In 1989 Steve Wynn opened The Mirage, a $750 million, 30-story Las Vegas casino and hotel tower, the first new gaming hotel to be constructed on the Las Vegas Strip since 1974. With its 3,044 guest rooms and 100 acres on the still-burgeoning Las Vegas Strip, The Mirage ushered in the birth of the integrated gaming property as a meetings and convention destination. From here, Wynn built Bellagio Las Vegas, a luxurious Las Vegas hotel now operated by MGM Resorts International and later constructed Wynn Las Vegas, a Forbes Five-Star award-winning property.
For the Mirage, Wynn hired Joel Bergman, an admirer of Walt Disney, and the property became the most opulent casino hotel in Las Vegas, a magical, colorful palace with a Polynesian theme and, a first for Las Vegas, two huge ballrooms; one with 40,000 sf and the other with 20,000 sf, with 12 smaller meeting rooms and the space to host more than 5,000 corporate meeting and convention attendees. There was nothing like it in Las Vegas, or in the country, and association meeting planners began to book this family friendly casino hotel for meetings and events.
In 1989, even the now-famous Las Vegas Convention Center, which opened in 1959, was just beginning to move from professional boxing events, Beatles concerts and UNLV basketball games, to major consumer and trade show events, often timed to big association conventions.
“I think at one point casinos had a reputation as the leader in player tracking,” says David Schwartz, associate vice provost for faculty affairs and a casino industry historian at UNLV. “The opportunity is for casinos to leverage their existing databases in ways that make sense for convention guests. Gaming is usually not a huge part of the convention-guest spending profile; but when it is, those guests need to be properly recognized. Casinos can look at automatically enrolling attendees in their rewards program as they sign up for the conference, which if nothing else broadens the marketing funnel.”
These days there are commercial or Native American gaming resort properties in 43 states, and most association planners no longer avoid considering these venues for their meeting or convention functions. Listed below are just a few of the best gaming resort destinations for association planners, all with meeting space, food and beverage venues, retail outlets and surrounded by exciting and interesting terrain for offsite exploring.
The architecturally striking Talking Stick Resort features a 15-story tower, which includes 496 deluxe rooms. Association groups love the property’s luxurious spa, as well as the cultural displays from the local Pima and Maricopa Tribes.
Dining options at Talking Stick Resort include the Orange Sky Restaurant, complete with a 360-degree vista of the Valley; there is also Ocean Trail, serving fresh seafood; the Blue Coyote Café, with American cuisine in an indoor/outdoor setting with Southwest-accented décor; Wandering Horse Buffet, serving international cuisine in a unique indoor/outdoor buffet experience; the casual Black Fig Bistro; and The Coffee Garden, offering Peet’s coffees, espresso, smoothies, gelato and freshly-baked pastries.
The 25,000-sf Salt River Grand Ballroom and 22 state-of-the-art meeting rooms make the Talking Stick Resort Conference Center the perfect setting for association meetings or conferences, and when you add in another 50,000 sf of outdoor function space, it really is a meeting planner’s dream.
Atlantic City continues to increase its room availability and the Atlantic City Convention Center (ACCC) remains one of the best on the East Coast. The center’s 90-foot high, sky-lit atrium lobby welcomes attendees with a helpful lobby concierge, sculptures and artwork, before they enter an exhibit space with more than 500,000 contiguous sf of space. The center’s footprint of almost 31 acres makes it one of the largest convention centers in the Eastern U.S.
For large convention meetings, the ACCC offers 4 drive-in doors, mechanical elevators, and 1,400 indoor parking spaces. It is connected with the Atlantic City Rail Line terminal that runs the Atlantic City Rail Line from Philadelphia, and jitneys, buses and taxis queue at the front of the building to provide service to other points within the city. A pedestrian air bridge links the ACCC to the adjoining Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel.
“We have world-class casino resorts in a true resort destination,” says Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau. “We have beautiful, pristine beaches that a number of our major resorts sit on. We have the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk. We also offer a broad selection of nighttime entertainment, and we offer some of the best culinary experiences anyone could ever expect to have at a meeting.”
Last year, the city’s Meet AC booked a total of 238 meetings and conventions representing 371,996 future hotel rooms nights for Atlantic City. This year the number of future convention delegates to Atlantic City will reach more than 547,862, with a projected economic impact of more than $349 million.
Convention business in Atlantic City has been and continues to steadily rise. Association meeting planners are signing multiyear agreements with the ACCC, showing an increased level of confidence, and even professional meeting groups have been hosting their annual meetings and conventions in the city.
