps gamblers at the casino after they're done betting, Barrow said. Gamblers will typically play for two or three hours and "unless there's something else to do, they'll go home."

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