Gaming resorts, once shunned by some corporate meeting hosts and planners as taboo because of their negative association with gambling, have evolved as a go-to resource for many planners over the last few years, primarily because of the extraordinary value they offer and the simple fact that they offer an exceptional range of dining and entertainment options under one roof.
It’s no secret that gaming has, for decades, helped Las Vegas secure and keep top-dog status as a meeting destination. And the city’s hotel product continues to reinforce its formidable status.
Top Las Vegas options include the 2,716-room Wynn Las Vegas and the 2,034-suite Encore. Between them, the two hotels hold more Forbes Five Star restaurant awards than any other resort in North America. Wynn features 14 restaurants, including a trio of steak houses, three acclaimed Asian restaurants, seafood emporium Bartolotta and Italian restaurant Sinatra. Wynn also features a Forbes Five Star spa and the No. 1 golf course in Las Vegas. Wynn and Encore offer a combined 260,000 sf of meeting space.
Rivaling Wynn for status as the most lavish property in town is The Venetian, a 4,027-unit, all-suite mega-resort property whose sprawling convention complex, with a 2.25 million sf of meeting and exhibition space, includes The Sands Expo Center and sister property Palazzo. The Venetian offers an array of celebrity chef restaurants, including Delmonico Steakhouse, Table 10 and Lagasse’s Stadium from Emeril Lagasse; modern American cuisine outpost Postrio and Cut steak house from Wolfgang Puck, and Bouchon from Thomas Keller — current consensus holder of the “America’s Best Chef” title. Like its key competitors, The Venetian also offers a world-class spa for pampering attendees.
MGM Resorts operates the city’s signature portfolio of gaming resorts, including a globally acclaimed trio of spectacular properties: Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, which virtually define “the best of Las Vegas.” The company’s long list of other properties, each of which offers a distinctive theme at a particular price point, include Aria and Vdara at the MGM Resorts-owned hotel-dining-entertainment-shopping complex City Center; Monte Carlo, New York, New York, Luxor, Excalibur and Circus-Circus. The most recent addition to the MGM Resorts collection is the Delano Las Vegas, sister property to the landmark Miami Beach hotel that helped create the South Beach phenomenon in the mid-1990s.
Rounding out the list of properties that help define the current hotel inventory in Las Vegas is the Forbes Four Star, 390-room M Resort Spa Casino, which features eight restaurants, including the flagship Anthony’s Prime Steak & Seafood; seven bars and lounges; a 23,000-sf spa; 92,000-sf casino; and more than 90,000 sf of meeting space. For budget-conscious planners and attendees, its Studio Buffet has been twice named the best buffet in Las Vegas over the last few years by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Golden Nugget Las Vegas transformed their 20,000-sf Convention Center into a modern business space. The project included new flooring, enhanced lighting, new wall coverings, upgraded technology and a state-of-the-art digital signage system throughout the existing space. The center now houses 13 breakout rooms, which can then be customized for individual group needs, as well as the 5,000-sf Bel Air Room that includes a prefunction foyer.
Additional convention space at the Golden Nugget Las Vegas includes the 12,000-sf Grand Event Center located on the casino floor.
The Golden Nugget Las Vegas, the most luxurious resort on the Fremont Street Experience, offers more than 2,400 deluxe guest rooms and suites; a casino, world-class restaurants such as Grotto Italian Ristorante and Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse; a luxury spa and salon; and The Tank, a year-round outdoor swimming pool complete with a live shark aquarium and the new H20 poolside lounge.
When Jim Emme, president of Bloomingdale, Illinois-based Now Foods, a manufacturer and wholesale distributor of natural foods and nutritional supplements, was looking for a venue for the company’s August 2014 Western Retailer Conference, for the first time ever, he chose a gaming resort — the AAA Four Diamond Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno, Nevada.
Why did he choose a gaming resort for one of the company’s most important meetings?
“Since we had never used one before, we just wanted a facility that would allow our attendees to experience that type of venue,” Emme says.
