Gaming resorts are the ultimate self-contained meeting properties because they offer spacious meeting facilities, exciting entertainment, amenities galore and world-class gaming.
Planners know that gaming resorts result in higher meeting attendance and provide good value. That’s important as planners operate on smaller budgets and companies increasingly demand financial justification for meetings and return on investment.
No wonder gaming resorts nationwide are as popular as ever. Las Vegas continues to be top of mind for planners seeking the largest and most diverse variety of gaming resorts. Kathy Miller, president of Schaumburg, IL-based Total Event Resources, chose Las Vegas for a three-day sales and product training meeting in January for a manufacturing company’s 125 salespeople and executives. Miller decided on Las Vegas partly for practical reasons. “Although it was just a few days, they all really wanted to be in Las Vegas. We also had a number of executives in the Western region that could get in and out of Las Vegas easily. Sometimes things like that are driving forces in where you meet,” says Miller.
Miller looked at several properties in Las Vegas before selecting Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, which together offer more than 4,700 guest rooms and suites as well as more than 260,000 sf of meeting space. “The Wynn’s style suited our group,” says Miller. “It has an intimate feel. Las Vegas and some hotels can be overwhelming for some people, particularly when you have a smaller group. The Wynn is big, and there is a lot to it, but the way it is laid out doesn’t make it feel overwhelming. And you don’t have to walk through the casino to get to the meeting area.”
Wynn’s location on The Strip was a key reason Miller selected the hotel. In addition, they “felt welcomed and important as a small group. They were very attentive and thrilled to have us,” she said. “We also wanted the convenience of being on The Strip to go out at night. And the room rates were awesome.”
Attendees enjoyed the Wynn’s many amenities including the 35 fine and casual dining restaurants, 111,000-sf casino, two spas and 100,000 sf of retail space.
The group also created its own fun. “The meeting happened during the BCS National Championship Game,” says Miller. “So we used one of the suites to bring in large TV screens and have an event around the game. We had catering from the hotel. On the last day, we had a poolside cocktail reception. They had light food and a chance to regroup and network after full days of meetings before going out.” Las Vegas properties will continue to be at the top of Miller’s list for certain meetings, she says.
Once again, the numbers tell the story about Las Vegas. In 2012, Las Vegas hosted 53 of the top 250 trade shows in the United States, according to Trade Show News Network, and the 19th consecutive year Las Vegas earned the No. 1 position. In addition, last year Las Vegas attracted a record 39.7 million visitors, up 2.1 percent over 2011, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). The number of conventions and meetings increased 13.6 percent.
Amy Riley, LVCVA senior director, convention sales, cites several reasons why Las Vegas remains the mecca of gaming destinations: “It’s the value we offer, the size of the destination, meeting space, guest rooms and accessibility. And our hotels and resorts are constantly revising, upgrading, adding and reinventing themselves for both new and repeat visitors.”
Las Vegas is further expanding its meetings infrastructure. One of the city’s largest and most visionary projects is the Las Vegas Global Business District (LVGBD). The $2.5 billion project will create an international complex that will include major renovations to the 54-year-old Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC).
Plans call for the LVCC to have more exhibit, general session and meeting space; technology upgrades; more food and beverage outlets; additional lobby space; a grand concourse connector; and outdoor public gathering spaces. “The LVCVA board has approved the project and it is still in the beginning stages,” says Riley. “It will be completed in phases over the next 10 years or so. We still must go through the financing process, get the project management team established as well as the architecture. There is no timetable for starting construction yet.”
The LVCVA will use the LVGBD to leverage its status as an official World Trade Center site obtained through an agreement with the Consumer Electronics Association. The designation combined with the LVGBD will increase the LVCVA’s ability to draw more meetings and trade shows from abroad, says Riley.
In other Las Vegas news, Malaysia-based Genting Group announced in March that it will build Resorts World Las Vegas, a multibillion-dollar Asian-themed resort. The property is expected to open in 2016 with 3,500 rooms, 500,000 sf of convention space and more than 300,000 sf of pool and water features.
Meanwhile, existing resorts are improving their properties to compete with the coming competition and each other. MGM Resorts International has been renovating several of its properties, including Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Bellagio, The Mirage Hotel & Casino and the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. The MGM has remodeled the 3,570 rooms and 642 suites in its main tower. More than 500,000 sf of flexible meeting space including the 92,000-sf Marquee Ballroom can accommodate meetings of all sizes. The 1,100-suite Delano Las Vegas will take the place of THEhotel in Mandalay Bay. The Delano, a partnership between MRI and Morgans Hotel Group, will open in 2014. In addition, MGM Resorts and AEG plan to build a 20,000-seat arena located between New York-New York Hotel & Casino and Monte Carlo Resort and Casino.
