As event planners increasingly seek ways to simplify the multitasking demands of meeting planning — from site selection to contract negotiations and from staff consultations to creating memorable attendee experiences — one type of venue has always stood out as an enticing event option: gaming resorts. Affordability and accessibility? Check. Flexible meeting spaces? Check. The ability to personalize engaging, experiential events? Entertainment venues? Check and check again.
Around the U.S., gaming resorts are hoping association meeting planners will again look to book incentives and meetings at their venues as the rules allow during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gaming resorts offer desirable locations, flexible event spaces, a bevy of upscale and casual restaurants, fun entertainment alternatives — in short, great value in terms of time, energy and cost savings, resulting in a positive experience overall for meeting coordinators and attendees.
Richard Montoya, executive director of the New Mexico Optometric Association (NMOA), explains the organization’s choice to hold their 2019 conference for the first time at the Sandia Resort & Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Originally constructed for the Sandia Pueblo tribe, the property is set on 75 acres, mere minutes from the Albuquerque International Sunport. “The purpose of our meeting is to educate members for continuing education credits. We chose this location for the amount of available space for our group, in our case, 450 people.”
Apart from having the right-size space for their group, Montoya says, “Sandia Resort & Casino is a really nice facility. There’s the physical space of the site itself, as well as its geographical location, a beautiful area with unobstructed views of the Sandia Mountains. Our attendees were happy with our choice.” AAA has awarded Sandia Resort & Casino with its prestigious Four-Diamond designation for “Upscale style and amenities with the right touch of service” for seven consecutive years. The property features 50,000 sf of meeting space for up to 2,500 people, including the New Mountain Terrace for up to 200 attendees, a 1,660-sf Rotunda and the largest ballroom in New Mexico, the Grand Ballroom, with 27,000 sf of event space.
As meeting attendees cite the need for “more inviting spaces with natural light,” a finding of the Ninth Annual 2020 Global Meetings and Events Forecast, Sandia’s superb light-filled, mountain-view meeting spaces add a desirable element that resonates well with attendees. While events such as luncheons, receptions and banquets are often catered through the on-site meeting planning services, attendees also have an ample selection of outstanding restaurants and bars for dining options outside meeting hours. For fine dining, Bien Shur Rooftop restaurant offers a “casually elegant environment” with mesmerizing views of the surrounding mountains. Signature seafood dishes and award-winning wines — earning Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence in 2018 — and personalized, attentive service provide guests with an unforgettable dining experience.
When attendees are looking for a little recreation and relaxation after a day of business meetings, Montoya mentions his group’s enjoyment of the pool, spa, golf course and, of course, the casino. Sandia Resort & Casino’s 140,000-sf gaming room offers more than 1,750 slot and video machines in denominations ranging from a penny to $100. In addition, there is poker, bingo and table games, such as blackjack, craps and roulette. Currently, Sandia is enhancing the property through a number of expansions in several different areas: eateries, hotel rooms, a new Sports Bar and New Governor’s Lounge, all slated for completion by the end of this year.
At Albuquerque’s Isleta Resort & Casino, Bill Conner, executive director of the New Mexico Rural Water Association, found a site that met his group’s needs for their conference during the spring. However, they were forced to cancel the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It would have been the first time holding their conference at Isleta Resort & Casino, and they were expecting 400 people. The purpose of the meeting was for training and tech support for wastewater systems and for certification credits. So why did his organization select Isleta Resort & Casino? In a nutshell, he says: “It’s a beautiful facility — and they put together an excellent, affordable package for us. It’s important to us that attendees be able to afford to attend.” Conner adds they are hoping to host their 2021 conference there.
Located just seven minutes from Historic Old Town, downtown Albuquerque and the airport, Isleta Resort & Casino’s convenient accessibility appeals to local and regional meeting planners alike. With 60,000 sf of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space, event planners have their choice of venues to meet their group needs and expectations. Cutting-edge A/V technological support, and an award-winning banquet and catering team, add to the property’s draw for meeting planners.
Dining options accentuate the sweet and savory dishes of the Southwest at Tiwa’s Restaurant & Lounge, including a Mexican buffet, and Chile Ristra when you’re on the go. For dining that includes scenic views along with the delicious flavors on its menu, Embers Steak & Seafood offers an enriching dining experience.
While gaming facilities might not be the first thing meeting planners like Montoya and Conner consider when planning their next association conference or event, having an all-inclusive site that includes gaming and entertainment choices offers an added bonus when it comes to attendee satisfaction, and ease of planning for event organizers. Whether enjoying exciting gaming, more than 1,700 slot machines or the largest showroom with progressive jackpot bingo games, the Isleta Resort & Casino provides a unique event experience. And for family entertainment, the resort’s “Fun Connection” is designed to engage people of all ages. It also has 24 bowling lanes, arcade games, billiards and 12 projection-screen TVs, plus a snack and adult bar, making for a lively entertainment center.
Both Sandia and Isleta properties feature outdoor amphitheaters that attract top-tier talent. Sandia’s 3,750-seat outdoor amphitheater with its 9,000-sf water feature showcases singers like Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow and Judas Priest, and Isleta’s 15,000-seat amphitheater hosts country music headliners such as Dwight Yoakam and Lady A (previously known as Lady Antebellum).
