For many hotels in today’s casino industry, the tag “gaming resorts,” while technically appropriate, can be misleading. It suggests a resort whose focus is gaming, but it is clear that most of the gaming resorts in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and numerous other regions are equally focused on dining, shopping and entertainment, as well as top-quality meetings facilities and services. More than ever, planners have confidence that these properties will fully support their event objectives, even when the event has no particular connection to gaming. As the popularized slogan goes, the modern gaming resort “means business” — whether or not it’s in Las Vegas.
A prime example is the new, $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor in National Harbor, Maryland. Opened on December 8, the 308-room resort offers 125,000 sf of state-of-the-art casino space, a 3,000-seat theater, three celebrity chef restaurants among 15 dining options, 18,999 sf of high-end retail and a destination spa. Paired with all of those attractions and amenities is the MGM National Harbor Conference Center, whose 50,000 sf includes the 16,200-sf MGM Grand Ballroom (featuring a 6,000-sf outdoor terrace with views of the Potomac River); the 4,284-sf Bellagio Ballroom; three 1,838-sf meeting rooms — Aria, Mandalay Bay and Beau Rivage; and two Mirage Boardrooms. And the latest meeting technology has been incorporated: The boardrooms, for example, feature built-in, 90-inch screens with video/teleconferencing capability, and every room has fiber optic ports.
Farther north in the well-trodden Atlantic City gaming market, MGM Resorts is also making meetings a priority for its gaming properties with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa’s new 18,000-sf Central Conference Center. Scheduled to debut in May, the $11 million facility features two stories of highly customizable event space including five meeting rooms, a boardroom and an office on the lower level, as well as a 6,500-sf clear span ballroom on the upper level. Like the MGM National Harbor Conference Center, the bilevel venue is equipped with the latest in technology, including high-definition digital projection, TV, and internet system capabilities paired with all digital distributed sound systems. Touch panel controls can be used to customize décor lighting experiences. The Central Conference Center will complement the 2,000-room Borgata’s existing meeting facilities: the 70,000-sf Event Center and 18,000-sf Water Club.
Further on the horizon is MGM Springfield, expected to open in fall 2018. The approximately $800 million gaming resort will include a 250-room hotel and is currently the largest construction project under development in Western Massachusetts.
But while the company is expanding into promising new markets, its home base remains Las Vegas, as the names for the MGM National Harbor’s meeting rooms suggest. Recently, MGM Resorts secured a major piece of corporate meetings business in Las Vegas, reaching a multiyear agreement with Microsoft. It will mark the first time Microsoft has combined four separate annual events, with as many as 30,000 participants, into one signature meeting. “With this contract, MGM Resorts is poised to deliver our third record-breaking meetings and conventions year in a row,” said Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer for MGM Resorts, in a statement. While the details of Microsoft’s property usage within the MGM brand have not been released, it is clear that the options are plentiful, including massive hotels such as the 5,044-room MGM Grand (602,000 sf of meeting space), 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino (300,000 sf) and 3,211-room Mandalay Bay Convention Resort (more than 2 million sf).
“Caesars always comes in not only with the best value for our dollar, but they’re such a good partner that it’s hard not to go with that option.”
— Angela Baer, CMP
In the name of “due diligence,” Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc. has inspected several of Las Vegas’ major resorts in trying to obtain the best value for its events surrounding CONEXPO and MINExpo. However, “Caesars always comes in not only with the best value for our dollar, but they’re such a good partner that it’s hard not to go with that option,” notes Angela Baer, CMP, corporate meeting planner for Caterpillar Inc. The company uses Caesars Palace as its “base of operations.”
“We have a huge block of meeting rooms and event space at Caesars Palace; we’ll hold our VIP event and our dealer customer hospitality event there, along with a myriad of ad hoc meetings throughout the week for Caterpillar employees, dealers and customers. On peak we’ll do about 3,500 room nights,” Baer explains.
The property comfortably accommodates the group and all of its functions with 3,792 guest rooms and 300,000 sf of meeting space, including the Forum Ballroom where Caterpillar holds hospitality events for three nights, bringing in machinery to display and entertainment for dealers and customers. Baer notes that Caesars’ “A-Z Guide” is a great resource for planners to source everything from entertainment to transportation vendors.
But more significantly, Caesars has been a longtime partner for Caterpillar because “whatever I need they make happen, whether I have it in the contract or not. We work as a team.” As a case in point, she cites a recent situation where Caterpillar gave away meeting space, contracted for the front end of its event, to another company that wanted the space. Subsequently, Caterpillar had a need for the space, and Caesars “worked with me and the company that wanted to use that space, and we were able to get what we needed while not upsetting the other company,” Baer relates. “And that’s a real testament to Caesars to be able to do that. They were under no obligation to help me at all, but they wanted my experience to be the best.”