Another major player, Caesars Entertainment, plans to open Gansevoort Las Vegas on the former site of Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon. The Gansevoort, scheduled to open in early 2014, is a partnership between Caesars, Gansevoort Hotel Group and nightlife promoter Victor Drai.
In other Caesars Entertainment news, the world’s first Nobu Hotel opened at Caesars Palace Las Vegas and includes a 327-seat Nobu Hotel Restaurant and Lounge. The 181-room boutique hotel is a partnership between Caesars Palace, celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, actor Robert DeNiro, and Hollywood producer Meir Teper. Caesars Entertainment also continues to work on The Linq, a $500 million dining, entertainment and shopping district that will be anchored by the Las Vegas High Roller, a 550-foot high observation wheel with 28 giant glass-enclosed cabins that can accommodate 40 attendees.
Also on The Strip, The Venetian/The Palazzo adjacent to the recently renovated Sands Expo and Convention Center offers more than 7,000 guest rooms and suites. More than 40,000 additional rooms are located within a 10-minute walk. Environmentally conscious groups are attracted to the Venetian/Palazzo because it is one of the largest LEED-certified meeting complexes in the world.
The Venetian/Palazzo is a complete meeting property. The Palazzo features more than 60 luxury boutiques and fine-dining restaurants that include CUT by Wolfgang Puck and Table 10 by Emeril Lagasse. The Venetian features the Grand Canal Shoppes — an indoor streetscape with gondolas and singing gondoliers,as well as several upscale dining and shopping options.
One of Las Vegas’ most popular newer properties include the 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino, located within CityCenter on The Strip. The 61-story AAA Five Diamond resort offers more than 300,000 sf of high-tech meeting and convention space that includes wireless touch panels operating videoconferencing, fiber optic cable, HD projection screens and plasma TVs.
Also new at Aria is “Zarkana”— the surreal acrobatic spectacle by Cirque du Soleil. The diverse cast of more than 75 international artists transports the audience into a fantastical and suspenseful world, blurring the boundaries between the real and imaginary.
Opening in July, the menu at the new FIVE50 Pizza Bar, the first casual concept by James Beard award-winning chef Shawn McClain, will feature McClain’s signature pizzas paired with a selection of craft beers along with small plates, handmade pastas and decadent desserts.
Also, Aria Buffet was updated and now has new culinary offerings as well. There are 11 buffet stations: Asian, Italian, Pizza, Mediterranean, Tandoori, Carvery, Diner, Salad Bar, the all-new Fish Market and Latin stations and Sweets.
Javier’s, which opened last fall, features grilled seafood, steaks, chicken and vegetarian dishes as well as premium tequila and Javier’s famous hand-shaken, made-to-order margaritas.
For culinary entertainment, attendees will enjoy Chef Masa Takayama’s new Tetsu, located inside his Japanese restaurant barMASA. Highly skilled teppan chefs do all the prepping, cooking and plating orders specific to each guest.
Despite minimal residual problems — both real and perceived — left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Atlantic City continues to attract meetings from throughout the nation. Gary Musich, vice president of sales for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, says 2012 ended up flat due to the storm but the prospects for 2013 and beyond are very positive. “We are projecting 12 percent growth in meetings for 2013.”
Behind that growth, says Musich, “is that we are evolving from a gaming destination to a balanced, mature destination appealing to all business segments. Our room inventory grew by over 20 percent in 2008 as the recession hit, but we have been able to absorb that. We have seen an evolution of the city as a tourism district that has been carved out in collaboration with the Atlantic City Alliance. We are aiming to lengthen the stay with attractions that are also important to planners. There has been a massive investment in retail like The Walk, a 10-square-block dining and retail center that connects the convention center and Boardwalk. And we recently got a commitment from Bass Pro Shops to build a 90,000-sf facility.”
Musich says the city’s massive ‘Do AC’ campaign to get the word out to planners is paying off. “Attendance at meetings and conventions was up 65 percent and spend was up 43 percent in January, demonstrating that the rebound from the storm was quick,” he says.
According to Jeff Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority division of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, “Even through the national recession, superstorm Sandy and increased competition from surrounding states, Atlantic City has been able to maintain an extraordinarily high occupancy rate. Atlantic City is a strong and viable destination.”
