Casino Resorts Deliver the Best of Both WorldsAugust 1, 2013

From Non-Stop Action to Chilling Out at the Pool By
August 1, 2013

Casino Resorts Deliver the Best of Both Worlds

From Non-Stop Action to Chilling Out at the Pool
Credit: Beau Rivage Resort & Casino

Credit: Beau Rivage Resort & Casino

Gaming resorts offer meeting attendees the best of both worlds — the excitement of the casino action combined with the relaxation and recreational options afforded by resort hotels.  And an attendee can choose to experience either, depending on his wishes and desires.

They also offer meeting planners a variety of options that are hard to find in other destinations. For example, gaming resorts provide planners with a host of built-in dining and entertainment options. If the planner chooses, his or her group will never have to leave the resort.

And they’re springing up all over the country, giving the planner multiple options, whether it’s a drive-in venue such as Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, or a fly-in destination such as Las Vegas. And the fact they’ve become so ubiquitous means any stigma attached to holding events at a casino resort is fading, making it easier for association planners to convince their boards that gaming resorts make for good meeting destinations.

“And being a tent conference, we don’t necessarily need convention space, we need outside space — parking lots. So that’s what we have to look for, and that’s what Foxwoods was able to provide for us to utilize.”

— Michael F. Tannen, CSEP 
Executive Director, 
Mid-Atlantic Tent Renters Association,
 Wilmington, DE

The ongoing popularity of gaming resorts is evidenced by the numbers. According to the American Gaming Association, U.S. casinos earned $37.3 billion in gross gaming revenue in 2012, a 4.8 percent increase over 2011 and the highest increase since the pre-recessionary days of 2007. And the three largest U.S. casino resort operators, Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts International, and Caesars Entertainment, all reported improved 2013 Q1 financial results over the year before.

In Las Vegas, the renewed confidence in the industry is suggested by the amount of money being poured into the city’s hospitality structure. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, new projects and renovations announced recently represent a $5 billion investment in Las Vegas.

Groups flying into Vegas can see some of this firsthand as soon as they arrive in the city. Last summer, McCarran International Airport opened its Terminal 3 expansion, which included a 1.9 million-sf new terminal building featuring 14 gates, seven of then available for international flights. The expansion increases McCarran’s annual capacity up to 53 million passengers.

Situated on the southern part of the Las Vegas Strip, Mandalay Bay is undergoing a property-wide renovation — its first since it opened in 1999. Changes will include a complete renovation of the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas on floors 35 through 39 of the property, and the opening of the Delano Las Vegas, an all-suite boutique hotel within the resort. Other news includes the opening of Cirque du Soleil’s highly anticipated “Michael Jackson ONE,” and the Daylight Beach Club, a 50,000-sf upscale pool.

Several iconic Las Vegas properties are undergoing transformations. The Sahara Casino, which closed in 2011 after 60 years in business, is being completely renovated and rebranded as SLS Las Vegas. The renovation has been billed as a $750 million project and is expected to be completed by 2014. Also, the Downtown Grand (formerly Lady Luck) is being redeveloped and will feature 650 rooms in two towers, varying in size from 350 to 1,240 sf, as well as the addition of a pool and spa, 50,000 sf of casino floor space and 20,000 sf of retail space.

The Malaysia-based Genting Group has announced plans for a multibillion-dollar Asian-themed resort complex on The Strip, which will include more than 3,500 rooms, 300,000 feet of water and pool space, a replica of the Great Wall of China and 500,000 sf of convention space.

West of The Strip, MGM Resorts International and AEG have announced plans to build a 20,000-seat arena that will be located between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts.

Why Las Vegas?

Chris Dolnack, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, after years of rotating the annual Shot Show between Las Vegas and the eastern U.S., has now settled on Las Vegas as its destination through 2016.

The show, which, according to Trade Show Executive, is the 13th largest in the U.S., uses 625,000 sf of meeting and exhibition space and attracts 62,000 attendees. The Venetian/The Palazzo are the headquarter hotels, and the show is held in the Sands Expo & Convention Center every January.