Gaming itself was simply one of the many options such a property would offer attendees in their free time. “If people wanted to participate in that kind of activity, they could, Emme says. “And if they didn’t, there were many other things at the resort they could do.”
“If people wanted to participate in…(gaming), they could. And if they didn’t, there were many other things at the resort they could do.” — Jim Emme
Given the many options he had, Emme says that he selected the 1,623-room Peppermill — named the No. 1 hotel in Reno in January by U.S. News & World Report — for three key reasons:
“The first was its proximity to the airport,” he says. “Logistically, it was easy. The second was that it’s also convenient to the manufacturing facility we have there. And a tour of that facility was an important part of the meeting. The third reason was the price. It offered us good value. It wasn’t the lowest-cost venue we looked at. But for the price, they were able to accommodate us and also offer special meal choices, whether that meant vegetarian or vegan or what have you. And for everyone else, they also offered wonderful food choices so that everyone could have a first-class experience.”
Such broad dining options are especially important to Now Foods, since a disproportionately large percentage of their attendees are either vegetarians, vegans or simply very health-conscious.
“And on that count, Peppermill did a great job,” Emme says. “The staff at the resort also noted that they had really never had such an eclectic group as ours when it comes to food and beverage dietary preferences and options. But they were able to accommodate all of our people with first-class meals that satisfied everybody.”
Like many meeting hosts and planners before him, one of the things that most surprised Emme about using a gaming resort was the bang for the buck it delivered.
Planners are often surprised to find that dollar for dollar, gaming resorts offer more bottom-line value than any other kind of property. Emme agrees with that perception.
“We were pleasantly surprised with the feedback we got about the value that a gaming resort in general — and Peppermill in particular — had to offer for the price,” he says. “We do a survey after the meeting, and 100 percent of our attendees said they were pleased with Peppermill. And to me, that’s really how you measure value.”
By the same token, Emme was very satisfied with the meeting infrastructure and support services Peppermill delivered.
“On a scale of one to 10, I definitely give them a 10 for their meeting facilities, including the meeting space, the technology and the support services,” Emme says. “When you have a meeting today, everybody brings their own smartphones and laptops. And outside speakers bring their own devices, content and files. So getting all of that hardware configured to the internal audio-visual network at the facility is often clunky. And that was a seamless process at Peppermill. They were outstanding in their technical support of us. There was always someone available in the room to help us.”
He also rates the overall level of service at Peppermill very highly. “The service we got, across the board, was top-notch,” he says. “Again, on a scale of one to 10, it was a 10. And from researching Peppermill, we expected that high level of service. But it was actually even better than we expected. We didn’t have any kind of problem. Everything went very smoothly from start to finish.”
And that was very important to the success of his meeting, primarily because its retailer attendees are the backbone of his growing business.
Many of Now Foods’ retailers are small mom-and-pop operations. “They are the mainstay of our business,” Emme says. “So one of the things we do with our meeting is try to help them add value to their businesses. And our Western Retailer Conference is where we do that for our retail customers from that part of the country. And we want them to have an enjoyable experience. So one of the things that was important to us in the selection of a gaming resort like Peppermill was that they could pick and choose whatever they wanted to do.”
Not all of his attendees actually gambled. But all of them found the range of entertainment and leisure options, such as a world-class spa, to be an important element of the meeting.
“And that makes it easier for us in terms of planning the meeting.” Emme says. “It also makes it easier and more convenient for our attendees. The feedback we got from many attendees was that they liked the fact that everything they wanted was under one roof. They liked the fact they had so many other choices, like the bars and lounges and entertainment. There was something for everybody.”
In fact, attendees liked Peppermill so much — and Emme felt he got such practical value for his money — that Now Foods will likely go back next year.
Peppermill Resort Spa Casino features 10 restaurants, 16 bars and lounges, Spa Toscana, casino, a 4,000-sf boardroom, and 106,000 sf of meeting and convention space in the resort’s Tuscany Tower.
Although Las Vegas rules the roost as the top U.S. gaming destination, Atlantic City offers a convenient choice for planners looking for an East Coast option that delivers sizzle.