“The American Camp Association, NY & NJ has been hosting our annual conference and trade show, the Tristate CAMP Conference, at the Atlantic City Convention Center for almost 10 years,” says Samara Feinberg, director of events at the American Camp Association, NY & NJ. “The staff at the convention center are top-notch and make sure that our attendees and vendors feel like they are their favorite show of the year. The proximity to the outlets and restaurants make the center a good starting point for all our attendees to not feel ‘trapped’ at a convention center with nothing fun to do before or after the show and sessions. I have been planning conferences for over a decade and can say that overall we receive tremendous service from the badge checkers to A/V and to our event management team.”
Feinberg adds, “For our latest event in Atlantic City, we used five properties. Our almost 4,000 attendees, including exhibitors, were accommodated at the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel, Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino, Tropicana Atlantic City, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City hotels, and they were all fantastic properties to work with. We had a few private dinners during the event, at Carmine’s and at Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar, both located in The Quarter at Tropicana, and another at the Sheraton. Basically, our events in Atlantic City go off without a hitch and our attendees love the atmosphere at the venues and within the convention center.”
One of the recently reopened resorts in the Atlantic City skyline is the Ocean Casino Resort, with new additions and exciting improvements. Ocean Casino guests have responded positively to the company’s shift in focus to be a casino first and rapid implementation of operational changes. This new approach allows Ocean Casino to offer guests affordability, quality gaming and resort amenities. Ocean Casino Resort spans 20 beachfront acres on the world famous Atlantic City Boardwalk. As the tallest building in Atlantic City, the tower encompasses 1,399 guest rooms and suites with unparalleled views. The resort’s high-energy casino features live entertainment, ocean views, nearly 2,000 of the most exciting slot machines, 125 action-packed table games and the finest sportsbook on the east coast in partnership with William Hill. Ocean Casino Resort offers an industry-leading loyalty program, Ocean Premier, that provides members with valuable incentives, benefits and rewards. With more than 15 restaurants, Ocean Casino Resort offers world-class dining, including American Cut, Amada and Dolce Mare. Best-in-class amenities such as Exhale Spa + Bathhouse, 3 pools, HQ2 Nightclub, HQ2 Beachclub, Topgolf Swing Suite, shopping and more provide guests with boundless entertainment options. Additionally, Ocean Casino Resort has 160,000 sf of flexible, indoor meeting and convention space and 90,000 sf of unique outdoor spaces.
Another Atlantic City sure bet is the recent addition of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, formerly the Taj Mahal. With 2,000 rooms and more than 150,000 sf of meeting and event space, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City can fill any bill. A variety of venues are available to amplify any program and are designed to accommodate groups of all sizes — from intimate board meetings to large-scale events and conferences. Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena can handle a general session of 7,000 people or 300+ booths for a trade show. The Seminole Ballroom, with 29,000 sf, can be divided into six sections and configured to host banquets, corporate events and small private concerts. Attendees can reach every space from their room, and each space offers Wi-Fi access, expert A/V and technological integration.
The newly updated, Bahamian culture-infused resort, Atlantis, Paradise Island, sitting atop 5 miles of pristine beach on Paradise Island, has embarked on a new chapter tied to a meaningful connection with the ocean, Bahamian culture and the spirit of the property’s 7,500 employees. Atlantis features five distinct properties within the resort, from the iconic The Royal to the original The Beach, the newly refurbished The Coral to the recently built luxury properties, The Cove and The Reef.
Five new outposts of beloved Bahamian restaurants have opened at Atlantis, giving guests the opportunity to enjoy the same authentic flavors inside the resort. They include: SipSip, from Harbour Island located at The Cove; Sun & Ice, in the lobby of The Coral; and McKenzie’s Conch Shack, Frankie Gone Bananas and the Pirate Republic brewery tap room in Marina Village. All offer fresh ingredients from local farmers and fishermen. The resort’s latest restaurant and cocktail bar, Fish, is helmed by renowned Master Chef José Andres.
Other new happenings at the property include well-known designer Jeffrey Beers designing the pool scape and cabanas at the newly refurbished Coral Pool, along with a new swim-up Popsicle and Cocktail Bar. At the Cove Pool, influential designer Lulu de Kwiatkowski’s love for the Bahamas was used for her inspiration to redesign its pool scape and cabanas in her Lulu DK fabrics. Throughout the pathways among the 141-acre waterscape, a curated playlist created by iHeartRadio brings together a fusion of sounds characterizing the look and feel of each property.
