The choices in gaming resorts today are as diverse as the selection of table games at a casino. The hotbeds of the industry remain Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but there are compelling gaming resorts that beckon corporate groups to less-traveled corners of the country, from Hollywood, Florida, to Biloxi, Mississippi, to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, to Ridgefield, Washington. Unique cultural experiences await groups in many of these smaller gaming enclaves and a prime example is Ilani Casino Resort, which opened in Ridgefield last spring.
Developed by Salishan-Mohegan LLC in collaboration with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Ilani is located on the tribe’s 156-acre reservation, about 17 miles from the Hilton Vancouver. The 368,000-sf facility includes a 100,000-sf gaming floor and a meeting and entertainment venue seating up to 2,500 guests. Attendees have at their disposal a variety of retail shops, bars and restaurants, including Tom’s Urban and Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse. The Friedmutter Group, an architecture firm that specializes in gaming facilities, designed Ilani to highlight the beauty of the Northwest and home of the Cowlitz tribe, with panoramic mountain views and prominent use of wood, stone and zinc as building materials.
Ilani adds to the gaming options in Washington, which is also home to Tulalip Resort Casino. Having recently completed a $15 million renovation, Tulalip offers 30,000 sf of meeting space and 360 redesigned guest rooms that express the rich history and culture of the Tulalip Tribes.
For five years, sales representatives from Spectrum Technologies have been enriched by the culture of the Mescalero Apache Tribe at the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino. The New Mexico gaming resort offers groups AAA Four Diamond facilities that include 273 guest rooms and 40,000 sf of meeting space. “They have a lot of unique paintings and statues, and they really do highlight that heritage throughout the property,” notes Michelle Lemke, technical solutions director. “Several of our attendees have remarked on that (heritage) and asked questions. So it is showcased in a very professional manner and adds some ambience to the property.”
The Inn of the Mountain Gods was selected for the company’s January sales kickoff meeting primarily because of its location, notes Lemke. “It’s nice and remote and takes our sales team out of the daily grind of the sales world and allows us to decompress,” she explains. “Secondly, the amenities the Inn offers are quite exceptional. They have a beautiful lounge where we typically host our cocktail hour, a great onsite bar, and then the menu that we typically serve for that cocktail hour is very good. It’s a little bit out of the normal scope of bar food.”
Apart from providing an atmosphere conducive to networking, the resort’s grounds are ideal for teambuilding. “This year, we had a scavenger hunt around the property, and the Inn staff helped our attendees to find clues, which was kind of neat,” she says. “I’ll never forget the fact that they were interactive and helped to make it fun. They seem to really care about being engaged with the customer. It’s also wonderful that the staff hasn’t changed since I began planning (meetings there).”
Customers who enjoy robust entertainment offerings along with their meetings may consider another Southwest gaming icon Talking Stick Resort. Located in Scottsdale, Arizona, the 496-room property includes the Showroom, Salt River Grand Ballroom and Pool — all of which host touring entertainers. Recently hosted acts include Dave Mason, Gabriel Iglesias and award-winning blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Talking Stick Resort houses more than 100,000 sf of flexible meeting space. Nearby recreational options include the 36-hole Talking Stick Golf Club, OdySea Aquarium and Topgolf at Riverwalk.
When it comes to diversity in casino entertainment, arguably no gaming destination can match Las Vegas. Yet many of the city’s gaming properties also are quite serious about delivering a standard-setting conference experience. A case in point is the MGM Grand Conference Center, which topped out its 250,000-sf expansion in January. The $130 million project, opening the end of this year, will expand the conference center to 850,000 sf, including a 22,000-sf expansion of Stay Well Meetings. New facilities will include a 49,000-sf ballroom, 32,000-sf ballroom, three junior ballrooms, 11 breakout rooms and a 5,500-sf outdoor courtyard.
The MGM Grand Conference Center expansion is certainly making headlines, but it’s only a part of MGM Resorts’ commitment to expanding its group business. When the expansions at Aria, Park MGM and Luxor are completed by the end of this year, MGM Resorts will have 4 million sf of meeting and convention space, reportedly more than any other company in Las Vegas. Aria’s $165 million project to enhance its LEED Gold-certified convention center will deliver an additional 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space. The enhanced center welcomed its first clients in February. Meanwhile, Park MGM has introduced phase one of its new 77,000-sf conference space, and later this year will open phase two: the city’s first Executive Meeting Center and Idea Studio. The high-tech space will be ideal for small groups looking to maximize productivity. At Luxor, groups can utilize the new 20,000-sf Galleria Square, which features the 8,000-sf Lotus Ballroom, five meeting rooms ranging from 1,400–1,650 sf, and a 4,700-sf prefunction area. With the expansion, Luxor’s meeting space now totals more than 40,000 sf. In addition, Luxor completes a redesign of more than 1,700 hotel Tower Rooms in March.
