There was a time not so long ago when planners’ choices of gaming destinations were pretty much limited to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Not anymore. Today, about 35 states have resort or hotel casinos. Planners have a choice of gaming resorts large and small in several states from Connecticut and Mississippi to Washington and New Mexico.
In addition to the value, groups are attracted to spacious meeting facilities, and multiple entertainment and restaurant options — all within the same property.
Some associations select gaming resorts at various intervals for a change of pace while others return year after year, such as the New Jersey League for Nursing (NJLN). According to Gail Hammond, executive director of the Garwood, New Jersey-based association, the NJLN held its annual meeting in March at the Tropicana Casino & Resort Atlantic City for the 18th consecutive time and plans to return in 2015. More than 800 nurses, student nurses and other health care professionals attended.
The Tropicana’s 2,079 well-appointed guest rooms and more than 100,000 sf of meeting space are a big draw. However, the value that the NJLN receives from the Tropicana keeps the group coming back again and again. Hammond negotiates contracts two years at a time, which she says helps her get good deals. “The room rates are lower than those of other hotels,” says Hammond. “The rate in my new contract is the lowest it has ever been. It’s a wonderful selling point for members who live in the area because they can afford to drive in and stay over and not drive back and forth.” Hammond says a few complimentary suites and reduced rates before and after the event are usually part of the arrangement, too.
“I know a group that keeps changing back and forth between Atlantic City hotels. I’m not one to do that. If the service and space fit my needs, and my people are satisfied, and we get positive feedback on our evaluations, I see no reason to change just to have a change of venue.” — Gail Hammond
The Tropicana’s familiarity with the NJLN’s needs and attendee satisfaction also keeps the group returning. “The staff at the Tropicana knows what our requests will be every year, and that is probably the No. 1 benefit of staying in a facility,” says Hammond, who plans the meeting. “I know a group that keeps changing back and forth between Atlantic City hotels. I’m not one to do that. If the service and space fit my needs, and my people are satisfied, and we get positive feedback on our evaluations, I see no reason to change just to have a change of venue.”
Keeping exhibitors satisfied with meeting properties is key for association planners, and the Tropicana does just that for the NJLN. “We find that our exhibitors especially enjoy being in a casino-type area,” says Hammond. “They have told us numerous times that they enjoy going to Atlantic City and the Tropicana. They have so many things to do besides gambling. They have many shops and a variety of restaurants. You can socialize and have a good time as well as do your work with the convention.”
Hammond plans few activities at the Tropicana because of its variety of attractions as well as those available off-property. “We tried to do a banquet but most people at night want to do what they want to do, be it gaming or restaurants or whatever,” she says. “I didn’t have entertainment except for a welcome reception. I brought in a stilt-walker who dresses in costumes and face makeup that match the color I choose for the exhibit hall. This year it was black and gold. He greets people and poses for pictures with them,” says Hammond.
The stilt-walker also selected the winners of a raffle designed to encourage attendees to visit exhibitors. Attendees qualified for the raffle by having at least half of the 50 exhibitors initial a form placed in tote bags during registration. Attendees with the most initials won a flat-screen TV. “The exhibitors like it. They told us that it’s a good way to get individuals to stop at booths,” says Hammond.
No gaming destination tops Las Vegas when it comes to attracting meetings, and the city posted impressive numbers on all fronts in 2013. The destination received 39.6 visitors last year — the second-highest total ever, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). Las Vegas hosted 22,027 meetings, trade shows and conventions in 2013, up 1.9 percent from 21,615 in 2012. Meeting attendance was 5.1 million, up 3.3 percent from 4.9 million in 2012. Meeting and attendance numbers for 2013 were the highest since 2008. Hotel occupancy averaged 84.3 percent during 2013, compared to the national average of 62.3 percent. Average daily room rate jumped by $3 to nearly $111.
This year promises to be another banner year for Las Vegas. “We will continue building on our momentum in the coming year, and we expect to welcome more visitors in Las Vegas than ever before when several much anticipated resorts and attractions debut in 2014,” said LVCVA President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter in a statement.
Las Vegas continues to expand its meetings infrastructure. About $9 billion in projects are under construction in the city or have been announced, according to the LVCVA. One of the city’s biggest projects ever is the Las Vegas Global Business District. The project includes a $2.3 billion expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center with new meeting, exhibition and general session spaces, additional eateries and a new lobby. A new world trade show facility will take advantage of the city’s World Trade Center designation to attract meetings from overseas. Creation of a central transportation hub also is on the drawing board.
