Global Gaming Business magazine recognizes local casino executives

Wednesday 8th January 2020

Old Saybrook -- Two of Global Gaming Business magazine's "25 People to Watch" for 2020 feature Mohegan Sun on their resumes.

One of them, Mario Kontomerkos, is chief executive officer of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, Mohegan Sun's corporate parent. The other, Jeff Hartmann, spent more than 15 years at Mohegan Sun, serving as chief financial officer, chief operating officer and finally CEO. After leaving Mohegan Sun in 2012, he founded The Hartmann Group, which advises casino resorts on all aspects of operations and has landed such clients as Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City and a number of casino-owning Indian tribes, including the Mashantucket Pequots.

But it's Hartmann's spin-off company, Experientia Development Partners, that the magazine cites in its "People to Watch" piece, published this month.

Hartmann co-founded Experientia -- Latin for "experience" -- in 2017, recognizing that, as Global Gaming Business puts it, "the future of gaming lies not in gaming but in the amenities associated with it." Cast as a real estate development company, Experientia specializes in nongaming offerings vital to resort casinos operating in increasingly competitive markets: restaurants, retail outlets and various forms of entertainment.

In an interview Tuesday at The Hartmann Group's offices in the Saybrook Junction Marketplace, Hartmann said he's capitalized on his years with Mohegan Sun.

"I learned a lot from Sol (Kerzner) and Len (Wolman)," he said, referring to two of the "really talented people who created Mohegan Sun." David Rockwell, the renowned designer responsible for much of Mohegan Sun's look, also was a major influence, Hartmann said.

Experientia's other co-founder, Matt Armstrong, previously was president of the Gordon Group, the Greenwich-based real estate company that helped develop such innovative retail projects as The Shops at Mohegan Sun and the Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Hartmann said Experientia is developing The Shops at Harrah's Cherokee, a $115 million project at Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort near Asheville, N.C. Experientia will own and act as leasing agent for the property and is developing it under a long-term ground lease with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Groundbreaking for the project, which will include 45 shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, is scheduled for the fall, Hartmann said.

The project is adjacent to a new 720-room hotel and convention center.

Experientia can provide tribal gaming operators with corporate expertise as well as access to vendors and "a cadre of people, including sports-betting partners, gaming-technology partners" with whom the company has relationships, Hartmann said.

Two of The Hartmann Group's executives have moved on to top positions with tribal casinos.

Mike Bean, who joined Hartmann after serving as president of Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., is now the CEO of Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., which is owned by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. Chris Wilks, another Mohegan Sun alumnus who signed on with The Hartmann Group, has since become chief financial officer of the Lucky Eagle Casino & Resort in Rochester, Wash., which the Chehalis Tribe owns.

Kontomerkos, the Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment chief executive named to the Global Gaming Business "People to Watch" list, was recognized for his handling of MGE's "full plate" of enterprises, including Inspire, the integrated resort MGE is developing in South Korea.

Credited with deftly handling competition from new resort casinos in Massachusetts over the past year, Kontomerkos told the magazine the Mohegan Tribe had prepared for the competition by expanding Mohegan Sun's nongaming lineup.

"Mohegan Sun introduced to the Northeast market a world of play that had only been seen in Las Vegas, offering gaming, dining, shopping, entertainment and meetings and convention space all under one roof," Kontomerkos said.

A year ago, Mohegan Sun's president and general manager, Jeff Hamilton, was a Globing Gaming Business pick for "People to Watch" in 2019. He was the casino's assistant general manager at the time.

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