In a statement, Vasser and tourism officials pointed to “recent additions such as Revel Casino-Hotel, Golden Nugget, the Margaritaville complex, art installations, roving ambassadors, an increased calendar of special events, the new ‘Do AC’ branding and other initiatives throughout the Tourism District as signs that the city will remain relevant and maintain its visitor base in 2013 and beyond.”
A spokesperson for Caesars in Atlantic City, says, “The ‘Do AC’ campaign is spending $30 million over five years and that has been very helpful. They help to offset some costs in bringing planners to our properties. For Atlantic City, show is better than tell. Planners are always surprised at what Atlantic City has to offer as far as shopping, restaurants, etc.”
The top three reasons Atlantic City remains such a viable destination for meetings, according to Musich, are:
Convenience to major cities such as New York and Philadelphia;
One-stop shopping because the CVB owns and operates the convention center; and
Dubbed as “the most meeting-friendly hotel in the city,” the 2,079-suite Tropicana Casino & Resort recently completed a $180 million renovation and offers more than 100,000 sf of meeting space including a 25,000-sf grand ballroom and a 25,000-sf exhibit hall.
Planners also sing the Tropicana’s praises. Deborah Langdon, HR director, regional training for Rutherford, NJ-based SGS North America, an inspection, certification and verification company, has been a long-time Tropicana customer. “SGS is the third company I have worked for since 1996, and I have done meetings with the Tropicana for each employer since then,” says Langdon. “I have had a long-term relationship with the people who work there, and I have never had a bad meeting with them. If I say my CEO is flying in and I need certain things for him, they totally understand. They know my expectations and try to exceed them.”
Langdon has held a few SGS training and development sessions at the Tropicana every year since 2010. In January, the Tropicana hosted a three-day executive development session for 25 SGS vice presidents, directors and managing directors mostly from the U.S., Mexico, Canada, South America and Central America. Langdon chose the Tropicana partly because the property’s many self-contained offerings including 24 restaurants, 25 shops, 18 bars and a 148,000-sf casino matched the needs and goals of the meeting.
Attendees had to spend lots of time on-property because their agendas were packed with formal and informal sessions, breakouts and meetings, says Langdon. “During the day, they have the development piece of it. At night, they do fun networking dinners in some of the Tropicana’s restaurants like Fin and Carmine’s. We typically have the restaurants to ourselves. There are times when they are working through dinner and we have it catered in the meeting space. Almost all of our dinners are onsite,” she says.
Langdon continues to return to the Tropicana in no small part due to the property’s service. She cites two examples: “We had a meeting scheduled last year on the day of Hurricane Sandy. We had people flying in from all over the world. Four days before the meeting, we still hadn’t cancelled. A staff member gave me her personal number to call to keep in contact regarding the storm and cancellation. We did cancel. It’s also the little things like the person in charge of banquets always remembering that the group always wants yogurt during breakfast.”
The much anticipated Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, located inside the Resorts Hotel Casino is now open. The restaurant features a stage for nightly live entertainment, a tiki bar and Buffett-inspired accent pieces. Attendees can gather on the exterior deck on the Boardwalk for alfresco networking and ocean breezes.
The popular 2,000-room Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, is a complete, self-contained meeting property with 70,000 sf of event space. The Borgata completed a $50 million room redesign project, and introduced in-room gaming, a first for the hotel industry. Also, the hotel recently introduced a new look for one of its two nightclubs, mur mur. The Borgata features innovative and world-class dining experiences with a wide array of restaurants and world-renowned chefs under one roof, including the Old Homestead Steakhouse and legendary chefs such as Wolfgang Puck (Wolfgang Puck American Grille) and Bobby Flay (Bobby Flay Steak). A companion property, the elegant Water Club at Borgata, provides 800 guest rooms, 18,000 sf of meeting space, a 36,000-sf spa and five pools.
Planners return again and again to Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino, a longtime lynchpin of Atlantic City, located along the Boardwalk just two blocks from the Atlantic City Convention Center. The fabled 1,144-room hotel offers the 17,135-sf Palladium Ballroom, 24,000 sf of meeting space and the renovated 1,500-seat Circus Maximus Theater. Attendees can spend their spare time gaming and enjoying the Qua Baths & Spa. Caesars Atlantic City, like other properties owned by Caesars Entertainment, is part of its Total Rewards Meetings and Events program, which offers reward credits to planners for their own use or to put toward future meetings.
Planners can choose from a range of top Native American-owned gaming resorts that are holding their own with competitors nationwide. The resorts typically are located in picturesque natural settings and feature décor based on Native American cultures.
