Fire Kills Power at Conn. Casino

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.

The Mohegan Tribal Power Authority and Mohegan fire officials were still investigating the fire, but Etess said foul play was not suspected.

Because of the timing of the incidents, the outages were manageable and guests were cooperative, casino officials said. It could have been different, though, if the electricity went out Wednesday night, when the casino expected 35,000 to come through for several events including a sold-out James Taylor concert at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The casino lost power a few years ago during a double lightning strike, but it was brief and all backup generators worked at the time, Mohegan Sun officials said.

Etess said he didn't expect major changes to the casino power systems. Mohegan Sun did a large-scale study of its electrical grid after Bellagio, a major casino in Las Vegas, had outages in 2004.

Foxwoods spokeswoman Sandra Rios said no noticeable overflow crowd veered there from Mohegan Sun during the outage. Rios said Foxwoods officials offered to help workers restore power at Mohegan, but she did not know if they accepted the offer.

Back at Mohegan, traffic was steady in the parking lots as the electricity came back on. About 11 a.m., six friends from Connecticut and Massachusetts piled out of an SUV. They heard about the outages on the radio, but were eager for a day of slots together.

"We said we have to come. And if we couldn't, we'd go elsewhere," said Lou Salisbury, a retiree from Woodstock.

Courant Staff Writer Jesse Leavenworth contributed to this report.

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