They may say, “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas,” but one secret that’s not kept is just how successful meetings and events are when being held in one of the country’s most popular destinations.
But it’s not just Las Vegas that’s a hot spot for meetings, literally any city that offers gaming and all the high-class amenities that come with gaming resorts do well with attendance numbers, be it Atlantic City, the Bahamas, Connecticut or in the Poconos. “Gaming cities and resorts have vast appeal,” says Greg Jenkins, a partner in Long Beach, California-based Bravo Productions. The company has staged meetings and events in gaming resorts for more than two decades. “Foremost, these cities have more than an ample amount of hotel rooms, along with large convention centers — and convention and meetings space at each of the properties.”
Debbie Anmuth-Hunt, president of Abington, Pennsylvania-based Eventive Productions Inc., has been producing meetings and events for more than 20 years, and frequently uses resorts in Atlantic City, as well as Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos and Wind Creek Bethlehem, for clients’ programs. “These are great because the entertainment is built right in,” she says. “While these properties are gambling properties, there are so many more options. As a planner, we can absolutely plan group activities, but it’s also good to give attendees downtime after the program ends for the day, and attendees don’t have to drive anywhere to see a show, go to a great restaurant or find something else fun to do.”
This past year, Mount Airy hosted one of her client’s events during the pandemic, and the property was selected specifically because of the size of the ballroom and outdoor activity options. “The staff was able to create a safe environment for our guests during the program, and also host a variety of networking events outdoors by the pool and on the golf course,” Anmuth-Hunt says. “There were about 125 people for this one. Lower than a normal year, but we offered a hybrid option during COVID-19. Attendees who were comfortable going out had a variety of restaurants to choose from, and the casino floor as well. These resorts offer so many options for guests.”
Gaming resorts typically offer a full range of in-house services, including audiovisual, prop and floral departments, lighting and technicians, catering, planners to coordinate banquets, and a concierge to help arrange for group team-building and recreational activities, to name a few. “Gaming resorts also provide an entertainment appeal for attendees,” Jenkins says. “The resorts have celebrity A-list performers with shows each day of the week, there’s theme attractions within each hotel, shopping, restaurants serving diverse cuisine that will appeal to everyone’s palate, and of course — the gambling.”
Plus, the resorts are a city within a city. An attendee does not necessarily need to leave the hotel to be engaged throughout their stay. “Some of the most popular activities attendees like to do outside of meeting times are golfing, spa treatments, shopping or sightseeing some local attractions,” Jenkins says. “For example, a tour of Hoover Dam is popular for Las Vegas attendees. For the more adventurous attendees, off-roading in ATV rentals and zip lining over Fremont Street at SlotZilla are options.”
Anmuth-Hunt notes her clients’ programs are all different, with each having a different level of downtime. But, no matter which gaming resort she chooses, there is always something for everyone. “I enjoy working with venues like these gaming resorts that have a variety of options,” she says. Venues that offer flexible meeting space, but also have restaurants on-site, golf, spa and other activities makes it easy to plan a group event or offer options for guests during their downtime. “With some, we are planning events even after sessions are over, and with others, people are more on their own,” Anmuth-Hunt says. “With the Atlantic City gaming properties, there is shopping and the beach. We have even planned morning activities on the beach. With a resort like Mount Airy, there is a beautiful golf course, and we’ve planned group activities there as well.”
H. Fletch Brunelle, vice president of marketing and sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), thinks Las Vegas is the ideal destination for hosting corporate meetings and incentive travel because of the extensive offerings and experiences that planners, exhibitors and attendees simply won’t find anywhere else. “With 150,000 hotel rooms and 14 million sf of meetings and events space, Las Vegas offers a value proposition unlike any other destination, with something for every budget and taste,” he says. “Add to that state-of-the-art facilities, world-class dining and attractions, endless entertainment and sports options, and it’s clear why Las Vegas has been named the No. 1 trade show destination for 26 consecutive years.”