Further cementing its resources for meetings, MGM Resorts partnered with Cisco Systems in November to upgrade and double its wireless infrastructure throughout all MGM Resorts meeting and convention spaces in Las Vegas (except Circus Circus). The new system features increased high-density coverage and faster download speeds.
Wynn Resorts Ltd. began construction on its new Las Vegas Strip development, Paradise Park, in January 2018. The 47-story, 1,500-room hotel and convention center will be built alongside a 38-acre lagoon, ringed by a mile-long boardwalk and white-sand beach. The development is replacing the golf course behind the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore. Design integrated with recreation is, as always, paramount for Wynn — there are plans for a nightly Carnivale parade of floats on the hourglass-shaped lagoon. Wynn is also doing its part to add more renewable energy resources in Nevada — powering Paradise Park entirely by energy from a dedicated solar array built outside of Fallon, Nevada.
Caesars Entertainment also has been augmenting its hospitality product in Las Vegas with a $100 million renovation of the Palace Tower at Caesars Palace. The project spans 1,181 guest rooms and suites, including the 10 opulent villas on the resort’s 29th floor. The elegantly designed new guest rooms and suites feature cool gray tones accented by royal blue and champagne gold. By the second quarter of this year, the Flamingo Las Vegas will have completed a $90 million renovation of 1,270 rooms. The rooms’ décor pays homage to the Flamingo’s 70-year history.
A modern addition to Las Vegas’ resort collection is the M Resort Spa Casino, located in nearby Henderson. Opened in 2009, the 390-room hotel offers more than 92,000 sf of meeting space, including a pavilion, grand ballroom and multiple reception areas. Both natural lighting and views of the Las Vegas skyline complement the function space. Alternative gathering venues throughout the resort include Lux, the expansive 16th floor function space; Hostile Grape wine cellar; and the M Pool, which includes outdoor event terraces. Top-quality F&B is a major focus of the resort, which houses nearly 30,000 sf of kitchen space and culinary work areas. Most of the M Resort’s restaurants feature outdoor dining on terraces that overlook the 100,000-sf pool and events piazza, as well as the Las Vegas Strip.
Caesars Entertainment is not only conducting major guest room renovation projects in Las Vegas. In the home of the world-famous Boardwalk, Harrah’s Atlantic City completed a $30 million renovation of its 450-room Bayview Tower last summer. In addition, The Pool at Harrah’s/The Pool after Dark received a $2.6 million redesign and a new fitness center was introduced.
Major renovations have also been completed at the Tropicana Atlantic City. The $200 million project has refurbished all 21 meeting rooms in the Havana Tower (16,000-sf combined), 18,000-sf Ballroom and the 20,000-sf Grand Exhibition Center. The Tropicana also offers meeting planners newly refurbished and renovated guest rooms in the North, South and Havana hotel towers, new amenities and experiences such as AtlantiCare Life Center Fitness and Escape AC, and three new dining concepts by award-winning chef Jose Garces: Olón, Bar Olón and Okatshe. After the company acquired the adjacent boutique hotel, The Chelsea, last year, the property began the process of linking it to Tropicana’s operations as its fifth hotel tower, bringing its total guest room count to 2,369 and adding 5,600 sf of meeting space.
Up in Uncasville, Connecticut, Mohegan Sun is also making strides with the upcoming summer debut of its convention space expansion. Totaling 250,000 sf, the new space includes a 125,000-sf Expo Center, 20,000-sf Earth Ballroom, 15 meeting rooms and 20,000 sf earmarked for new dining or entertainment space. Expansive meeting space options are also available at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Along with a variety of smaller meeting rooms, facilities include the 47,533-sf Premier Ballroom, 15,000-sf Celebrity Ballroom and the 25,000-sf, column-free Foxwoods Grand Ballroom, divisible into five sections. A 4,000-sf prefunction area with 23 foot ceilings provides ample room for registration or pre-dinner cocktail hours. Foxwoods also features the 1,400-seat Fox Theater and the 4,000-seat Grand Theater.
Cumberland Farms has taken advantage of these spaces over the last seven years for its annual meeting and trade show. The most recent installment brought about 1,200 attendees to the property. “We have a wonderful partnership with them; they have really become part of the Cumberland Farms family,” says Debra J. White, senior executive assistant, adding that the company has booked its 2018 and 2019 trade show and year-end meetings with Foxwoods. “We typically hold a large cocktail party for our vendors, and we’ve held that in the past in two of their ballrooms. But this year we decided to go over to Grand Pequot and we used their High Rollers (Luxury Lanes and Sports Lounge). It’s pretty amazing. So we had an event there on one evening for 600 people, and the next evening another event for roughly 300 people, while simultaneously using another one of their ballrooms for a dinner for about 600. It was the first time we had done that kind of an event for our store managers, and they were thrilled because they had the bowling alley and we had put on a nice spread of food.”
White commends Foxwoods’ culinary service in general. “They have a tremendous chef who’s always willing to work with us; if there’s something on the menu that we would like to see changed, they change the food offering for us,” she explains. “And they make positive suggestions about how we can change things to spice things up a little bit.”
