Gaming resorts, with all their high-energy gaming and entertainment, have always been a powerful draw for leisure visitors. For association planners, this appeal presents a challenge — how to balance getting business done with all the distractions that attract attendees in the first place. The secret to success, say planners, is not to fight it, but to embrace everything great gaming destinations have to offer.
Living up to its nickname, the “Las Vegas of the East,” New Jersey’s Atlantic City plays host to world-class lodging and gaming at Caesars, Bally’s and Harrah’s Resort, each offering a unique experience for meeting attendees.
“In addition, the Atlantic City experience is unique with its Boardwalk, wildly popular outlet shopping and amusement atmosphere.”
— Louis A. Riccio
Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the iconic Marina District, the new Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center offers an innovative meetings experience on the East Coast accompanied with an unbeatable view. The 100,000-sf meeting space expansion offers planners the unique experience to sleep, eat and meet all in one location with more than 2,500 hotel rooms available. This versatile space with two 50,000-sf ballrooms can be configured 200 different ways, making more than 60 smaller rooms to accommodate meetings of all sizes. The conference center, which has been deemed the largest hotel-conference center complex from Baltimore to Boston, is within easy driving distance of a third of the U.S. population, making it a prime meetings destination.
In October 2015, the New Jersey Special Investigators Association held their annual seminar at the Waterfront Conference Center at the Harrah’s Resort. This event was a training seminar on insurance fraud attended by approximately 700 insurance professionals, law enforcement professionals, attorneys, medical professionals and vendors.
“We chose this locale as we are a New Jersey-based organization and, although we have attendees from the tri-state area, we wanted to continue to hold our seminar within the state,” says Scott Keesal, president of the New Jersey Special Investigators Association. “We found this to be a great locale for our diverse group. We found that Harrah’s Resort has something for everybody, and it offered a great variety of restaurants, not only as far as food choices, but both casual and fine dining. The restaurants were large enough to host large groups if needed. There was plenty of shopping opportunity inside the resort and surrounding area. There were plenty of entertainment venues for social events and the ability to host private events within these venues. The hotel and casino were clean, fresh and modernized as were the guest rooms. The gambling was just an added bonus for those who wished to partake.”
Keesal advises meeting planners to not be fearful of the stigma of hosting training events at casino resorts.
“We had concerns that we would lose attendees to gambling during our classroom sessions or that corporations would not allow their employees to attend training seminars at casino resorts,” Keesal says. “However, this was not the case. Our classrooms were full and not only were corporate employees permitted to attend, but we found it attracted company executives. The feedback from our membership and other seminar attendees was tremendous. A casino resort is a great place to hold an association meeting event.”
Louis A. Riccio is an enthusiastic fan of meeting in Atlantic City. As the association’s meeting planner and executive director, Riccio recently planned the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials for approximately 400 people at the Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.
The signature event was a joint conference and trade show for the Middle Atlantic Regional Council of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (MARC NAHRO) and the New Jersey State Chapter of NAHRO (NJ-NAHRO). NJNAHRO hosts an annual conference and trade show, but MARC NAHRO only comes to New Jersey every fifth or sixth year.
“The conference is a training conference where we offer over 30 seminars dealing with housing and community development issues,” Riccio says. “In addition, we have 50 vendors from around the country who display their products and meet with the membership.”
As Riccio explains, in general casino resorts offer attendees several unique opportunities to experience excellent restaurants and meet colleagues in a collegial environment.
“In addition, the Atlantic City experience is unique with its Boardwalk, wildly popular outlet shopping and amusement atmosphere,” Riccio says. “It enables attendees, after a long day in meetings or classes, an opportunity to unwind either in the casino or outside on The Boardwalk. More specifically, Resorts Casino Hotel’s meeting space is state-of-the-art. The latest and best technology is available in this venue since the facilities are all new and their attention to detail is unsurpassed.”
Indeed, Resorts Casino Hotel recently welcomed its first guests to experience the latest in audio-visual technology in a new multifaceted conference center at this world-class hotel, managed by Mohegan Gaming Advisors. Known as the resort that brought gaming to Atlantic City, Resorts Casino Hotel continues to stay at the top of its game with a new conference center.
Following the opening of the $35 million Jimmy Buffett-themed Margaritaville entertainment complex, which is part of a total of nearly $80 million spent on further expansion and renovation, Resorts continues to evolve and grow as a destination.