Why Las Vegas? “It’s the most exciting trade show city in the country,” says Dolnack. “And the Venetian and Palazzo offer a unique venue in that you have enough convention space there, but you also have…another 40,000 hotel rooms within a 10-minute walk.” Dolnack added that for a show like his that attracts people ranging from “mom and pop shop owners to CEOs from publicly traded companies,” it’s important to have a wide range of culinary and entertainment options, which the Venetian and the Palazzo provide.

Dolnack says surveys of his attendees demonstrate a high degree of satisfaction with the two properties as a site for the trade show. “I think the reason is that it just gives the attendees a better overall experience,” Dolnack says. “For our event there are so many post-show parties and receptions that take place on the property, so you aren’t dealing with taxi lines and traffic, and the hassle factor is very low. And when you consider that you can eat in a four- or five-star restaurant every night and never leave the property, it adds up, and, accordingly, we’ve been increasing our room block.”

Dolnack adds that entertainment options within the Venetian and Palazzo — as well as in Las Vegas in general — are varied and affordable, which means that his attendees don’t have to hit the casino floor if they don’t want to. “I’ve gone out there a number of times, and I’ve never put a coin in a slot machine,” he says. “You can pretty much find whatever it is you want to do, whether it’s getting some peace and quiet by the pool, or enjoying a raucous time at the roulette table.”


To the northwest, Reno-Sparks provides another prime gaming resort in the state of Nevada, and a number of its properties are going through a transformation.

The Silver Legacy Resort Casino has $6 million worth of additions, upgrades and renovations planned for 2013. A new Starbucks is now open on the main casino floor, and the resort’s lineup of restaurants has been supplemented by a new, old-style Mexican hot spot in Hussong’s Cantina & Taqueria. The Café Sedona has experienced a complete remodel and has reopened as Café Central, with an expanded menu and a fresh look.

Grand Sierra Resort and Casino is continuing a $25 million renovation. The main entrance features the chandelier from the original MGM Hotel and Casino, which is now surrounded by fresh lounge-style seating and digital displays featuring the Reno-Tahoe area. The lobby has seen substantial upgrades, including new carpeting and rubbed bronze and brushed aluminum highlights at check-in. Guest rooms throughout the resort also were upgraded. Located in the heart of the casino floor, the new, premier ultra-lounge WET features flair bartenders, live music and exclusive design features, and the resort has added a small-plate Mexican restaurant called Cantina. In addition, an indoor pool, nightclub, sports book and racquetball court are all planned for 2013, and its 200,000 sf of meeting space will be renovated as well.

Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino has completed a $20 million renovation of its guest rooms, the Sierra Café and the Spa Terrace Conference Center. The property’s 398 guest rooms make up the bulk of the renovation project, with $18 million worth of improvements; including oak furniture complementing new carpeting of dark gray mocha, back-lit mirrors, modern showers, locally themed artwork and “jack packs,” all-in-one media hubs that easily pair the television with laptops and media players.

According to the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, any lingering bias on the part of groups toward gaming resorts as a meeting destination is diminishing as more and more of them spring up across the country.

Meeting attendees at gaming resorts don’t even have to set foot in a casino if they choose not to. “When groups come to our hotels they can check in, go to their rooms and meeting spaces, and then back to the rooms without ever having to go to the casino floor,” said an executive.

Price point also works in a gaming resort’s favor —  particularly in a smaller city such as Reno, because casino resorts rely more on gambling than accommodations and food and beverage to drive their profits.

Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, phase one of the former Isle of Capri’s transformation was completed in June, with the unveiling  of the Golden Nugget Biloxi brand, along with a redesigned and renovated casino floor featuring 300 new slots, several new restaurants including a Morton’s Steakhouse, and newly renovated guest rooms and suites. The $100 million transformation project is expected to be completed in 2014 and will include more restaurants, retail shops, a grand ballroom with new meeting rooms, a new 35,000-sf casino, a new high-limit gaming room, and H20 resort pool complemented by all-season hot tubs and fire pits.