Groups seeking a gaming resort graced with Southwest beauty may consider the 273-room Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino, located in Mescalero, NM, near Ruidoso. The Inn is owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, which also runs nearby Ski Apache, a ski resort. Planners and attendees can take advantage of the Inn’s 30,000 sf of flexible meeting space, four restaurants, 38,000-sf gaming floor and the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort Championship Golf Course.
The Seattle Fish Company of New Mexico Inc. selected the Inn as the first gaming resort to host winners of the firm’s annual incentive contest for distributors. “It was different for us. In the past years we took the group to places like Boston,” says regional vice president Darrin Amador, who plans at least three meetings a year for the Albuquerque, NM-based company. “I like that the Inn was close because we brought people in from a 500-mile radius. They also have a very nice property. It’s cool, literally, because it’s up in the mountains, and it’s a beautiful setting. There is a forest and gorgeous lake. The casino overlooks the golf course and its well-manicured greens.”
Golf was among the activities that attendees enjoyed. “We had a contest for t-shirts and hats. I paired everybody up based on personality. I paired my partner with a company executive, and I paired with another executive. The golf was 99 percent pleasure and 1 percent business,” says Amador.
The group also enjoyed several other activities on- and off-property. “We had a dinner at the Inn’s fine-dining restaurant (Wendell’s Steak & Seafood Restaurant and Lounge),” says Amador. “We also had a dinner offsite. Some people who didn’t want to golf enjoyed a spa in Ruidoso. The group really liked the casino and had a good time in regard to that.”
Another Native American property, the AAA Four Diamond Talking Stick Resort, is located in Scottsdale, AZ, in a desert setting with views of the surrounding mountains. The 497-room resort is owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and displays of Native American culture are featured throughout the property. Located only a 20-minute drive from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport, the resort features ample meeting space, including the 25,000-sf Salt River Grand Ballroom, 22 meeting rooms and 50,000 sf of outdoor function space. The casino spans 240,000 sf, and the 650-seat showroom features top live performances. Golfers will enjoy the resort’s two championship courses.
Prominent West Coast Native American resorts include the 370-room Tulalip Resort Casino, located just a 30-minute drive from Seattle. The AAA Four Diamond property, operated by the Tulalip Tribes, features several tribal touches including 25-foot house posts hand carved from a 1,000-year-old red cedar tree. Meeting space totals 30,000 sf and includes the 15,000-sf Orca Ballroom and several breakout spaces. All meeting rooms include Wi-Fi, LCD projectors and drop-down screens. The Oasis Pool is located next to the meeting areas and serves as a unique function space.
Connecticut is home to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket and the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville. Both properties are easy to access by air and car from New York, Boston, Hartford and Providence. Recently, it was widely reported the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods Resort Casino, completed the restructuring of $2.3 billion in debt. As part of the restructuring, Foxwoods received $25 million of new financing.
Foxwoods, a AAA Four Diamond property, is the largest resort casino in the U.S. The Foxwoods complex offers 2,200 guest rooms among four properties — the Grand Pequot Tower, MGM Grand at Foxwoods, Great Cedar Hotel and Two Trees Inn. Combined, the properties offer more than 150,000 sf of meeting space.
The resort’s array of activities and amenities is impressive. These include the 1,400-seat Fox Theater and 4,000-seat Grand Theater, six casinos, two golf courses and the award-winning G Spa. Guests can dine at seven gourmet restaurants and enjoy friendly competition at the Rees Jones-designed championship golf course and a bowling alley. The Comix comedy venue provides laughs galore.
The Mohegan Sun is owned by the Mohegan Tribe and located along the scenic Thames River in the foothills of southeastern Connecticut. Planners will find everything they need for small and large meetings, including 1,200 rooms and suites, 100,000 sf of total meeting and function space, and the 38,000-sf Uncas Ballroom.
When it comes to activities and entertainment, Mohegan Sun offers the complete package. Following a day of meetings, groups can unwind in the 300,000 sf of gaming space and at the 20,000-sf Elemis Spa. Attendees can also hit the links at the Mohegan Sun Country Club at Pautipaug, which offers a newly renovated clubhouse and an 18-hole private course. The Mohegan Sun’s plentiful dining and shopping options include 45 restaurants, and food and beverage outlets, including Michael Jordan’s Steak House and Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain. In addition, the Mohegan Sun Arena features nightly big-name entertainment and is home to the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun pro basketball team. C&IT