Among other major projects, Caesars Entertainment has opened The Linq, a multimillion-dollar entertainment, dining and shopping district. The Linq, located across from Caesars Palace, includes the Las Vegas High Roller, a 550-foot high observation wheel that opened recently. Caesars Entertainment debuted The Linq Hotel & Casino in October. Formerly the Quad Resort & Casino, the hotel features 2,256 brand new rooms and suites, and a completely renovated welcome experience built around a signature lobby bar, all new retail and spa amenities, and a new pool deck. The Linq Hotel & Casino is the portal to the Linq promenade, which offers 12 restaurants, eight bars, 14 retail shops and two concert venues. In spring 2015, the hotel will open a reimagined pool deck offering two pools and day club experience, new 15,000-sf spa and fitness center, Vortex Roof Deck, additional retail, and the all-new Living Room bar.
The new Las Vegas Arena, a joint venture between MGM Resorts International and AEG, is expected to open in spring 2016. The 20,000-seat sports and entertainment venue will be located between the New York-New York Hotel & Casino and Monte Carlo Resort and Casino.
South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa has unveiled its new 60-lane South Point Bowling Plaza — a 90,000-sf facility, which features 60 lanes in two parallel 30-lane rows; luxurious spectator seating for 360 people; and a one-of-a-kind digital scoring system with two 167-foot screens.
The All Net Resort & Arena, scheduled to open in early 2017, will feature a multipurpose arena with a unique retractable roof; Victory Plaza, a 300,000-sf pedestrian plaza; and a hotel.
Among MGM Grand’s 5,044 guest rooms is the 14th floor comprised of 171 Stay Well rooms, completed in January. The Stay Well guest rooms feature vitamin C-infused shower water, advanced room lighting tailored to sleep/wake cycles, air purification systems, EMF protection and more. The resort has even developed a Stay Well mobile app that provides wellness recommendations such as techniques to reduce the effects of jetlag.
Westgate Resorts announced the acquisition of the LVH – Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. Formerly known as the Las Vegas Hilton, it is now known as the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. The hotel is located one block off the Las Vegas Strip, is adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center and is one of seven stations on the Las Vegas Monorail.
Circus Circus Hotel Casino boasts remodeled rooms, award-winning dining, attractions at The Adventuredome and refreshed meeting space.
The Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, recently added two new displays of rare gambling artifacts as part of a collaboration with the Museum of Gaming History. The first display features rare, early- to mid-20th century casino chips, photographs and other memorabilia from the 1946 opening of Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel. The second display presents artifacts from legendary illegal gambling halls around the U.S. Located in downtown Las Vegas, The Mob Museum offers a variety of unique venues for private events.
A number of mid-size and large Native American gaming properties are attracting meetings of local and regional associations. For example, earlier this year the Seattle, Washington-based Washington Homicide Investigators Association (WHIA) held its annual meeting at the Little Creek Casino Resort, according to Detective Reynaldo Z. Punzalan, vice president of the WHIA and the association’s planner. The three-day meeting attracted 227 homicide detectives, investigators and prosecutors. Located about 75 miles north of Seattle, Washington, the casino resort is owned by the Squaxin Island Tribe. This is the three-year-old association’s second consecutive meeting at Little Creek. The venue’s concert facility was one of the attractions for WHIA. “They have a large concert facility that’s separate from the hotel and gaming facility,” Punzalan says. “The hotel rolls back the seats, and we put our various law enforcement-related vendors on one side of the facility, and we have our presentations on the other side separated by partitions. They have two Jumbotrons on either side of the partitions and a good audio-visual system for everyone to see and hear the presentations.”
Many groups house their exhibitors and vendors in separate rooms, but Punzalan prefers his approach. “We want more access to the vendors,” he says. “If our people are on breaks from presentations, they walk around the partitions and talk to vendors if they see something they like.”
Value also was a major deciding factor for the group. “Meetings in Seattle are expensive, even just for parking,” says Punzalan. “There’s free parking at the Little Creek and it’s away from the city atmosphere in a rural environment. The facility there is top-notch. They have a great 18-hole golf course (Salish Cliffs Golf Club), and we get a discount on it. There is a top-notch pool and spa, good seafood restaurant, cigar bar and, of course, the gaming.”
Punzalan says he is “exceptionally satisfied” with the value received from Little Creek. “After the first meeting, we sat down with the sales and catering managers and reviewed the meeting. They gave us the same deal we had the first year for our second year. They also offered us a special deal for people who want to stay over a few extra days.”
