The prospect of holding a business meeting at a casino resort may pose a problem for some organizations, but gaming resorts can provide a powerful draw and attract many more attendees. Moreover, these resorts offer a great deal more than just slots and table gaming. Like other meeting-savvy hotels, gaming properties have staff members who know what planners need, as well as onsite amenities that range from ample meeting and function space to stellar dining, top-tier entertainment and engaging activities that have nothing to do with gaming.
Ask five planners whether gaming impacted their decision to meet at a gaming resort and the answers are hardly uniform. A national business agent for a government employee-based association brought a meeting to Atlantic City in March. On the subject of gaming, he says, “It is a positive. We put in long hours and when it is over, I want them to have some fun. I don’t think we would have had the large turnout we did without the gaming aspect,” he explains.
The Washington Library Association met at Tulalip Resort Casino in Marysville, Washington, in April. Executive Director Dana Murphy-Love, CAE, says that gaming was “not a factor at all in our decision, but I believe it is a positive feature for some of our attendees.”
Ricki Garrett, Ph.D., executive director for the Mississippi Podiatric Medical Association, which met in Biloxi, Mississippi, in March, believes that “gaming is neither a draw nor a negative factor” for her members.
And when Beverly Hastings, CMP, meetings and events project manager for Jacksonville, Florida-based American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, was planning a regional meeting in Las Vegas in June, she specifically chose a hotel where the meeting room was away from the gaming. “I personally didn’t want to have to walk through the casino to get to the meeting room,” she says.
Casino smoke was more of a factor than the gaming for Shawn Bryant, director of meetings for the Alexandria, Virginia-based Ambulatory Surgery Center Association, which met in Arizona in October. A number of his attendees liked the fact that they didn’t have to walk through a smoky casino to get to meetings. As for gaming itself, “It was not a draw for us,” Bryant says. “I don’t think our members had a positive or negative idea of it, at least from the evals.”
Planners shouldn’t dismiss casino hotels simply because a group has no interest in slots and tables. With gaming resorts sprinkled across the country, finding ones that meet planners’ needs is an easy task. The best options attract a remarkably diverse selection of conferences and attendees — gaming enthusiasts and not.
Like many gaming resorts in this country, Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, is a Native American enterprise, which gives groups the opportunity to integrate aspects of the native culture into meetings if they choose. Talking Stick, owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, has a stellar collection of Native American artwork, for example. It also has all the attributes one expects of AAA Four Diamond resorts, including golf and a spa.
The layout of the meeting space was a positive for Bryant’s 100 attendees. “We had our own section of meeting space that was closed in by the edge of the hotel,” he says. “Our F&B was able to be self-contained, and no other groups would walk through since we were the ‘end of the road.’ ”
“We had our own section of meeting space that was closed in by the edge of the hotel. Our F&B was able to be self-contained, and no other groups would walk through since we were the ‘end of the road.’ ” — Shawn Bryant
Bryant also liked that the hotel is an all-suite property and offers a variety of restaurants. While “the view from the high-end restaurant was amazing,” Bryant notes that his group typically goes with lower costs for F&B. At Talking Stick that doesn’t mean boring. “Each meal and snack break offered good variety,” he says.
Scottsdale itself was definitely a draw because of its accessibility, airlift option and, not surprisingly, the weather. “Attendees loved the number of balconies around the meeting space so they could enjoy the outdoors on breaks.”
The resort also offered a few surprises related to the casino and its location, something Bryant says should be communicated to attendees in advance. “I assumed that like in Vegas, the meeting space would be far from the guest rooms and would involve a long walk through the casino,” he says. That was not the case. “It was just a short walk from the guest rooms to the meeting space,” and the casino (and its smoke) could easily be skipped. Being able to avoid the casino between accommodations and meetings, Bryant notes, “is rare in gambling properties” and definitely translated to a positive for his attendees.
New Jersey’s most famous gaming destination is ideal for groups looking for an affordable meeting site with lots to do when meetings wrap up. “I cover a large area: half of New York State, half of New Jersey, the tip of Connecticut and the Caribbean,” the government association’s national business agent says. “Atlantic City is ideally situated to have my members attend my training sessions. And with all the activities available — the casino, shows, restaurants, the beach and boardwalk — I cannot think of a better location in the tri-state area. The prices are great also!”
Bally’s, part of the Caesars Entertainment family of hotels and casinos, served as host hotel for the 300-plus government employee group. “We were looking for an inexpensive location with enough room to do our training and after-training activities for my members to enjoy,” he says. “Bally’s had it all.”
The group used Bally’s conference and meeting rooms, the hotel’s AV equipment and booked the hotel’s catering for breakfast. “The technical people were great. They were always there offering advice and ready to take on any problems. They did their job so well we didn’t have any problems,” he notes. “Conference rooms were big, clean and set up perfectly for our needs. Service was outstanding.”