Another all-inclusive gaming resort, Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino in Mescalero, New Mexico, offers more than 40,000 sf of meeting and event space and 15 individual, flexible meeting rooms with customized banquet services. New and expanded amenities include Southern New Mexico’s first Topgolf Swing Suites offering multisport games, complete with an upscale lounge, and food and beverage service. For gaming, Inn of the Mountain God’s 45,000-sf casino offers the usual slots and table games complete with dozens of promotions offered by the Mescalero Apache Tribe. The Spa at Inn of the Mountain Gods includes a full range of salon services and an oxygen bar with soothing scents to reduce stress and promote well-being. And, for entertainment, performers such as country singer/songwriter Chris Janson and comedian George Lopez take center stage.
About 20 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Scottsdale Arizona’s AAA Four-Diamond Talking Stick Resort provides an all-inclusive event package of 113,000 sf of flexible indoor/outdoor meeting space for events ranging from intimate venues to large-scale trade shows framed by scenic views of beautiful Camelback Mountain and the Sonoran Desert. Whether selecting the 25,000-sf Grand Ballroom, the 10,000-sf Showroom, or one or more of the 21 state-of-art meeting rooms, event organizers have several options to explore. Dining venues such as Wandering Horse Buffet, Blue Coyote Cantina and Orange Sky, among the six eateries on-site, give a nod to Talking Stick Resort’s local Southwest heritage and culinary flavors, from elegant to eclectic food fare in intimate to casual settings. And for 24/7 service, Blue Coyote Cafe and Black Fig Coffee & Bistro have attendees covered.
Whether association event planners are organizing incentive events to reward high-achievers or education venues for members’ continuing education, having an on-site spa provides an ideal indulgence or meeting enhancement. Not only are Talking Stick’s cultural heritage and traditions reflected in its dining establishments, The Spa at Talking Stick, located on the 14th floor, focuses on the use of organic ingredients significant to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in the treatments offered. The spa’s floor-to-ceiling windows allow guests to soak up the beauty of the surrounding desert landscape while enjoying the relaxing benefits of a therapeutic or Aroma Botanic massage, or other available services.
Entertainment choices abound at Talking Stick Resort, including casino gaming with more than 50 table games and 800 slot machines, one of three separate resort pools, a 24-hour fitness center and a Concert Showroom with seating for up to 650 people featuring acts such as comedian Steven Wright, Air Supply and Rick Springfield.
Ranking No. 2 on the top list of U.S. destinations in the ninth annual 2020 Global Meetings and Events Forecast, Las Vegas never fails to attract meeting and incentive planners. Hotel properties such as Wynn Las Vegas and MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino offer value-added luxury accommodations, gaming and services that continue to grow to meet the needs of event organizers.
At Wynn, the grand opening of Elio, a contemporary Mexican restaurant showcasing the combined culinary talents of Chef Daniela Soto-Innes, Enrique Olvera and Santiago Perez, took place over the summer. Also at the Wynn, still in the works, is Delilah, an art-deco-inspired supper club. In addition, renowned chef Thomas Keller, of French Laundry fame, is slated to open a new creation overlooking the golf course.
Meanwhile, the MGM Grand’s Stay Well Meetings concept presents the first of its kind to the hotel meetings industry. In consultation with wellness guru Deepak Chopra, the program features a combination of air purification, circadian lighting, a Stay Well Healthy Menu approved by the Cleveland Clinic, and guided meditation narrated by Chopra with the goal of increasing the “energy, focus and productivity of attendees.”
“For location, available space, and beautiful weather,” AAA Four-Diamond-rated Pechanga Resort and Casino “offered an ideal match for our organization’s meeting needs,” says Susan Feller, president & CEO of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM). “We have a commitment to using Native-owned properties as much as possible,” Feller explains, and “our association attendees like to be in a natural setting where good environmental practices are followed.” Pechanga fit the bill, pointedly hiring its first-ever sustainability manager in 2018 to support the site’s environmental initiatives.
ATALM’s 2019 Conference for 940 attendees involved lots of moving parts over the course of three days, including setting up an outdoor evening event on the resort’s great lawn where participants participated in indigenous games and painting on 150 individual canvases. “We needed to have a large enough space to set up tables radiating out from a circle. And indigenous games are very physical, which requires a lot of space,” Feller says. The site provided ample space and the staff provided “an amazing barbecue” for the event.
Feller’s group also enjoyed the unique cultural component offered at Pechanga Resort Casino. “The staff made arrangements for us to visit museums, were very gracious and showed a willingness to share their culture with us. We just loved the staff at Pechanga Resort Casino. They were wonderful to work with,” Feller says. “We had a rooming list of 300 people, and the staff had everything set up perfectly the first time. That’s a first for us. And, after our event, the billing was right on. There was no need to make any adjustments.”
