Gaming, one of the planet’s oldest forms of entertainment, appears to be more popular than ever. According to the online statistics portal Statista, the gaming industry makes a direct contribution of more than $100 billion annually to the U.S. economy and employs more than 700,000 people. Much of this activity takes place in casinos, which once were legal in only a few states but are now found across the country. As many casinos are located in luxurious as well as rustic hotels and resorts, these destinations have evolved as an appealing option not only for private outings, but also for corporate meetings and incentive programs.
Most casino hotels and resorts offer built-in entertainment onsite and at all hours, which is a big plus for meeting planners. Conference participants can complete all their business and go on to enjoy a welcome change of pace by going to a first-class show, playing the slots or even relaxing during a round of golf with clients and fellow meeting-goers. All this without even leaving the property or the immediate area.
“Gaming destinations are becoming very bullish on the meetings market. There is some tremendous value to be had, especially if your corporate meeting is over midweek days and stays away from Friday and Saturdays.”
— Jim Wood
Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC, the tourism economic development agency for Atlantic City, New Jersey, says that gaming resorts offer both value and strong entertainment options.
“Gaming destinations are becoming very bullish on the meetings market,” he says. “There is some tremendous value to be had, especially if your corporate meeting is over midweek days and stays away from Friday and Saturdays.” He notes that Sunday through Thursday patterns can receive all the benefits of a world-class casino resort, but without paying the higher room rates over traditionally heavy weekends for the gaming destination.
At the same time, the readily available entertainment can be a real plus.
“A destination that offers gaming usually has a built-in entertainment component, which is a major benefit to any corporate meeting,” Wood says. “Companies can enjoy headliner entertainment that the casino is already providing so there can be savings to a company from that aspect alone.” He adds that should a corporate planner look to hire entertainment for an event, casinos have strong relationships with entertainers that can be useful in booking talent.
Wood says that meeting planners and event participants alike may be surprised at the variety of attractions available, making gaming resorts attractive to non-gamblers as well as those who enjoy gaming.
“They can enjoy brand name retail stores and restaurants owned and operated by renowned chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck, just to name a few,” he says. “Other features include spas, health clubs, pools and nightclubs. Too, those resorts located on the water may offer the extra benefits of a beach setting.”
From coast to coast, a variety of resorts offer attractive options for corporate meetings.
Deb Hammond, a vice president at Kent, Washington-based Worldwide Distributors whose duties include meeting planning, has found the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Nevada, a favored choice among meeting attendees. The company holds two trade shows a year at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, with about half of the attendees staying at the Atlantis during the event. Participants are buyers or owners of retail stores or sales representatives in the sporting goods industry. Each meeting draws about 1,000 to 1,200 attendees.
Hammond says gaming offers an enjoyable option.
“Many of our attendees come from smaller communities and enjoy having the opportunity to gamble in the evenings after work,” she says.
And both the city and the resort offer highly appealing features.
“Reno is a comfortable-sized city for our group,” she says. “It’s easy to get around and offers a variety of food and entertainment.” She adds that the Atlantis is convenient for attendees to access the convention center.
“The Atlantis also gives us a convenient option for holding events in their ballrooms,” she says. “They have an excellent catering staff and always exceed our expectations.”
Hammond also lauds the relationship with the Atlantis sales staff.
“They always work to meet our needs while we’re there,” she says. “They have also worked as an advocate for us with the convention center.”
An additional consideration is that there are no unions to deal with in Reno.
“This allows a lot of flexibility for our exhibitors and cuts the expense of attending,” Hammond says. “We work on a tight budget as do most of our attendees, so it is a great value for us.”
With 824 guest rooms, the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa offers 50,000 sf of meeting space, all located on the same level. It has direct access via a skybridge to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, which features an additional 500,000 sf of event space. Along with eight restaurants, guests can enjoy the facility’s more than 60,000 sf of casino space. With slot machines and a variety of gaming tables, it also has a race and sports book, a poker room and several non-smoking gaming areas.
Because of optics, a casino resort may not be at the top of every planner’s site selection list, however, there are countless alternative options for meeting attendees who are not interested in gambling per se. In fact, many casino hotels locate their guest rooms and meeting spaces apart from the gambling areas.
Janet Lampert, president and COO of Dynamic Communities Inc., an IT support organization in Tampa, Florida, acknowledges that a gaming resort might be viewed by some as a less desirable location for a conference since the nightlife and other activity could be a distraction to the event. But she and her team found the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa an ideal venue for an October 2015 summit attended by 4,200 participants. Along with a large room block and substantial number of room upgrades used as appreciation gifts, the lively environment was seen as a plus.
“The gaming and nightlife atmosphere provided our conference attendees with greater opportunities for networking and casual, face-to-face meet-ups,” she says. “We also liked the variety of dining options, and the availability of several intriguing venues for partner parties and formal networking receptions.”