About a 30-minute drive from Seattle is the 370-room Tulalip Resort Casino, owned by the Tulalip Tribes. The property offers 30,000 sf of meeting space including several breakout spaces and the 15,000-sf Orca Ballroom. Meeting areas are adjacent to the Oasis Pool, creating a unique function area.
The Southwestern U.S. is home to two popular gaming properties operated by Native Americans. The 273-room Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino, located in Mescalero, New Mexico, owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, includes 40,000 sf of flexible meeting space and a 38,000-sf casino. The tribe operates nearby Ski Apache resort and the Mountain Gods Resort Championship Golf Course.
In Scottsdale, Arizona, Talking Stick Resort is a AAA Four Diamond property with 497 guest rooms and 22 meeting rooms including a 25,000-sf ballroom, 50,000 sf of outdoor function space, a 650-seat showroom and two championship golf courses. The resort, an enterprise of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, debuted in November its casino-level lounge, Palo Verde, which is available for event buyouts and rentals. The upper level includes oversized couches, coral tables and seating for more than 100 guests. It also features a second full bar and deejay booth for live entertainment. Connecting patrons on the second floor with the property’s garden level, the new customized staircases are stainless steel and include manufactured glass. Equipped with sensors, the stair tread is activated by motion and changes colors with each individual’s step. The lights are programmed every three inches and feature multiple display options including a red-carpet effect, holiday-themed patterns and colors commemorating Arizona sports teams.
Additional renovations include a downstairs tavern complete with Southwestern-inspired cuisine and tequila offerings. Showcasing more than 40 tequilas, the venue allows guests to customize their experience and create their own margaritas.
Connecticut is home to two major Native American-owned gaming properties that attract significant numbers of meetings from groups based in the New England and New York Metropolitan area.
The AAA Four Diamond Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Native Americans, is the largest resort casino complex in the nation.
Foxwoods is upgrading its main concourse area with new retail space and restaurants, and plans to add a new retail mall, The Tanger Outlet at Foxwoods, with more than 80 outlets. Foxwoods features a total of 2,200 guest rooms in four properties — MGM Grand at Foxwoods, Grand Pequot Tower, Two Trees Inn and Great Cedar Hotel. The four properties offer a total of 150,000 sf of meeting space, including the 4,000-seat Grand Theater and the 1,400-seat Fox Theater.
The Mohegan Sun, Connecticut’s other major casino, sits along the Thames River in Uncasville and is owned by the Mohegan Tribe. The property provides 1,200 guest rooms and a 100,000-sf convention center, including the 38,000-sf Uncas Ballroom. Michael Jordan’s Steak House is among the Mohegan Sun’s 45 restaurant and food options.
The scenic Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, is one of the region’s most popular gaming destinations. The 1,740-room AAA Four Diamond resort is an MGM Resorts International property that features 50,000 sf of meeting space and a 1,550-seat theater. The Beau Rivage is especially popular among Southern-based groups, who enjoy the property’s 85,000-sf casino, 12 dining options, Fallen Oak Golf Course and Spa and Salon.
Last July, the Memphis, TN-based Southern Cotton Ginners Association (SCGA) met at the Beau Rivage for the third time in the last decade. The meeting attracted about 200 cotton processing and manufacturing business people and their relatives. As SCGA members hail from Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, the organization rotates its events among these states .
Meetings at the Beau Rivage tend to attract the SCGA’s highest attendance. “We end up with good attendance at Beau Rivage although some people are driving from as far away as southeast Missouri,” says Tim Price, executive vice president of the SCGA. “That’s a stretch, to drive all the way to the Gulf. They choose to do it because of the Beau Rivage experience. They view it as a mini-vacation for their families. Some people arrive a few days early or extend their stays.”
The Beau Rivage’s value and self-contained activities make it a top choice. “The rates are comparable to what we pay at other destinations,” says Price. “We pay for what our members use. They don’t pay for a buffet that they may or may not attend. It’s also a facility that has enough attractions so they don’t get bored and leave the property. The minute they leave, you increase the possibility they will be late for meetings or not show up at all.”
While the Beau Rivage’s gaming is a big attraction, it’s not the No. 1 reason why the SCGA’s attendance peaks at the property. “It’s a resort that happens to have gaming, not a gaming facility,” says Price. It has a real let’s-kick-off-our-shoes resort feel. We send them information about the resort as well as regional and local events based on the demographic profile of our attendees. Some people bring their boats and go on fishing expeditions.”
Planners seeking a self-contained property that offers everything from A to Z for successful meetings and events will find it time after time at gaming destinations. AC&F