Pechanga Resort and Casino’s recent $300 million expansion secures its spot as the largest resort casino on the West Coast. An additional 68,000 sf of meeting and event space was added to the property, along with two new restaurants, a two-level luxury spa, a 4.5- acre pool complex and another 568 guest rooms and suites. “Our group loved the pool and the newly-renovated Blazing Noodles Restaurant,” Feller says.
Beyond the U.S. Southwest, event planners are also welcoming the all-inclusive amenities of gaming resorts for their meeting and incentive needs. And gaming resorts are constantly evolving and expanding services and amenities that evoke local, regional, and global meeting trends to rise to that increased demand. For starters, Atlantic City attracts visitors with its legendary Boardwalk, endless entertainment, and close proximity to urban centers such as Philadelphia and New York City. Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City recently completed a $56 million guest room and suite upgrade in its Coastal Tower, as part of Caesars Entertainment’s $250 million investment in Atlantic City’s casino resorts over the last five years.
The property’s 2019 Green Key Global Award for environmental management and corporate social responsibility also resonates with meeting professionals citing sustainability as a critical factor affecting their choice of all-inclusive event venues. At more than 208,000 sf of flexible meeting space, Harrah’s Atlantic City includes two floors of Waterfront Conference Center space covering 100,000 sf, considered the largest hotel conference center from Baltimore to Boston. In awarding the property with a 4-key rating, Green Key Global highlighted the meeting space for its waste reduction in conferences and meetings.
Other developments include the new Gordon Ramsay Steak, the celebrity chef’s first steakhouse venture in the tri-state area. World-class dining, unique and flexible meeting spaces, and nightlife entertainment provide one-stop shopping for event professionals.
For events up to 2,000 people, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City also offers a unique indoor pool area capped by a 90-foot glass dome, bringing in natural light and the “wow” factor. Guest rooms on-site range from deluxe at 384 sf to the penthouse suite at 2,000 sf.
At Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, which has more than 375,000 sf of meeting and function space, attendees can find rollicking fun in its more than 300,000 sf of gaming space in Casino of the Earth and Sky. Play at more than 300 table games, nearly 5,000 slot machines or at 33 tables in the poker room.
Looking to relax? Mohegan Sun’s Mandara Spa, one in The Sky Tower and one in The Earth Tower, is considered world class. Attendees can find plenty of restaurants, bars and lounges, about 30 of them. Enjoy everything from fine dining at BALLO Italian Restaurant to the Bow & Arrow Sports Bar. Three entertainment venues include the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena, the 350-seat Wolf Den and the comedy club, Comix Roadhouse. Finally, there are The Shops at Mohegan Sun, a 130,000-sf retail shopping experience.
Two other Northeast hotels, Resorts Casino Hotel Atlantic City and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, also feature noteworthy enhancements to their all-inclusive gaming resort packages. At Resorts Casino Hotel, a Mohegan Sun property, this means a new Resort Conference Center that has added 12,500 sf of state-of-the-art event space in 12 new meeting rooms. Of the 24 meeting rooms covering 64,000 sf, 14 rooms enjoy natural light and ocean views. Whether planning events for as few as 10 or up to 1,350 people, meeting organizers can select from a variety of event rooms.
For fun dining, the ever-popular Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Entertainment Complex features Margaritaville Café and the only year-round beach-side restaurant in Atlantic City, LandShark Bar & Grill, which now includes its new 2,300-sf Boardwalk deck, LandShark Deck Bar, adding another 140 seats featuring live music venues.
Hard Rock Atlantic City provides more than 150,000 sf of meeting and event space designed to meet any conference or meeting organizer’s needs, whether intimate gatherings in the hospitality suites or large-scale events up to 7,000 people in the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena. An exclusive indoor/outdoor pool area holds up to 200 guests for special events. In addition to its fitness, spa, and culinary adventures, the property features one-of-a-kind factors such as The Sound of Your Stay, a curated music program that invites guests to download one of three iTunes playlists during their stay. Attendees can even check out a Fender electric guitar, floor amp and headphones for free. Hard Rock Atlantic City also boasts one of the largest music memorabilia collections in the country, with standout contributors from The Beatles, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and Beyoncé, among others.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, the iconic Guitar Hotel, in Hollywood, Florida, provides 120,000 sf of flexible meeting space for up to 5,000 attendees and includes a 38,000-sf carpeted Exhibition Hall for association conventions and similar functions. In keeping with its rock-star image, the hotel dazzles attendees with its 7,000-sf pool function area, plus opulent pre-function space featuring vaulted, chandeliered ceilings.
Last year, the AAA Four-Diamond, Green Lodging Certified hotel completed several new developments and renovations totaling $1.5 billion. Most dramatically, the guitar hotel, resembling back-to-back guitars reaching 450 feet skyward, features 638 new hotel rooms, the seven-story Oasis Tower overlooking a pool lagoon with a 182-foot water slide and a 12-person jetted spa with swim-up option. There is also an expanded gaming floor with 3,100 slots and 193 table games; 26,000 sf of retail outlets; the 42,000-sf Rock Spa with unique features, such as a private salt suite and barber shop; in addition to a full range of salon services; new culinary offerings, such as Cipresso, presenting Italian-American cuisine, a new food court, an expanded Bol Asian restaurant and more. | AC&F |