After all, Las Vegas is home to unparalleled restaurants, unique entertainment options, world-class sporting events and venues, premier shopping and spas, and fantastic golf and outdoor activities. All of these options provide great opportunities to continue networking outside of the boardroom or trade show floor, or unwind when business is done for the day. “Our hospitality professionals are among the most experienced in the world, so not only do planners enjoy the ease and convenience of choosing between ample exhibit and accommodation spaces, but they can also rely on the expertise and world-class care that only Las Vegas can provide,” Brunelle says. “Planners will also likely see a boost in attendance if they choose to host here. On average, attendance increased by 9% when conventions rotate to Las Vegas, proving that the venues, amenities, accommodations and entertainment offered here can’t be found anywhere else.”
Kellie Jewett, vice president, project management for Beaverton, Oregon-based Opus Agency, also has been planning events in Las Vegas and at gaming resorts for well over two decades. “One of the primary benefits of hosting our programs at these resorts are really the opportunities they offer to the attendees as well as the creative programming we can do as event organizers,” she says. “We see a lot of our partners and sponsors hosting after-hours receptions and networking events in conjunction with our program. Since most gaming resorts also offer renowned restaurants and celebrity shows, they are a draw to attendees and advantageous to those hosting.”
Bravo Productions has staged numerous events in Las Vegas, from a year-end company event to a product launch for a mobile carrier, to an awards event for a paper, plastic and janitorial services association. For the latter, the awards event was held at the Wynn Las Vegas in conjunction with the association’s annual convention and trade show for 2,000 attendees. “One of the appeals was hosting the function in a city where attendees could remain in a resort and be entertained, or if leaving the premises, have a plethora of options to choose from,” Jenkins says. “The group’s historical trends show that Vegas has always been a popular destination for their attendees.”
As part of the program, entertainment included a hypnotist. Part of his delivery was comedic, which set the tone and made attendees feel comfortable — then randomly drawing 10 names from a raffle drum to come on stage to be a part of the hypnotist’s show. “Audience members were skeptical at first, however, as the show progressed, the attendees were intrigued by the performance,” Jenkins says. “It went over extremely well to much applause and positive feedback.”
Chandra Allison, senior vice president of sales at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas, notes the Venetian Convention and Expo Center offers 2.25 million sf of meetings space, providing flexibility for meetings and events of all shapes and sizes. “We’re committed to creating innovative and inspiring spaces and experiences,” she says. “Being a fully integrated resort gives meeting professionals innovative options for engaging their attendees outside of the traditional meeting space, with everything from restaurants to lounges, and even our 5-acre pool deck for events.”
It’s no secret that Las Vegas was built to handle large events. The destination is constantly investing in infrastructure and facilities to continue to be the top destination for trade shows year after year. “In addition, there are so many entertainment, dining and unique venue options that are available,” Allison says. “Not only that, but with a warm and dry climate for most of the year, groups can program group activities at outdoor venues, including Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire, Lake Mead, Mt. Charleston and more.”
One of the most appealing elements of MGM Resorts in Las Vegas is the sheer amount of options available for meetings and events of all sizes. “While many planners are aware of our robust convention spaces at Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand and The Mirage, many may not know we offer a seamless luxury experience at Bellagio, ARIA, Vdara and Park MGM that provides a convenient way to build out dynamic, creative programming across multiple resorts,” says Stephanie Glanzer, senior vice president & chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International. “This luxury meetings district is particularly attractive to our smaller and mid-size corporate groups, which make up a large part of our business.”
She adds that Las Vegas has always been a city that continues to reinvent itself, and each time attendees return to the destination, even if their events are annual, their experience is completely different every time. “They might discover a hot, new restaurant, a new show, a new attraction or even entirely remodeled rooms,” Glanzer says. “Additionally, the level of service guests and attendees will find here is unparalleled to anything else in the travel industry.”
Deanna Burgess, CMP, CEM, CRME, corporate vice president of sales for Station Casinos LLC in Las Vegas, notes the company has a variety of properties that can host events, including ballrooms, intimate lounges, music venues that are perfect for presentations, outdoor terraces for breakouts, and sprawling outdoor spaces to mix and mingle. “With more than 320 days of sunshine yearly, the climate in our desert destination makes it easy to host event indoors and outdoors all year long,” she says. “Business travelers enjoy the convenience of Las Vegas being open 24/7 as well.”