“In general, the casino hotels offer a varied selection of opportunities for your attendees — from gambling to shopping to fine dining to an amusement park atmosphere on The Boardwalk,” Riccio says.
In March 2016, the New Jersey Builders Association (NJBA) hosted the 67th annual Atlantic Builders Convention in Atlantic City. The Resorts Casino Hotel served as their host hotel for a third year in a row.
The NJBA is the leading trade association for the shelter industry in New Jersey. Their members include residential and commercial builders, developers, remodelers, subcontractors, suppliers, engineers, architects, consultants and other professionals.
“Our purpose is to bring together those individuals involved in the building industry for the purpose of mutual advantage and cooperation,” says Diane Nicolo-Pocino, CMP, vice president of events and programs. “One of the two ways we do that is via the Atlantic Builders Convention. Casino resorts are great. In my opinion, they make the life of a professional meeting planner much easier. With the many attractions, activities, entertainment and dining options located on property (or close by) you are guaranteed to enhance the overall experience of your attendees.”
While Atlantic City is a favorite locale for casino aficionados, Las Vegas is second to none when it comes to casino resort options for meeting planners.
Diane Williams, a meeting planner for the Virginia-based National Grocers Association, has orchestrated a myriad of events for associations at casino hotels along the Las Vegas Strip. Ranging from 100 to 4,000 people, these events have included individual meetings and conferences, with some colocating with larger events at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“Casino resorts offer quite a bit of meeting space and sleeping rooms as opposed to traditional hotels throughout the U.S.,” Williams says. “They typically have many top-rated restaurants and bars along with shows to offer attendees unique experiences during their visit. Plus the décor in many of the resorts — from the lobby to the guest rooms — are over the top.”
Williams planned an event at The Mirage Hotel & Casino for the National Grocers Association. The Mirage Events Center is ideal for trade shows, exhibits,
concerts and galas. Approximately 90,000 sf of pillar-less space can be partitioned into three 30,000-sf sections, one of which can break down into three rooms of 6,500 to 10,000 sf per section. Fully carpeted, the Mirage Events Center features state-of-the-art fiber optic, power, lighting and rigging support to accommodate the most complex shows and events. In addition, the Mirage features three various-sized ballrooms and a boardroom, outfitted for board meetings or VIP gatherings.
Las Vegas is teeming with a wealth of casino resort options for association meeting planners. For instance, Aria Resort & Casino’s flexible meeting space has a lot to offer for the association segment. Aria can hold association board meetings in their executive boardrooms for 30 and turn around to a 5,000-person trade show in the 52,000-sf ballroom. Not many places in Las Vegas offer 300,000 sf of meeting space five minutes from your hotel room without walking through the casino. When you arrive at the meeting space, it’s designed for networking among attendees without the distractions of restaurants, outlets or transient guests.
In December 2016, Hard Rock Las Vegas is adding 2,000 sf of prefunction space for registration and possible exhibit use, with an additional 17, 607 sf of pillar-less meeting space added to the existing 10,200 sf for a grand total of 27,807 sf of usable meeting, exhibit, event and/or food and beverage space. Hard Rock Las Vegas also offers 16 studio breakout rooms that vary in size from 450 sf to 850 sf.
For many people, Atlantic City and Las Vegas are synonymous with “all things casino,” however there is a wealth of other casino resort options for meetings and events spread across the country.
Community Associations Institute-Greater Inland Empire (CAI-GRIE) Chapter in Riverside, California, has held several mini trade show luncheons at Pechanga Resort & Casino for the past five years. Pechanga Resort & Casino, a quick freeway drive from San Diego, is California’s largest resort/casino, offering a 200,000-sf casino (larger than any in Las Vegas), 11 onsite restaurants, spa, championship golf course, 517 rooms and suites, A-list concerts and a wealth of evening activities.
“We cover the entire Inland Empire so we have a need to provide southern and northern locations for our members so that they can easily get out in the middle of their work day to attend,” says DJ Conlon, CMCA, meeting planner and executive director at CAI-GRIE. “We have also held our Annual Monte Carlo Night in June (at Pechanga) for the past four years.”
