Tom Cantone: “It’s something everyone should take a second look at, to make sure everyone feels special to the team.” (Courtesy Mohegan Sun)

Bothered by terms for employee categories, Mohegan exec switches to ‘required,’ ‘not required’

In some ways, Tom Cantone feels like an air traffic controller.

As the president of sports and entertainment for Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, Cantone said he could complete the task except that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he doesn’t have anywhere to fly his planes.

“We postponed about 140 or 150 shows right now,” he said of all MGE properties, headed by the 10,000-capacity Mohegan Sun Arena at Mohegan Sun casino and resort in Uncasville, Conn., which has temporarily closed to fall in line with Connecticut social distancing guidelines.  “We had no cancelations other than a sporting event. All of our shows are in a postponed status. Some have landed on other dates. Others are waiting to find a date they then can reschedule.”

Mohegan Sun Arena is among the busiest venues of its size in the world. It placed third on VenuesNow’s list of 2019 North American Top Stops in the 10,000-15,000 Capacity category, with 676,296 tickets sold and a gross of nearly $48 million.

With the financial hit from the novel coronavirus, MGE needed to determine who among its employees was and was not “essential” as it, like many other properties, moved to furlough some of its workforce, but those terms bothered Cantone.

“It always bothered me over the years. This isn’t the first time we’ve had a crisis — especially in my career,” he said, referring back to the Three Mile Island nuclear plant emergency, strikes, hurricanes and recessions. “Whenever I heard a company say nonessential and essential, I thought it was demeaning for the nonessentials. It’s like they were not worth as much as the others.

“When it came up again over this crisis, we went down the same road as every other venue. That’s when I had the opportunity to maybe change the terminology about who they are and the role. That’s when ‘required’ and ‘not required’ came about. We embraced it. It’s something everyone should take a second look at, to make sure everyone feels special to the team, always.”

At the MGE properties, water and electricity must run and security is required.

“There are a lot of things you have to do on the engineering side,” Cantone said. “You can’t just close the lights. You have to maintain a system of monitoring everything that makes the property run.

“We have to do daily inspections. We’re running the water in every hotel room. Keeping the plumbing going is a Herculean effort. We have more than 1,400 hotel rooms (on the Mohegan Sun campus). It’s a massive effort. We have a team in place to do that.”

Cleaning the property is still a necessity — especially now that MGE has an expanded cleaning effort.

“The virus has taught us a lot of different ways to keep the property clean and secure,” Cantone said.

Management and communications have been keeping the team members informed, updated and encouraged that the pandemic is just temporary and that folks like Cantone look forward to reopening.

“We plant the seed of hope,” he said. “Hope is a good thing. It’s important that we maintain a positive posture that we will be reopening very soon. We’re all looking for a sense of normalcy. We need to appreciate life — even the bad days. We even want those.”