The famous Atlantic City Boardwalk with its iconic Steel Pier is often a reason why planners choose to host events in Atlantic City, as guests can not only enjoy gaming, but they can enjoy a nice walk, run or bike ride along the ocean during their downtime.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City regularly hosts conventions and meetings thanks to its 150,000 sf of meetings and events space. There are also a variety of venues available to amplify programs, such as the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena, which can stage general sessions of 7,000 people or 300-plus-booth trade shows and expo events. “The continuous energy of Atlantic City is what attracts people to the destination,” says Donna Ward, vice president of sales at the resort. “There is something for everyone, and the opportunity to have any experience at your fingertips is what sets us apart from other cities known for their meetings and events.”
Another iconic gaming resort in Atlantic City is Resorts Casino Hotel, offering 64,000 sf of flexible space, which features 24 meetings and events rooms, 14 of which will have natural light and Atlantic Ocean views. Also, the new Resorts Conference Center added 12,500 sf of technologically advanced conference space. Eateries run the gamut from quick bites at Famiglia Pizza and Ruby’s Dinette, to fine dining at Capriccio Italian Restaurant and Dougherty’s Steakhouse & Raw Bar.
As for gaming, the casino offers 80,000 sf of slots and table games. Meanwhile, at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Entertainment Complex, Margaritaville Café and LandShark Bar & Grill — the only year-round, beachside restaurant in Atlantic City — are both available for private parties.
Atlantis, Paradise Island in the Bahamas offers groups built-in entertainment offerings, a multitude of restaurants and bars, and gaming options — even by the pool — all in one convenient location. Plus, there is ample indoor and outdoor meetings space across a variety of venues that can accommodate groups of any size. The resort also offers unforgettable authentic Bahamian experiences to groups of all sizes, including complimentary opening reception entertainment with traditional Bahamian fire dancers, limbo dancers and Junkanoo rush performers. Therefore, meeting attendees are drawn to Atlantis as a place to relax and enjoy the Caribbean while experiencing Bahamian culture and nature. “In addition to the award-winning Atlantis Casino, the resort also offers a variety of other amenities that meetings groups can take advantage of, including 5 miles of white-sand beaches, a diverse dining selection from fine dining to Bahamian cafes, shopping, spa, golf, multiple pools and more,” says Bryan Gay, senior vice president of group sales for Atlantis Paradise Island. “With so many attractions, experiences, dining and other amenities, the resort is an ideal mix of work, play and relaxation.”
Liz Lathan, CMP, CMO of Haute Companies, held a corporate meeting earlier this year at Atlantis, and appreciated the endless supply of meetings and gathering locations, both indoors and outdoors. “We were able to keep all of our activities outdoors to take full advantage of the incredible scenery and the property,” she says. “We put our educational sessions in the mornings and at night so we could enjoy the outdoor activities and team building during the sunshine hours of the day.”
Additionally, the property’s safety protocols were also incredibly appealing to the company. “As the Bahamas requires everyone to have a negative test to enter, we were able to feel a sense of security around our group,” Lathan says. “We masked while indoors and in public areas, and were able to enjoy being outside with our private group during the day.”
During downtime, meeting attendees took advantage of Dolphin Cay, hosting behind-the-scenes tours of the fish hospital and the marine mammal center, along with some other incredible back-of-house experiences, including meeting the K-9 security team. “We also planned small group activities one afternoon, giving our participants the opportunity to choose paddleboarding or kayaking with the dolphins, feeding the stingrays, snorkeling in the ocean or lagoon, hitting the casino and/or the spa, enjoying the waterpark and enjoying non-motorized watercraft on the lagoon,” Lathan says.
Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania, offers more than 25,000 sf of flexible events space, able to be artfully arranged to host anything from small, intimate board meetings to large corporate retreats. Plus, the meetings and convention center includes a state-of-the-art video wall to make sure virtual attendees are involved in all aspects of the event.