Atlantic City is home to well-known chefs and restaurants, and the group gathered at two Pacific Avenue eateries. About Morton’s The Steakhouse Atlantic City, the venue for a dinner meeting, the national business agent says, “I can’t say enough about the food and service.” The group also visited Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars in Atlantic City, which he describes as “good food and service at very reasonable rates.”
In the end, both the city and hotel delivered exactly what the government association’s national business agent wanted. “It is a beautiful location, a fun town and offers reasonable, affordable rates for my members,” he says. “The only surprise was that there were no surprises. You usually have something go wrong when having a large event. Everything went fine, no problems.”
To other planners considering Atlantic City, he says, “Put your trust in the people of Bally’s, especially Judy Sereni. They will put together an event that your members will remember, and it will be problem free.”
Billed as the largest resort of its kind in North America, Foxwoods Resort Casino encompasses four hotels, 2,200 guest rooms, 150,000 sf of conference space, six casinos and more than 30 restaurants and lounges. There are shows of every variety, 20 bowling lanes, and the Rees Jones-designed golf course has come in at No. 1 on multiple lists of Connecticut’s top courses.
Attendees can enjoy two opulent spas as well as the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, which provides insight into the history and culture of Connecticut’s Native American people. The museum also offers 64,000 sf of rentable space. In May, the resort announced the opening of Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods, 300,000 sf lined with popular outlet stores to entice shoppers.
Also in eastern Connecticut is Mohegan Sun, owned by the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut. Accommodations are currently within the 34-story, 1,200-room Sky Hotel. In March, the resort announced a major expansion to include the seven-story, 400-room Earth Hotel, slated to open in fall 2016. Meanwhile, the resort has plenty to attract attendees in addition to its meeting space: three casinos, a spa, a golf course, multiple restaurants and bars, and three entertainment venues including a 10,000-seat arena.
Set on the Gulf of Mexico, Biloxi, Mississippi, combines its gaming industry with Gulf beaches, fresh-caught seafood and Southern hospitality, and Garrett thinks planners should not miss an opportunity to take a meeting there. She brought her group of 100 members of the Mississippi Podiatric Medical Association to the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in part because she had been there many times before.
“I had repeatedly used it during my 7½ years as executive director of the Mississippi Nurses Association and had always considered it one of my favorite hotels,” she says. “The staff are wonderful and there is a lot of attention to detail. The fact that it overlooks the Gulf of Mexico also is an incentive for hosting a meeting there.
“The service is always excellent from the moment you check in until the moment you check out. Our board had an excellent experience at the Italian restaurant, Stalla. Everyone also enjoys the beautiful shops in the Beau Rivage and the gorgeous flowers.”
Among the highlights was a Friday evening reception at the hotel. “It featured Creole food and, unlike some receptions, our members stayed all evening and enjoyed the food, music and visiting,” Garrett says. Another plus, she adds, was the Bloody Mary/Mimosa break provided by catering. “Our members thought it was fun.”
The city, too, attracts attendees. “Biloxi is a good fit because it has a lot to interest our members, including the Beau Rivage, beaches, shopping, gaming and cultural centers,” Garrett says. “It also has a very relaxed atmosphere. There are many wonderful restaurants in Biloxi, and it is a wonderful place for members to take their families.”
Although it attracts groups from across the nation and the globe, Las Vegas also is a setting for regional meetings that draw on the more than 2 million people living and working in the greater metropolitan area.
Hastings had to put together a short meeting focused on diabetes for 200 members of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists in the area. But booking space without hotel rooms can be a challenge in Las Vegas, which is one reason Hastings chose Tuscany Suites & Casino.
“I chose to be off The Strip as this is a small (by Vegas standards) event and has no room nights, which limited space selection in several Strip hotels. Some wouldn’t even consider us; others wouldn’t give me a room until six weeks out — not an option for me.”
Because the event is educational, Hastings wanted a hotel without the typical Las Vegas frenetic activity, another challenge in this highly energized city. “I wanted a hotel that most likely would not have a motivational sales group in the next room (which happened at the Hilton a few years ago), as that is very disruptive. I’ve been to the Tuscany and know it to be quiet and calmer than some of the others, and that’s a good fit for this event,” she says.
And the price was right. “Cost is a huge factor for this event,” Hastings notes. “It’s pharma-grant supported and complimentary to attendees, so we appreciate savings.”
Murphy-Love, who also is president of Melby, Cameron & Anderson, an association management company based in Edmonds, Washington, is very familiar with Tulalip Resort Casino. “Several of our clients have meetings at Tulalip. It is a great location, just a little north of Seattle, but close to restaurants, the Skagit Valley, etc. The hotel rooms and meeting space are among the best in the United States. Our delegates rave about this hotel.”