Caesars also facilitates the process of booking restaurants, which is important for the variety of small gatherings of Caterpillar attendees that take place. “They have someone specifically dedicated to handling group reservations for any restaurant or venue inside any Caesars property,” says Baer. “So you don’t have to call these restaurants and figure it out.”
Given the number of venues within each of Las Vegas’ gaming properties, attendees have a wealth of options for impromptu onsite meetings outside the main program. The 1,506-room Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, for instance, is home to 35 Steak + Martinis, Nobu, Goose Island Pub and other F&B outlets that can host a casual business gathering.
That variety is ideal for the 1,000-1,200 mobile app industry leaders coming in for Grow.co’s Mobile Apps Unlocked conference at the property in May. “It’s a very social group, and they do a lot of business in the restaurants and the bars,” notes Michelle Troop, cofounder and COO/head of operations at New York, New York-based Grow.co. The event is returning to the Hard Rock after two years, in part because “the event worked really well there last time (2014),” she says. “We used their larger performance venue (the 4,000-capacity Joint) for the first-day general session, and it gives you the opportunity to have everybody together and feel like a really prominent event. And there is lots of breakout space for day two where we can do deep dives into their specific focuses.” The hotel’s recent meeting space expansion was another motivator for bringing the event back to the property. “We wanted to grow the event and (needed) added space,” says Troop.
In December, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas introduced its Artist Ballroom, which has added nearly 18,000 sf of meetings and convention space, along with new exterior signage along Paradise Road. The property now offers nearly 110,000 sf of contiguous function space, which can be broken down into eight separate and flexible configurations. The hotel also is known for its high-tech amenities, including Wi-Fi, CAT5 cabling and a program to create customizable AV packages.
Groups who would more conveniently meet at a gaming resort out West need not be limited to Las Vegas. There are intriguing, lesser known gaming destinations in locations such as Scottsdale/Fountain Hills, Arizona, and Temecula, California. The former is home to We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center, and the latter is home to the expanding Pechanga Resort & Casino. The resorts are operated by Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and the Pechanga band of Luiseño Indians, respectively.
The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation also operates Fort McDowell Casino, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club and Fort McDowell Adventures, affording groups who stay at We-Ko-Pa Resort several options in offsite activities. The 246-room resort itself has several virtues that have made it a great site for Bridgeport, New Jersey-based Dewatering Solutions’ events over the past few years. This January, the company held its Western and Central regional sales meeting at the property, following two years of hosting a distributor partner meeting there. “It ticks off a lot of boxes for us,” says Laura A. Gibson, strategic events specialist for the company. “The resort is close to the airport (20 minutes from Phoenix International), has excellent, flexible meeting space, and the service from everyone you encounter is like being in a five-star property. They are phenomenal to deal with.”
For example, she relates that the staff once worked a minor miracle in getting a piece of industrial equipment into one of the ballrooms that comprise the 25,000-sf Wassaja Conference Center. “We also did a themed pub night (with food stations and pub games) in one of the ballrooms, and they suggested, ‘Why don’t you just use the room behind it, too, and we can open it up?’ They’re always one step ahead,” Gibson adds. Apart from golf, casino visits, dune buggy rides and horseback riding, attendees of past events have enjoyed an outing to a nearby shooting range in Mesa, fully coordinated by her contact at the We-Ko-Pa Resort.
Van Nuys, California-based Consolidated Fabricators Corp. (ConFab), a manufacturer of steel fabricated containers, has a similarly strong partnership with Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California, where the company’s Garbageman’s Invitational Golf Tournament & Social Event has been held for seven years; the eighth installment will be in June. The charity event brings in about 300–350 attendees, a group of sponsors, owners and executives of vendors to the sanitation business.
“We have two days of golf, and then we have a cocktail party and golf awards dinner,” says Kerry A. Holmes, vice president of sales for ConFab, who founded the event. Guests challenge themselves on the 18-hole Journey golf course, explore the largest casino floor in California (200,000 sf), and enjoy fine dining in the rooftop Eagle’s Nest ballroom, where the awards ceremony is held. “Quite honestly, 80 percent of my guests are multimillionaires who belong to their own clubs, and I’m 100 percent comfortable that when they get (to Pechanga), they’ll get that private club treatment,” notes Holmes.
