Fire Kills Power at Conn. Casino

Back-up power system failed, shutting down games, security


Aug. 24--UNCASVILLE -- Shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday, while hundreds of patrons were playing slots or cards or sleeping in the hotel, a fire broke out at a transformer for Mohegan Sun casino, shutting off electricity to the giant complex.

Casino officials had no need to worry, even though Mohegan Sun uses as much electricity as 25,000 homes. Banks of generators were ready to keep the casino operating and provide emergency power to the 34-story hotel tower, popular restaurants and high-end shops.

But as the backup power came on, a second fire started, crippling three generators and forcing officials to shut Casino of the Sky, one of Mohegan Sun's two casinos, for more than six hours. Only portions of the second, Casino of the Earth, remained open.

The electricity needed to carefully choreograph and protect the resort suddenly wasn't there. In Casino of the Sky, the colorful dials of its slot machines stopped spinning. Surveillance cameras went dark, immediately ending blackjack and other table games. An opulent fountain in the shopping mall that runs between the two casinos went dry. Everything in the climate-controlled, windowless, high-security casino depends on electricity.

Luckily for Mohegan Sun, the electricity started to come back on at 9:30 a.m. - one of the slowest times of the day, but still busy during summer vacation.

Wednesday night, casino officials were still investigating the outage. They were also trying to determine how it affected profits.

"At the time of the day it happened, we were somewhat fortunate," said Mitchell Etess, president and chief executive officer of Mohegan Sun.

He said he wouldn't know until today how much the resort lost during one of its busiest times of year.

The casino, for example, averaged $2.7 million a day in just slot machine revenue last month, according to state figures.

"If you're down completely without electricity, you are talking large sums of money being lost - even in 12 hours," said Warren Sackler, professor of hospitality and service management at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

But Mohegan Sun's casinos never went completely down.

When the outage occurred, casino officials shut down 31 gaming tables and switched off 2,700 slot machines. Backup generators kept most of the resort's Casino of the Earth running, and some people shifted over there, Mohegan Sun officials said. Some went to nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Mohegan Sun's 1,200-room hotel, which was at near-capacity Wednesday morning, took a hit as well.

Guests awoke to dark rooms and hotel employees in the hallways with flashlights. A continental breakfast was scraped together, and the casino gave discounts of 50 percent or more on room rates, officials said.

"My children needed to use the bathroom, and we couldn't see a thing," said Lisa Agosta, who traveled to Mohegan Sun from Long Island to celebrate her husband's birthday.

She had compliments and complaints for the casino's staff as she described navigating down to the lobby from a room on the 21st floor. She said the staff was helpful, but no one was in the darkened staircases to guide guests, including some who were elderly, to the ground floor.

The casino and Connecticut State Police reported no injuries or crimes, such as theft, during the outage.

Electricity is crucial for the casino's sophisticated security system. Any table where a surveillance camera wasn't working had to be shut down. One of the first moves when the power went out, casino officials said, was securing all the chips and money.

The casino's "Player's Club" cards came in handy for people who were gambling on slot machines when the power went out. Mohegan Sun used information from the reward cards to track down those players and cut them checks for the money they had in the machines when the outage occurred, casino officials said.

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