photos by Alexis Ann
by Jessica Warzeniak
On my drive from the Resident office on Route 1 in Stonington, I couldn’t help wonder about the excitement of Vegas coming to the woods of Mashantucket. As a child, I remember driving with my family down the narrow Route 2 to the Rhode Island beaches. Now, I was about to get a glimpse of Vegas in these same woods. There it is rising above the trees. What a spectacular sight!
Pulling into the drive, I couldn’t even see the top of the building through my windshield because it is so tall. I thought, now this is why they call it GRAND!
Being that it was my first time at MGM Grand at Foxwoods, I accidentally self-parked in the valet parking lot. (Oops) I walked into the building, luckily right where I needed to be and was greeted with a friendly “hello” from the coat check and valet desk attendants. After signing in at the media desk, I found my way to the back of the casino floor, in front of the Grand Theater, where the press conference was scheduled to begin at 2:30, this Friday afternoon, May 16.
I was meeting my boss lady, Alexis Ann, editor & publisher, the Resident. She wasn’t in sight yet but I knew she was wherever the action was as the photographer for this event. Governor Rell was due to arrive so I’m sure she was with her clicking away!
Soon, 1,700 handpicked MGM team members filtered into the area surrounding the seats setup for the press conference. The air was charged with anticipation. All 1,400 slot machines, waiting it be used for the first time, enticed enticing tunes and glittered with flashing lights. Press poured in, just as excited as I was to get a first glimpse of the new casino.
Voices traveled into the area from behind us, and everyone turned around to see who was coming. The Governor was here! Surrounded by Tribal and hotel officials, Governor Rell looked around, awestruck, at the sheer elegance that MGM Grand revealed. All stood up and clapped for the Governer’s arrival.
Alexis greeted me and then took her position closer to the front for optimal photo ops.
Patricia Irvin, CEO, MPTN, approached the podium and greeted guests, “It is truly an exciting day. I am thrilled to be here.” After Pat introduced the Tribal, MGM Grand, Foxwoods, and State officials, Anthony Sebastian, Tribal Elder, offered the blessing.
Chairman Michael Thomas, MPTN, introduced Governor M. Jodi Rell, “It is a great honor to introduce our very special guest speaker. She has dedicated more than 20 years of public service life. She is responsible for the creation of the State Ethics Commission and saving the Groton – New London Subase.”
“Governor Rell is the first woman Republican governor in the history of our nation,” continued the Chairman. The crowd cheers. “She is a supporter of Tribal sovereignty.” The cheers are even louder.
Gov. Rell humbly takes the stage, greeting her fans. She introduces her husband, Lou, “He wanted to be in the background today.” To which everyone laughs as he waves on stage.
“As I took my tour today, five words came to mind… ‘the wonder of it all!’” said the Governor. “Foxwoods has gotten a whole lot bigger and a whole lot better!” It was apparent that the Governor was amazed at the long list of amenities MGM Grand has to offer, “New dining facilities, new retail stores, and of course the luxurious spa facilities, this is going to be a woman’s getaway, and I can’t wait to help promote that. Just think of all the shopping we can do!”
Speaking about Vice Chairman Kenneth Reels, Gov. Rell says, “you can see the pride in his face, in his voice, as he pointed out all the people who work here.”
Turning to the new cameras Gov. Rell informs, “When you get here, your jaws are going to drop!”
Tribal dignitaries presented the Governor with a stuffed lion, the MGM Grand mascot, holding lilies and a framed picture of the MGM Grand.
Laura Cahill, Deputy State Director and Counsel for Senator Joseph Lieberman, expresses the Senator’s regrets, telling the audience that, “duties in DC require him to be there.”
Laura reads a letter from the Senator, “I would like to send my formal congratulations….”
“Foxwoods, through the opening of MGM Grand, is adding to its already dominate roll in employment. They improve the quality of the lives of our communities….”
“I am pleased to join in recognizing them.”
Rodney Butler, Tribal Council Treasurer, takes the podium, “It is a distinguished honor and pleasure to introduce the most charismatic and dynamic leader, president and CEO of the MGM Mirage Hospitality Group, Gamal Aziz.”
Looking to the left and right at the MGM team members lining the room, “I just want to say, this is the best looking staff in my 27 years!” said Gamal, Las Vegas. Which, of course, brought on lots and lots of cheers. “It is the people at MGM Grand at Foxwoods that breath life into it, continues Gamal. “The success we’ve had at MGM Detroit, Las Vegas, Macau, and those coming to Abu Dhabi and Atlantic City, represents the common values of our internationally recognized brand.”
As the next speaker walks to the podium, the staff goes wild and the “roar” is almost deafening. Gillian Murphy, Senior Vice President and General Manager, MGM Grand at Foxwoods, is obviously well liked.
“I am in awe of the 28,000 people in the area of CT and as far as Las Vegas and Atlantic City who said that ‘This might be a place I want to come and work,’” says Gillian. “We’re committed to delivering the most extraordinary customer service experience and the most wonderful amenities, so please bring those customers. Oh, and let’s make some money!”
Gillian went on to thank the mayors and first selectmen of the surrounding towns, “Without their support, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we have in the 16 years we’ve been here.”
Chairman Michael Thomas once again took the stage, thanking all of the employees, the Executive Oversight Team, and the Building Trade Unions for “an outstanding job.” He thanked Rodney Butler for being the project leader. Michael explained, “It is the first time in our history that an individual of the Tribal council has been elected in charge of a project.”
“When you have built the world’s largest and most successful brand, it is quite a leap to invite anybody else’s brand to your sovereign territory,” informed Michael.
“So my final thank you goes to this Tribal community for having the foresight to understand that the combination of the best people in gaming in the East and the best people in gaming in the West can truly do remarkable things.”
At the conclusion of the speeches, the Tribal councilors lead the Governor on a special behind the scenes tour, starting with the theater. The new 4,000 seat theater decorated in reds and natural wood is beyond words.
Mayor Ben Lathrop, Norwich, leans over to me and says, “Magnificent! Just look at it!” He is as obviously lost for words as I am. One thing is for sure, every seat in the house will be a great seat.