Outside of the meetings and convention center, guests can experience signature restaurant options, including Guy Fieri’s Mt. Pocono Kitchen; the award-winning Bistecca by Il Mulino; a Sports Illustrated-recognized, lakefront 18-hole golf course; a rejuvenating spa, salon and exercise facility; a luxury, indoor/outdoor pool; and a covered deck and tented area. And for those so inclined, the casino boasts more than 70 table games and nearly 1,700 of the hottest slots in Northern Pennsylvania. “The picturesque Pocono Mountains provide the perfect backdrop for a wide range of events,” says Glenn Cademartori, vice president of marketing for the resort. “As a peaceful, relaxing and secluded destination, Mount Pocono is perfect for regrouping and/or relaxing as a team or an entire company.”
Those are just some of the reasons Anmuth-Hunt chooses to host meetings at the Pocono resort. “For all events, the in-house team also includes an executive chef who can organize and provide the best food and beverage for the occasion at hand — whether that be a continental breakfast or a formal, multicourse dinner,” she says.
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood’s events center boasts 120,000 sf of meetings space, including a 38,000-sf carpeted exhibition hall that can host trade shows, conventions, large corporate groups and social fundraisers. “Beyond the excitement on the expansive gaming floor, the integrated resort also features award-winning restaurants, a world-class Rock Spa & Salon, a state-of-the-art Hard Rock Live, and 18 acres of water recreation,” says Mark Tascione, director of sales and catering. Being within close proximity to three international airports — Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Miami International Airport and Palm Beach International Airport, also make it a great choice for national and international groups.
Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona offers 113,000 sf of flexible indoor and outdoor meetings space, which includes the nearly 25,000-sf Salt River Grand Ballroom. Its casino offers more than 50 table games, 800 slot machines and poker tournaments almost every day. Dining includes six unique restaurants, such as Tash, for Mediterranean-inspired tapas, seafood and meats; Orange Sky, for dishes inspired by earth, water, air and fire and offering 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape; and Ocean Trail, which offers classic New Orleans-style meals.
Other amenities include golf at Talking Stick Golf Club, which offers 36 holes of championship golf on courses designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Moore; and the Spa at Talking Stick, voted one of the 10-best spas in Scottsdale by USA Today.
Like planning any meeting, convention or event for gaming resorts, the planner must start off with defining his or her goals and objectives. “Depending on those goals, a gaming resort might be ideal, or may not be the best fit to support those goals or for their audience demographics,” Jenkins says.
Questions to ask include: What appeals to the group? How many people attended previous meetings? Are there enough rooms? How were the gaming resort services? What activities outside of the meeting will appeal to your group, and does the city offer those options? What are the takeaways you want attendees to leave with after the meeting or event at a gaming resort? “Understand that cities such as Las Vegas operate with union labor,” Jenkins says. “A planner must know what provisions they can bring to a meeting, and what they must secure through the resort. For example, one might be able to bring in their own show director, but all lighting, A/V and technical support must be secured through the venue. Those costs can be steep and should be configured into the budget at the onset of planning the function.”
Planners of events in gaming resorts often say their attendees got distracted by the activities and attendance suffered in classes. Jewett says planners shouldn’t fight the distractions, but embrace them. “Attendees will always be lured by all the resort has to offer,” she says. “Finding a way to incorporate them into the programming and leveraging them to your benefit is a win-win.”
One thing that meetings planners need to keep an eye on at gaming resorts is that attendees aren’t all over the place and too overwhelmed by their surroundings that they miss the important parts of the meetings. Or conversely, that they don’t get the chance to take advantage of what’s available.
“You need to have balance — balancing meeting time, networking time and downtime,” Anmuth-Hunt says. “Many of our clients select these types of resorts because of the abundance of things to do. But if a meeting attendee is stuck in the meeting room for three days straight, they will not be able to get the full experience. So, having the correct balance of educational sessions, networking opportunities and downtime is key. We typically will send out information on the property prior to the event so attendees can take time to look at what’s available and what they can do. We also will offer some group activities that we set up for our groups only. This gives them the chance to enjoy a resort activity while networking with their peers.” C&IT