While the main meeting was being held at the Atlantis, several related events also were also held at the convention center during the same time frame.
“Our event’s expo and meal hall were located in the convention center, so it was a huge plus that the Atlantis had enough meeting space to accommodate the summit and was connected to the convention center for easy flow of traffic between sessions,” she says.
Reno’s proximity to Lake Tahoe was another draw.
“Oftentimes, we hear of attendees extending their trip to meet with family and friends to explore the city,” Lampert says. “We knew our attendees would be eager to explore Lake Tahoe and would appreciate being only a short drive away from exploring.”
She adds that quality of service provided by the resort’s staff was a major consideration.
“When planning an event, there needs to be trust and confidence in the team you’re working with to plan, prepare and successfully execute the event when arriving onsite,” she says. “The Atlantis staff was fantastic to work with during our planning process, and they were very quick to respond to our requests onsite.”
Lampert’s group also found the large meeting spaces a plus.
“The meeting space was most definitely adequate for a large group,” she says. “We hold several site visits a year to prepare for future events, and meeting space within a hotel is not always guaranteed. We appreciated having all of our attendees sitting in sessions within the same location during our annual event.”
If nothing else, the gaming option expands possibilities for planners who seek some variety and attendance building.
“It’s nice to offer options to customers,” says Janine West, operations manager for Ferguson HVAC – EastWest Air, a wholesaler based in Louisville, Kentucky. “The more attractive the venue, the higher number of attendees. Gaming offers that.”
She has held meetings at Indiana’s French Lick Resort and Casino in both fall and winter, with attendance varying from 50 to 100 business owners.
“The facility is wonderful,” she says. “It has so much to offer.” She says that along with the gaming options, feedback from customers shows they enjoy taking in the hotels’ history and listening to live music.
Two hotels offer a combined 686 guest rooms. The meeting and event center totals 105,000 sf of space, including a 22,000-sf adjustable ballroom. Groups ranging from 10 to 2,000 attendees can be accommodated.
Already known for its spacious rooms, The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas has recently renovated 3,000 suites with new paint, wall coverings and carpet, along with enhanced technology including larger televisions and updated connections for electronic devices. Its meeting options continue to accommodate the largest of groups thanks to the huge amount of convention space available within the entire complex, which includes The Palazzo and the Sands Expo. In 2015, the final phase of the multi-year renovation of The Venetian and The Palazzo Congress Center and Sands Expo was completed. Recent improvements at Sands Expo included a new $6 million, 12,000-sf kitchen designed to provide higher quality food for trade show attendees, support show growth and increase energy efficiency by 35 percent. This is in addition to the recent total remodel and redesign of all lobbies and common spaces; construction of a 60-foot central atrium with a 30,000-sf, 3-D articulated ceiling; reconstruction of meeting rooms and business center; renovation of the building facade and porte cochere; and upgrades to the exhibition halls.
Another large resort, the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, continues to grow. Currently it combines three casinos offering more than 300,000 sf of gaming activities with a 34-story hotel tower featuring 1,200 guest rooms —and another tower now under construction. Other features include a large retail shopping area, spa and a 10,000-seat arena. Along with big-name performers, it hosts championship boxing and the home games of the Connecticut Sun WNBA basketball team. Among the many options offered by the three casinos are 5,000 slot machines and more than 300 table games.
The more than 100,000 sf of meeting and function space includes a 38,000-sf ballroom, 14,000 sf of prefunction space and a number of meeting rooms.
As if this isn’t enough to satisfy virtually any meeting needs, the new hotel tower is slated to open in the fall of 2016. Featuring 400 guest rooms, an indoor pool and fitness center, the new facilities also will provide expanded meeting space.
Also offering impressive facilities is Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, which bills itself as the largest resort casino in North America. Along with more than 150,000 sf of meeting and convention space, the huge complex features six different casinos, four hotels and other attractions including spas, theaters, golf courses, nightclubs, a bowling alley and retail outlets. Event space, which accommodates up to 2,000 guests, includes a 50,000-sf column-free ballroom.
Owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the resort has more than 2,230 guest rooms and suites at four onsite hotels: the Grand Pequot Tower Hotel, Great Cedar Hotel, the Fox Tower and Two Trees Inn.
For a different type of setting, Arizona’s We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center offers a desert location combining the attractions of the Fort McDowell Casino with golf and other activities. Along with 246 guest rooms and suites, there is indoor and outdoor meeting space totaling 55,000 sf. The 25,000-sf Wassaja Conference Center, featuring traditional motifs of the Yavapai Nation, includes an 18,000-sf ballroom divisible into smaller event areas ranging from 1,500 sf to 3,000 sf each. A 3,600-sf executive meeting facility has a 640-sf conference room and five similar-sized meeting rooms. The Fort McDowell Casino offers 866 slot machines, a variety of card games and a 1,200-seat bingo hall.