The 2015 Conference is the second that the Washington Library Association has held at Tulalip, and the group will likely meet there again in 2018. “Service is excellent. Many of the staff members have been with Tulalip since it opened in 2008. The venue is beautiful and centrally located, and meeting space and hotel rooms are separate from the gaming space and non-smoking,” Murphy-Love says.
This year, the theme for the group of 350 created a nice pairing opportunity for the resort’s catering staff. “Our theme was Libraries are Market Fresh, so the chef customized menus for us to highlight local fresh foods,” Murphy-Love says. “We used hotel catering for all of our functions and the food was excellent.”
While the group didn’t have any scheduled events offsite this year, Murphy-Love notes that the hotel provides free shuttles to the outlet mall next door as well as to the Hibulb Cultural Center, a facility interpreting the history and culture of Washington’s Tulalip tribes.
If there is any downside to Tulalip Resort Casino, it is its popularity. “Meet in the middle of the week,” Murphy-Love advises. “The hotel sells out on weekends to visitors, mostly from Canada.”
The bottom line is this: Whether you and your attendees are gaming enthusiasts or not, there are many reasons for considering a gaming resort for your next meeting — wherever in the country you may be convening.
Perhaps the biggest news for the region is the $125.8 million Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center. The final steel beam was signed and installed in October. When it opens in August, the development will become the largest convention center-hotel complex between Baltimore and Boston, featuring two 50,000-sf ballrooms that can be divided into 29 sections and utilized by up to 5,000 attendees. More than 2,500 hotel rooms will be directly accessible from the meeting space.
In April, the shuttered Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City was finally purchased for $82 million by a developer. What’s currently known is that the property will have a name change. Stay tuned for more.
Caesars Entertainment has been busy opening restaurants this past year. Martorano’s opened at Harrah’s, Buca di Beppo and Boardwalk Cupcakes are now open at Bally’s, and famously irate Chef Gordon Ramsay has launched an English-style pub at Caesars Atlantic City, where he installed the Hell’s Kitchen season 13 winner, La Tasha McCutchen, as head restaurant chef.
In November, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa announced plans for a $13 million property-wide renovation that includes a redesign of the Borgata Buffet and renovations to the spa, casino, front desk area and Borgata suites. In March, the resort also announced plans to build an outdoor entertainment venue, Festival Park, as well as a new nightclub to be completed later this year. The first performers taking the stage at Festival Park this summer include Meghan Trainor, Willie Nelson, Darius Rucker and Counting Crows.
Tropicana Atlantic City announced completion of its $50 million, resort-wide revitalization in May. Upgrades to the North Tower hotel rooms, a completely renovated casino, the all-new AtlantiCare LifeCenter Fitness Center and the new Tropicana Multimedia Light and Sound Show are part of the improvements.
Resorts Casino Hotel announced plans for a $9.4 million expansion of its convention space that will create an additional 12,500 sf and 11 new conference rooms, for a total of 64,000-plus sf of meeting and function space. The renovation, slated for completion this summer, also will include guest bathrooms in the Ocean Tower.
MGM Park, a sports and entertainment complex across the river from Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, is scheduled to open this summer. It will be the home of the Major League Baseball Milwaukee Brewers AA farm team and a venue for events, concerts and outdoor festivals.
Last summer, The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino began renovating its standard guest suites, giving the super roomy accommodations a lighter, brighter aesthetic and desks with a media “hub” system featuring USB charging facilities among other business-friendly elements.
Arriving for a convention late at night? Flying out early? For guests at The Mirage that’s no problem. Pantry, a 24-hour eatery that opened last fall, offers breakfast and dessert 24/7 with lunch and dinner available from 11 a.m.–6 a.m.
Mandalay Bay Convention Center is adding 350,000 sf of exhibit space and other upgrades for a total of more than 2 million sf. The $66 million project will be fully completed in January 2016, with portions ready as soon as August.
Michael Mina’s Bardot Brasserie, a celebration of Parisian café culture, opened at Aria Resort & Casino in January. The menu features traditional brasserie fare and the cocktail program highlights classics from such famed Parisian watering holes as Harry’s Bar and Bar Hemingway.
South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa’s new $35 million bowling tournament facility, South Point Bowling Plaza, boasts a full schedule of tournament events. The South Point Bowling Plaza, a 90,000-sf facility, features 60 lanes with two parallel rows of 30 lanes, a 360-seat viewing area and a 720-unit locker room.
Sandia Resort & Casino announced changes and improvements in place and on the drawing boards. The new Roadrunner Casino & Grill is now open, and for ease of accessibility it’s connected by a climate-controlled bridge to a new 1,700-space covered parking garage. The Green Reed Spa also is getting a makeover, and guests can expect a new Sandia Golf Club state-of-the-art banquet and event center accommodating up to 450 guests.
In keeping with its green/sustainability environment, in October, Peppermill Resort Spa Casino began incorporating locally grown and produced food into its daily operation. In addition to food, local organic tea is served at the spa, and local craft brews and whiskey are available at The Terrace. AC&F