Pennsylvania’s gaming scene has been growing in recent times. The Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem opened in 2009, bringing a 150,000-sf casino to the state, complemented by the Sands Bethlehem Events Center, offering 12,000 sf of rentable space and an onsite AV and event team. And for the last five years, King of Prussia has been home to a full-amenity gaming resort, Valley Forge Casino Resort. Guest rooms are divided into two towers: The 483-room Radisson Tower and the 154-room Casino Tower, which recently underwent a $6 million renovation. Since the property opened, renovations have been made to the Event Center and the 100,000 sf of function space, which includes five ballrooms. In addition, dining space has been converted into a classic steakhouse, Revolution Chop House, and the Valley Beach Poolside Club was created.
Beau Rivage, located in Biloxi, Mississippi, has also recently completed a rooms renovation. Ninety-five of the property’s Jasmine, Cypress and Beau Chene Suites have been remodeled to better represent the Gulf Coast lifestyle. The materials palette includes the blue-greens of the local waters and foliage, the colors of driftwood and sand, and yellows and fuchsia pinks. The project was a collaboration between MGM Resorts Design & Development and the Beau Rivage Facilities team.
The 1,740-room Beau Rivage offers groups 50,000 sf of function space, including the 17,000-sf Magnolia Ballroom; an 85,000-sf casino; a 1,550-seat theater; upscale retailers; the nearby Fallen Oak golf course; and a spa and tropical pool. During their free time, attendees can catch headliners such as Kansas, Kool & the Gang, Billy Idol and Jim Gaffigan. A new offering for groups who want to feel the breeze on the Mississippi Gulf is the Betsy Ann Riverboat, a 150-passenger true stern wheel paddleboat docked at Point Cadet Marina. The vessel, featuring an enclosed climate-controlled main cabin, is now available for two-hour tours, sunset cruises, dinner cruises as well as private charters.
Down in the Sunshine State, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood is adding a $1.8 billion, guitar-shaped tower with 800 rooms to its current 500 guest rooms. The project is scheduled to be completed by late 2019, and will also add 50,000 sf of function space along with new dining and entertainment venues. The hotel currently offers 120,000 sf of meeting space, including a 38,000-sf exhibit hall divisible into 10 spaces. Other venues include the 5,500-seat, 18,000-sf Hard Rock Live arena and a 7,000-sf poolside function area.
The Ameristar brand has made a name for itself in the Midwest via the Ameristar Casino Hotel Kansas City and the Ameristar Casino Resort Spa St. Charles. The Kansas City property is a AAA Three Diamond full-service hotel with 184 well-appointed rooms and the largest casino in the Kansas City area at 140,000 sf. Numerous amenities complement the hotel’s 15,000 sf of function space, including seven dining venues, live entertainment and even an 18-screen movie theater.
Located just west of the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, the Ameristar Casino Resort Spa St. Charles has a slightly smaller casino at 130,000 sf but a larger hotel at 400 guest rooms. The AAA Four Diamond property houses a 20,000-sf conference center. Other highlights include an indoor-outdoor pool, a full-service luxury day spa, state-of-the-art fitness center and a pool deck featuring fountains, a firepit and Missouri River views.
A small group of Starbucks facilities managers gathered last year at the Ameristar Casino Resort Spa St. Charles for an annual regional kickoff meeting planned by Todd Holmes, Starbucks facilities manager. Holmes, who was personally familiar with the Ameristar brand prior to selecting the property, remarks that the “conference rooms were very comfortable; they were able to arrange it in a way that was conducive to our group. We were able to have the media and the electronics we needed to support our meeting. We had some people that dialed in from the Indianapolis market, and so we were able to have the conference call option in the room. It worked out perfectly.”
One aspect of the event that did not go perfectly was a power outage throughout the hotel one evening. But the personalized planning assistance that Holmes had been receiving from Ashley Gaddy, senior executive sales manager with Ameristar, continued throughout that situation. “Through no fault of their own, the power was out. We had people staying up on the 23rd–25th floors. Ashley called me and said, ‘We understand if anybody wants to go to a different hotel. We will have somebody go up and get their bags.’ And they really supported us during that time. We just hung out in the lobby, and when the power came on we all either went to the casino or up to rooms. But it made for a memorable story to tell when we get together again. We like to talk about it in a good way: how the company, and specifically Ashley, handled the situation for us. I can’t imagine anything she could have done to deliver better customer service, and she still stays in touch to this day. The next time I’m in charge of organizing (the meeting), we’ll stay there again.”
Upscale gaming hotels don’t leave the guest experience up to chance, and the long-term partnerships that companies like Cumberland Farms and Spectrum Technologies have established with such properties are a testament to the remarkable customer service their attendees receive, year after year. With the growing variety in gaming resorts across the country, planners have more opportunities to create such partnerships. C&IT