The largest and most recognizable property along the Gulf Coast continues to be Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi. It not only has the most meeting space and guest rooms on the Gulf Coast, but its 32 stories and 3.2 million sf make it the biggest and tallest building in the state of Mississippi.

Debra Dixon Doss, executive director of the Southeastern Association of School Business Officials (SASBO), headquartered in Burlington, NC, has brought several meetings to Beau Rivage over the past several years, including its annual conference in April 2012 as well as smaller board meetings.

Doss says that the Beau Rivage appealed to her group because of the amount and type of meeting space it provided and because it — and the surrounding area — provided her attendees with plenty of culinary and entertainment options. The casino resort has 11 restaurants, “so there’s plenty of places to go if (an attendee) wants to stay in the hotel, but you can walk out of the door and there’s another 15 to 20 restaurants within walking distance.” She pointed out that the Casino Hopper also gives guests easy access to other Biloxi casinos.

The meeting spaced worked particularly well for her group, Doss says, in that she designs her annual conference so it provides maximum display time for her exhibitors. Thus, the exhibit hall was organized in such a way that as soon as you walked in you could see every exhibitor, but space also was available for business sessions as well. “So once the attendees got into that exhibit hall they never had to leave,” she says. “It was very interactive, and their space is perfect to allow that.”

Doss’ group also used the resort’s outside space — particularly an area by the pool overlooking the Gulf of Mexico — for a reception/dinner — that was, she says, “beautiful, and within our budget — which is important since we’re a non-profit.”

Other benefits of using the Beau Rivage, Doss says, include the fact that the hotel was willing to work with her on small budget board meetings, and that the facility’s convention area is away from the casino. “So you don’t hear any of the noise,” she points out. “In fact, once you get upstairs you wouldn’t even know you’re in a casino.”

The Northeast

Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun continue to dominate the gaming resort market in the Northeast, although competition could soon be coming from neighboring Massachusetts, which is in the process of determining who will get the state’s three casino licenses.

In the meantime, Foxwoods, which is located in Mashantucket, CT, and attracts about one-third of its patrons from Massachusetts, is vying to maintain a hold on that clientele. The casino resort is upgrading its main concourse area with new retail space and restaurants, and also will be opening up a “premium outlet retail mall” with about 75 stores.

Mohegan Sun in nearby Uncasville, CT, has been busy renovating its nightlife venues. Last summer the resort launched GLO at the Pool, transforming the pool and large outdoor terrace area in a late-night party area complete with swimming, full-service cabanas, fire pits and entertainment. Mohegan Sun also has turned what used to be Leffingwells Martine Bar into Vista Lounge at Wombi Rock, an “ultra-lounge” with a live-DJ booth and blackjack tables.

Michael F. Tannen, CSEP, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Tent Renters Association (MATRA) has brought his organization’s annual meeting to both of these resorts. In fact, his group has been quite partial to casino resorts over the years, and this year’s conference will be held at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino in Dover, DE.

Casino resorts work well for his group for a variety of reasons says Tannen, including the fact that they are self-contained, which means his attendees don’t have to leave the property.

More important, a place such as Foxwoods, which has a huge drive-in business, has plenty of parking. “And being a tent conference, we don’t necessarily need convention space, we need outside space — parking lots,” says Tannen. “So that’s what we have to look for, and that’s what Foxwoods was able to provide for us to utilize.”

Last year’s MATRA conference — its 25th anniversary conference — was held in November, just after Hurricane Sandy hit. Tent layout and installation began on the first day of the conference and was completed the next day. Everything having to do with the event was to be held in the tents — educational sessions, vendor exhibits, and even the 25th anniversary dinner and follow-up awards brunch.

Unfortunately, the New England weather didn’t cooperate as an early winter storm hit the area. This forced Tannen and his team to move the dinner inside, a transition that Tannen says Foxwoods was able to easily accommodate.

So, whether it’s the excitement of the casino floor — or that provided by a winter nor’easter — gaming resorts can pretty much deal with anything that a meeting planner or attendee needs. AC&F

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