The resort’s expansion certainly will benefit the Invitational, he adds. “Our event has grown every year, and many (attendees) bring their spouses. So this expansion is really going to enhance our event because it’s going to be more of a destination. We’re going to have a property that will rival any top resort in terms of pools, restaurants, etc.” The $285 million project, set to be completed by year’s end, will add 568 guest rooms; expand indoor and outdoor function space by 70,000 sf; and add a luxury spa, pool complex and two new restaurants to the existing 11.
The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino this year began offering business guests access to a unique “coworking space” in the heart of The Venetian/The Palazzo Congress Center. The 1,170-sf pop-up lounge offers spaces for attendees to recharge and informally gather, as well as a conference room for small meetings. “Our coworking pop-up taps into a growing trend of creating collaborative workspaces that can be used on a temporary basis in addition to traditional offices,” said Lisa Marchese, chief marketing officer at The Venetian and The Palazzo, in a statement. “Placing a coworking space in the heart of a meetings and convention destination combines two concepts that you do not often see together.” Indeed, it is refreshing to see a hotel the size of the 4,027-room Venetian cater to groups’ small-scale business needs.
It’s not all business at the property, of course. As a gaming resort and destination unto itself, The Venetian is home to restaurants by celebrity chefs such as Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse and Thomas Keller; residencies by legendary musicians such as Diana Ross and Steely Dan; and the renowned Tao Nightclub. In December, the hotel introduced The Dorsey, billed as “the ultimate destination for cocktail enthusiasts.” The 4,500-sf space is accented with rich materials such as French oak, brass, leather and marble, supplemented by a separate library space.
Opulence brings to mind Wynn Resorts, featuring the 2,716-room Wynn Las Vegas and 2,034-room Encore. The two hotels’ combined 260,000 sf of meeting space is complemented by a vast selection of upscale amenities, from award-winning restaurants such as SW Steakhouse and Sinatra, to the Wynn and Encore Esplanades, the Spa and the Wynn Golf Club (designed by Tom Fazio and Steve Wynn). Groups who enjoy the Wynn brand can look forward to the proposed Wynn Paradise Park — which would replace the golf course with a 1,000-room hotel tower and 260,000 sf of meeting space with waterfront views — and Wynn Plaza, a retail hub debuting this fall by Las Vegas Boulevard.
Wynn is adding the Amazon Echo, a hands-free voice-controlled speaker, in all guest rooms by this summer. The device initially will control guest room lights, room temperature, drapery and the television. As the project evolves, future features such as personal assistant functions will be introduced.
This year also will see a new venue debut at Tropicana Las Vegas – a DoubleTree by Hilton: Celebrity Chef Robert Irvine’s first signature restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip. The host of Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible” is creating a modern American-inspired restaurant on the hotel’s casino floor. The 50,000-sf casino is just the beginning of what the 1,470-room resort has to offer. Other highlights include a 100,000-sf conference center with up to 38 breakout rooms; the 1,200-seat Tropicana Theater; the top-rated Laugh Factory Las Vegas; and Glow, a Mandara Spa.
Aria Resort & Casino is in the midst of a major expansion of its award-winning LEED Gold-certified convention center. The $154 million project will deliver an additional 200,000 sf of technologically advanced, flexible meeting space across four stories, highlighted by stunning indoor/open-air spaces and a glass-enclosed venue with views of The Park and new T-Mobile Arena. With the completion of the expansion, Aria will feature more than 500,000 sf of meeting space. Construction began in May 2016 with anticipated completion in February 2018. The Jewel Nightclub, a 24,000-sf nightlife destination, opened at Aria last May.
In February, a new Mandara Spa was introduced in a very different gaming market, Uncasville, Connecticut. The Earth Tower at Mohegan Sun is now home to the global spa brand’s 51st location, and the Sky Tower spa is scheduled to be renovated and rebranded as a Mandara Spa this year. Groups looking for a Northeastern gaming destination removed from the commotion of Atlantic City have long opted for Mohegan Sun, which offers 1,563 guest rooms and suites, and more than 100,000 sf of flexible meeting space, including the 38,000-sf, pillar-free Uncas Ballroom. CMM- and CMP-certified Event Service Managers are on hand to assist planners with the multitude of event design possibilities here. Yet the property also is well prepared to entertain attendees on its own, with ongoing shows at Mohegan Sun Arena, the Wolf’s Den, COMIX Comedy and several F&B festivals.
Developments like Pechanga’s expansion, MGM National Harbor and MGM Springfield show that the concept of the destination gaming resort is being implemented in many smaller markets outside Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The trend is welcomed by planners who prefer gaming as just one free-time option among many, thus catering to a diversity of tastes. C&IT