The Atlantis Casino offers 85 table games, including blackjack, baccarat, craps, roulette, Let It Ride, Three Card Poker Progressive and Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em. As for slots, there are more than 700 machines playable with denominations from a penny to $100. Every machine is equipped with the newest validators and ticketing technology.
The Cove Pool offers poolside gaming, including blackjack and craps, while Sea Glass at The Cove offers gaming with a variety of slot machines and roulette and blackjack tables.
Although the resort’s expansive gaming and meeting facilities may get lost in the mix when describing the unique aquatic and culinary amenities, the property does offer the Conference Center at Atlantis, including the 50,000-sf Imperial Ballroom, more than 40,000 sf of pre-function space, 30 breakout rooms and three boardrooms. Ballrooms of 25,000-sf and 13,000 sf are also available to planners.
Dolphin Cay is one of the world’s largest, open-air, man-made marine mammal habitats. It opened in 2007 in response to the need to provide a safe haven for Dolphins rescued after Hurricane Katrina tore through their home in Gulfport, MI.
Every guest visit to Dolphin Cay supports the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, which creates and promotes solutions for marine conservation challenges ranging from coral reef degradation to marine species in decline. More than $5 million to date has allowed the foundation to create a fully restored, 1 million acre-healthy coral reef protected area in the Bahamas.
The Grand Hyatt Baha Mar on Cable Beach — considered one of the most beautiful in the Bahamas — is conveniently located 7 miles from the airport and just 5 miles from downtown Nassau. With 1,800 guest rooms, including 230 suites, the property offers the Grand Club Lounge, the perfect location to enjoy a continental breakfast, all-day snacks, evening chef-inspired selections, as well as refreshments and cocktails.
The property provides six swimming pools, an expansive ESPA at Baha Mar spa, with a state of the art fitness facility, 100,000 sf of gaming with 1,140 slots and 119 tables, poolside cabanas, and 200,000 sf of indoor/outdoor event spaces. In addition, the 82,000 sf Baha Mar Convention Center, with 16 breakout rooms and an Arts & Entertainment Center, is one of the largest in the Caribbean. There are more than 20 food and beverage venues onsite.
For groups that want to combine golfing with professional conferences or meetings, there is the par-72 Royal Blue at Baha Mar course, which features ocean views on the front nine and forested panoramas on the back nine.
Set to open in October 2019, the $1.5 billion expansion of Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood will feature an iconic guitar tower hotel, complete with 638 rooms reaching 450 feet up. The casino will nearly double its size with over 3,000 slot machines, 198 table games and a 46-table poker room.
Additionally, the property will offer an elaborate 13.5-acre pool complex highlighted by the new “Bora Bora” experience with private villas surrounded entirely by water and waterfalls. Playing host to musicians, comedians and other types of entertainment, the redesigned and rebuilt Hard Rock Live theater will provide 6,500 seats and a world-class design. Major enhancements will also take place within the retail outlets, spa, dining and nightlife venues and meeting spaces.
“My clients will be on property next year, and again in 2021 for meetings. The first will include a trade show, with expected attendance for the first group approximately 320 attendees, and about 400 for the second group,” says Todd S. Winston, president of T. Global Partners, Inc., a meeting/event planning firm. “I was excited to present the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to my clients because it offered enough meeting space that I had no concerns about each client’s sizable conference exhibits working in the space.”
Winston continues, ‘’The Seminole Ballroom presents more options than many venues. The proximity of the salons and the Grand Ballroom to the Seminole Ballroom also offered convenience for the clients’ food and beverage needs as well as their break-out sessions.”
Like many groups meeting at a gaming location for the first time, there is a heightened eagerness and expectation about gathering at a casino location. “These clients have not typically held either of these events in a venue that has gaming as an option, so there is a great deal of excitement about having a casino on property, and I am sure it will be utilized by attendees during both programs,” Winston says. “In addition, both groups are excited by the abundance of dining options, as well as the property’s many entertainment options, which include both a comedy club and a concert venue.”
Winston thinks the initial contact with a venue’s sales representatives can often be a litmus test of what the total meeting experience will be. “The early interaction with a sales team is often indicative of what a meeting group’s experience is likely to be when they arrive on property,” Winston says. “I have no concerns that both of the upcoming meetings I have arranged at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will receive the same level of attentiveness that the sales team there have already shown to my clients and my own team. Finally, although it may not have driven the decision making, one additional characteristic of this property that may have played a role in our selection is that most travelers want to be able to say they have visited the major landmarks in an area. As the property’s “guitar tower” becomes an iconic landmark for the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood area, I know my groups will be proud to say they have seen it up close.”