At the MGM Grand Detroit, some 30,000 sf of event space accommodates about 800 people. A 14,000-sf ballroom can be divided into four salons, and three 1,600-sf meeting rooms handle up to 86 people each. There are 400 guest rooms.
In Las Vegas, as the 50th anniversary of Caesars Palace approaches, the evolution continues with the reimagining of the iconic hotel’s original tower, the Roman Tower, which was reborn as the new Julius Tower. The new 587-room tower features new design-savvy, modern rooms and suites.
The guest room amenities include 55-inch TVs equipped with Sonifi system, luxurious Beauty Rest Bouvet Island Mattresses, a specially curated minibar and English-themed Gilchrist & Soames in-room toiletries and amenities.
Caesars Entertainment also has three properties in Atlantic City. Bally’s offers 1,760 guest rooms, many with ocean views, and 147 guest rooms in Bally’s Tower have recently been renovated. The hotel provides 80,000 sf of meeting space, all located on one level, with 23 meeting rooms, from a 20-person boardroom to a ballroom for 1,900. There also is the Bally’s Legends in Concert Theater, with 450 seats and plenty of technological capabilities.
Another Caesars Entertainment property in Atlantic City, the 1,144-room Caesars Atlantic City, has 28,000 sf of meeting space, including the 17,135-sf Palladium Ballroom, with its generous prefunction space and elegant atmosphere. Ten meeting rooms range from 490 sf to 1,262 sf, and can be combined to create a larger space. The renovated Circus Maximus Theater at Caesars has comfortable seating for more than 1,500 guests for special events, and renovations of 286 guest rooms in Temple Tower will be completed by May. And, of course, for planners booked into Bally’s and/or Caesars, meeting options can be extended at sister property Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City and its new Waterfront Conference Center.
Harrah’s $125 million Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center made a big splash when it opened in September of last year, and it is now gearing up for the 2016 World Education Congress (WEC), hosted by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) in June 2016. The WEC will attract more than 2,500 attendees, including corporate, third-party and association planners, suppliers, industry faculty and students, and it will be the first time that MPI has hosted a congress in Atlantic City. The Waterfront Conference Center offers 100,000 sf of meeting space and state-of-the-art technology throughout the venue. The huge amount of meeting space can be easily reconfigured into as many as 63 individual meeting rooms, including two 50,000-sf pillarless ballrooms that can accommodate up to 5,000 guests.
“We are happy to be partnering with Caesars Entertainment in hosting MPI’s WEC in 2016,” says Meet AC’s Jim Wood. “This is a strategic direction for Meet AC and for Atlantic City as we continue to diversify our mix of business. Showcasing Atlantic City to over 1,000 meeting planners and over 2,500 total attendees will definitely help us grow the meetings and conventions market.”
Harrah’s Resort’s other features include 2,590 hotel rooms, directly accessible from the Waterfront Conference Center, a 1,200-seat theater and an indoor pool covered by a 90-foot glass dome.
Atlantic City’s 2,000-room Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa provides 70,000 sf of event space, accommodating 10 to 3,500 people, including a 12,000-sf meeting room. All meeting spaces at Borgata have built-in lighting systems, extensive video and sound technology, with additional meeting venues at The Water Club, the 800-room upscale hotel adjoining the Borgata. The 18,000 sf of meeting space at The Water Club includes 13 venues accommodating 20 to 200 people, with its own banquet and catering department, signature in-room dining and banquet menus by noted chef Geoffrey Zakarian, and access to Immersion, the 32nd-floor, 36,000-sf spa and lap pool.
The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa recently announced plans to invest more than $50 million into the improvement of its property throughout 2016: Borgata Festival Park will be transformed into an outdoor pool beginning this summer, featuring more than 400 chaise lounges, daybeds and cabanas, a full-service canopied bar, entertainment stage, and a variety of lawn games and activities, all centered on a 3,200-sf Roman-style pool. Debuting this spring is Premier, an 18,000-sf nightclub offering “a theatrical experience for partygoers.”
Encore Resort and Encore Tower Suites at Wynn Las Vegas began a refresh in summer 2015, including updated furnishings, floor coverings, technology, aesthetics and custom bed linens. Also of note is that the Wynn Fairway Villas and Encore three-bedroom duplex are now available for guests to rent. The 5,829-sf Encore duplex features a billiard room and private massage and exercise room with floor-to-ceiling views of the city. The dining area seats 16. The Fairway Villas overlook Wynn Golf Course.
The Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas has unveiled the restaurant’s new concept, which elevates the traditional buffet to that of a more sophisticated dining experience. C&IT