CAI-GRIE luncheons have been attended by between 160–200 members of the association’s chapter. Approximately 350 people attended the Monte Carlo Night. “The Grand Ballroom at Pechanga is the only facility in the local area that can (handle) the way that we host our events,” Conlon says. “Beyond that, Pechanga offers entertainment after your own event is over. This helps people who want to hang around a little longer and spend more networking time together.”
Unique events also can be planned at Pechanga as part of meetings, or as extracurricular activities. The onsite, championship golf course, the serene spa and dining outings prove popular with groups. Private poker lessons or tournaments and bingo sessions can be secured for groups at Pechanga. Offsite excursions such as wine tastings in the Temecula Valley wine region also are favorites of meeting planners.
Currently, Pechanga is undergoing a massive, $285 million resort expansion. The Pechanga Tribe broke ground on the major construction project in December 2015. When completed (estimated to be the end of 2017), the project will add a four-acre resort pool complex, a two-story luxury spa, a nearly 70,000-sf events facility, a 568-room and suite hotel wing and two new restaurants.
In Arizona, Talking Stick Resort is the leading hospitality destination, courtesy of its stunning design and vast array of entertainment options. Independently owned and operated by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the elegant hotel and casino features 496 guest rooms and offers various world-class amenities all in one location.
Boasting more than 113,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting space and cutting-edge audio-visual capabilities, Talking Stick Resort also includes a 10,000-sf showroom and the 25,000-sf Salt River Grand ballroom that can be divided for intimate occasions or used to accommodate one large gathering. Hosting more than 100 events annually with up to 4,000 guests, Talking Stick Resort knows how to put on a show. Following a long day of meetings, the property offers a variety of dining and entertainment options including 11 world-class restaurants and entertainment lounges, a nearly 300,000-sf casino, renowned spa located on the 14th floor and four pools.
While Connecticut is not often associated with casino resorts, Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, can help stage successful association meetings. With more than 100,000 sf of flexible meeting space — including the 38,000-sf, pillar-free ballroom and catering menus that offer everything from casual café fare to uniquely elegant entrées, the Mohegan Sun casino, hotel and entertainment complex is a one-stop meeting and event venue that’s sure to please.
In nearby Pennsylvania, the Valley Forge Casino Resort’s Convention Center boasts 100,000 sf of meeting and conference facilities, allowing for optimum customization while providing all of the technological and connectivity features that an event may need. For smaller affairs, there are several ballrooms of various sizes and meeting rooms — all perfect settings to get down to business.
Classic, historic décor with the excitement of a casino environment describes the French Lick Resort in Indiana. The 105,000-sf French Lick Resort Event Center can accommodate any occasion with 27 luxurious state-of-the-art meeting rooms that are perfect for any sized occasion, from trade shows to grand galas. The adjacent French Lick Casino, a 51,000-sf Las Vegas-style gaming facility, is all on one floor with soaring 27-foot ceilings. Just a quick trolley ride away is the West Baden Springs Hotel. Once called the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the focal point of West Baden Springs Hotel is the incredible atrium that spans 200 feet.
And in Reno, the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino boasts more than 200,000 sf of meeting space, with more than 45 breakout rooms. All said, the Grand Sierra can accommodate from 10 to 4,000 people.
When planning a meeting or event at a casino resort, there are some key steps an association meeting planner needs to take.
“As with any location, make sure that you are fully aware of what is and is not acceptable and what is expected,” Conlon says. “Although I have never had a really bad experience, I think communication with your onsite planner is key to making sure that you and the facility are both happy at the end of the event.”
As Williams explains, the planning will be different as you are dealing with a gaming element, which controls a lot of the suite inventory.
“The financial model will be unique due to the many different revenue streams a casino must operate, so budgeting will need to be adjusted accordingly,” Williams says. “Also be aware if attendees have to walk through the casino to get to the meeting space. If so, plan your program accordingly. Don’t try to compete with the casino resort elements — embrace what they offer and try to incorporate within your event.”
Riccio recommends meeting planners try to determine what works best for your attendees. “I have found that my colleagues like the convenience of a casino hotel on The Boardwalk,” Riccio says. “Furthermore, once you have established a relationship with a casino hotel, stick with them. We have tried several other casino hotels over the years and found that Resorts Casino Hotel met and exceeded our expectations, and was the best value for our dollar.” AC&F