At the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa, renovations are set to debut in summer/fall 2019, and includes a new hotel tower with 500+ rooms, additional pools and a more expansive gaming space. The property, which has completed renovations to its state-of-the-art Poker Room, Mezzanine Level Casino/Rock Walk, Smoke Free Gaming Area and the Orient Garage, will also be unveiling a new Rock Spa & Salon, meeting space, entertainment venue and a new arrival experience. In addition, food, beverage and catering options will be instituted, including some that are already open for association attendees such as The Rez Grill, an American grill concept by James Beard-awarded culinary director, Frank Anderson.
Located on the top four floors within the newly opened, 2,700-room Park MGM, formerly the Monte Carlo, each of the 293 rooms and suites at NoMad Las Vegas are residential in feel. Each room is appointed with custom furnishings, oak hardwood floors, original artwork, and custom Argan bathroom products.The hotel features the first-ever NoMad Casino, poised under the building’s original Tiffany glass ceiling. The casino provides an intimate space to play roulette, blackjack and baccarat. The renowned Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading in Rio de Janeiro inspired the NoMad.
The restaurant’s design features 23-foot walls that showcase a collection of books that have been carefully curated. The property offers unique indoor/outdoor meeting and private dining spaces, catering menus designed by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, and the Cellar, an intimate private dining space. Park MGM offers 77,000 sf of event space at its new Madison Meeting Center, and a new Eataly Las Vegas is adjacent to the property’s Las Vegas Strip entrance. Open 24/7, the 40,000-sf Italian marketplace offers many dining and shopping options.
Caesars Entertainment Corporation broke ground last year on CAESARS FORUM, their newest Las Vegas development. The $375 million, 550,000-sf conference center is within walking distance to more than 20,000 Caesars Entertainment hotel rooms and will provide direct access via skybridge to Harrah’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino and The LINQ Hotel & Casino, and also will be connected to The LINQ Promenade and the Flamingo Las Vegas. The LEED silver-rated facility provides a unique option for association meetings and events. Caesars Forum will be the first facility of this size built on one level, and will feature the two largest pillar-less ballrooms in the world, equivalent to 27 tennis courts or three ice hockey rinks. It will also feature FORUM PLAZA, the first 100,000-sf dedicated outdoor meeting and event space in Las Vegas.
CAESARS FORUM secured its first booking with the American School Counselor Association for July 2021, which is expected to include 3,500 attendees from all over the U.S. In addition, Caesars Entertainment has contracted over $70 million in conference business for the FORUM, expected to open in 2020.
The Flamingo Las Vegas, another Caesars property, is in the second phase of multimillion-dollar room renovation, which will include 976 guest rooms; phase one renovated the first 1,270 rooms. So far the property has spent $156 million on the project. The property provides a 73,000-sf Corporate Convention Center and Executive Conference Center, which includes two ballrooms and meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 1,200 attendees.
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort broke ground last year on their newest expansion, a $250 million project that will add 83,000 sf of meeting space, a parking garage and over 700 hotel rooms to the bustling resort.
An enterprise of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Harrah’s Cherokee is the largest meetings property in the state. In addition to an expansive casino floor, with over 3,600 slot games and 150 traditional table games, the property also features over 1,100 hotel rooms, 10 restaurants, the Essence Lounge, the Mandara Spa and seven retail shops. Association attendees meeting at the 56-acre property have privileged access to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian-owned Sequoyah National Golf Club.
“I have been organizing the annual gathering of the NCAPC at Harrah’s Cherokee property since 2012,” says George H. Erwin Jr., former executive director of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police. “I recently retired, but I consider my experience bringing our groups to this venue as extremely successful.”
“After taking over the planning for the annual conference and vendor show, the group had been going to another North Carolina property, but our costs were too high and we were losing attendees very year,” Erwin says. “Once we switched to Harrah’s there was some apprehension about moving the group to a casino property, but we needed to ‘think out of the box’ and try something new. The result was that for the past seven years our costs were reduced, our attendance increased every year, and we signed new contracts every three years, extending our visits through 2020. With the property’s expansion, I imagine we will continue our great run at the property.”
Erwin says the venue was perfect for both attendee and vendor needs. “Our approximately 250 attendees used all the venues in the hotel, as we booked about 300+ rooms, used classroom-style meeting space and hotel dining facilities. We also booked the Events Center for our large receptions, and the approximately 100 vendors were delighted that the Events Center offered plenty of floor space for exhibits and a stage big enough for the vehicle displays.”