The 2,000-room Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa features 11 restaurants, multiple bars and lounges, a full-service spa and 70,000 sf of meeting space. Within the complex is an 800-room The Water Club hotel that is even more upscale and exclusive. Borgata will add two new entertainment venues later this year.
The 1,140-room Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino features 15 restaurants, including the flagship Morton’s The Steakhouse and Nero’s Italian Steakhouse, as well as the more casual Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill; a full-service spa, one of the largest casinos in town and 28,000 sf of meeting space.
The 2,079-room Tropicana Atlantic City features a total of 20 restaurants, including seven fine dining establishments and 13 casual dining options. Flagship restaurants include The Palm for steaks and seafood, P.F. Chang’s for Chinese cuisine and Cuba Libre. The Tropicana, now undergoing a $35 renovation, also features a Bluemercury Spa and 122,000 sf of meeting space.
Although Las Vegas and Atlantic City have been widely appreciated as gaming destinations for more than a half-century, casinos owned and operated by Native American tribes have become a popular new niche for meeting planners over the past decade.
The AAA Four Diamond Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, features 497 guest rooms and suites, upscale and casual dining options that include the flagship Orange Sky Restaurant for aged beef and fresh seafood and Blue Coyote Cafe for distinctive American cuisine, the Spa at Talking Stick, and more than 50,000 sf of meeting and event space that includes a 25,000-sf Salt River Grand Ballroom and 22 individual meeting rooms. The resort also features 50,000 sf of outdoor meeting space that takes advantage of the sensational Southwestern landscape. Also located in the Talking Stick Cultural and Entertainment Destination on the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Reservation is Casino Arizona.
Located in the Pacific Northwest, in Marysville, Washington, the 370-room Tulalip Resort Casino ranks as one of the most popular Native American gaming resorts in the U.S. for meetings and events. It offers five restaurants, including the signature Tulalip Bay; a full-service spa; and 30,000 sf of meeting space.
Connecticut features two state-of-the-art Native American casino resorts, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.
Mohegan Sun, which currently has 1,200 guest rooms, will open a second, 400-room hotel, called Earth Hotel, in fall 2016. Mohegan Sun features 40 restaurants, bars and lounges; a 20,000-sf Elemis spa; three entertainment and event venues, including a 10,000-seat arena, a 400-seat cabaret theatre and 350-seat Wolf Den; three casinos; and more than 100,000 sf of meeting space. The resort also includes a 17,500-sf outdoor terrace and a 130,000-sf retail shopping complex.
Located in Mescalero, New Mexico, the 273-room Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino, owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, features five restaurants, including the flagship Wendell’s Steak & Seafood Restaurant; a championship 18-hole golf course; and 40,000 sf of meeting and banquet space. Activities in the scenic outdoor setting include hiking, mountain biking and bird watching.
Located in Mashantucket, Connecticut, the Foxwoods Resort Casino features four individual hotels, including the AAA Four Diamond Grand Pequot Tower, Great Cedar Hotel, Two Trees Inn and Fix Tower, as well as the intimate 23-suite The Villas. Signature restaurants include the AAA Four Diamond Paragon for fresh seasonal fare, as well as Italian eateries Al Dente and Alta Strada, David Burke Prime steak house and Cedars for beef and poultry. The Foxwoods complex includes 150,000 sf of meeting space.
The 100-acre, 481-room Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in South Florida, is another of the country’s top-ranked Native American gaming resorts. It features 17 restaurants, including the flagship Council Oak Steaks & Seafood, 11 nightclubs, a 22,000-sf European spa and 20,000 sf of meeting space.
Also in the Southeast, the AAA Four Diamond, 1,740-room Beau Rivage, located in Biloxi, Mississippi, and operated by MGM Resorts, ranks among the most unique and popular gaming resorts outside Las Vegas and Atlantic City. It features five restaurants, including the flagship BR Prime steak house and Jia for innovative pan-Asian cuisine. The resort also features The Spa at Beau Rivage, the Fallen Oak Golf Course and 50,000 sf of meeting space. C&IT