Erwin was very blunt when asked if he thinks the group will continue patronizing Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. “I imagine we will see even higher attendance among police chiefs, state officials and vendors,” Erwin says. “And with spouses and significant others enjoying the optional offsite visits to Pigeon Forge, TN, or to the Cherokee Museum, or enjoying the gaming floor if they prefer, there’s no reason to tweak the format.”
The flagship Live! Event Center at Live! Casino & Hotel, adds an additional 350,000 sf to Maryland’s largest gaming facility. The hotel tower features 310 guest rooms, an event center, meeting spaces, new dining options, and a day spa/salon. The Event Center itself currently offers 20,000 sf of meeting and banquet space with a ballroom flexible to accommodate breakout space. The venue’s built-in performance stage has a state-of-the art A/V system with professionals onsite, and meeting packages are customizable for conventions, corporate retreats and private events. The Phase II expansion, to be completed by the end of this year, will double the size of the event and meeting space to 4,000 seats for live entertainment and add 40,000 sf of additional meeting space.
Just minutes from Live! Casino, is the property’s “sister” venue, called Live! Lofts, with a newly-renovated, 11-story, 250-room hotel including 100 suites. Approximately 3,400 sf of newly-renovated meeting and banquet space is also available for custom meetings and events.
Situated in a beautiful mountainous region between Albuquerque and El Paso, the stunning Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino offers just about anything a meeting planner could ask for in terms of price, number of rooms, meeting facilities, catering and a slew of year-round outdoor activities to keep attendees and their families happy for the entire event. There is also a friendly casino on property.
There are over 40,000 sf of event and meeting facilities, with 15 individual rooms configurable to accommodate any group. Eight dining venues and catered F&B make it easy to feed everyone, and each of the 273 guest rooms and suites are comfortable and filled with amenities such as mini-bars, free Wi-Fi and oversized king and queen beds. A specialized group team member will be assigned to the group to help organize meeting logistics, F&B needs, and offsite activities such as skiing, horseback riding, big game hunts and golf.
Another popular New Mexico option is the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa. Located on the Santa Ana Pueblo, the resort is steeped in culture and history with magnificent views of the Sandia Mountains and a Cottonwood bosque forest. The 12,000-sf Tamaya Ballroom can host up to 700 guests for a formal banquet, while the Sunrise Amphitheater, House of the Hummingbird or the 8,000-sf Cottonwood Pavilion and Patio near the banks of the Rio Grande are great for a gorgeous outdoor ceremony.
Work has wrapped up at Tulalip Resort Casino in the state of Washington, 45 minutes from Seattle, on its $15 million renovation. The work included a redesign of 360 rooms and a redo of one of the five “mega-suites.” Association planners who visited Tulalip just a few years ago will notice a “night-and-day” difference between what the rooms and public spaces were and what they look like now, after the massive renovation of the casino, amphitheater and outlet malls.
The award-winning Tulalip Resort Casino is one of the most distinctive gaming, dining, meeting, entertainment and shopping destinations in the state of Washington. The property is listed on Condé Nast Traveler Gold and Traveler Top 100 Resorts lists, and includes 192,000 sf of gaming space, a hotel featuring 370 guest rooms and suites, 30,000 sf of meeting and convention space, the full-service T Spa, and eight dining venues, including the Blackfish Wild Salmon Grill and Bar and the newly opened Tula Bene Pastaria + Chophouse.
Conveniently located between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., the property offers more than 122 name-brand retail shops that are a big attraction for both attendees and their families attending events at the property.
“We have held multiple conferences at Tulalip Resort,” says Crissy Wilson, meeting planner with the Land Surveyors Association of Washington. “Our last event took place in February, with 375-400 attendees. The staff at Tulalip is always responsive, and the meeting space fits our group well. Our conference uses the full inventory of indoor meeting space available.”
Wilson continues, “From contract to execution of the event, the staff at Tulalip is responsive to all our needs and helped to make our conference run flawlessly. The attendees love the facility as the rooms are nice, the casino offers great entertainment, and it is convenient to shopping and restaurants.”
Also, ilani, the event and gaming property in Ridgeville, WA just 30 minutes north of Portland, OR, is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its Meeting & Entertainment Center. The center includes the Cowlitz Ballroom, accommodating up to 2,500 attendees for concerts, conferences and other events. Other spaces in the center are suitable for classroom and showroom set-ups, and customized catering is available for small and large events. The property encompasses more than 400,000 sf, including 15 dining venues, the gaming floor and indoor/outdoor event spaces. Presently, association groups can easily be accommodated in nearby Portland or Vancouver, WA, although a hotel addition to ilani’s Meeting & Entertainment Center is expected to open by 2021.