When Heather Pilcher, CSEP, CMP, CEO and executive producer at Blue Spark Event Design, considers hosting a meeting or event for financial and insurance-based clients, she often considers gaming resorts. And the reason in quite simple: Gaming venues rely on guests playing in their casino, so they often offer discounts on room rates, meeting spaces and in-house entertainment to attract more meetings and conventions.
“They also host a wide variety of attractions, shows and eateries for the guests to enjoy when they’re not participating in the conference,” Pilcher says.
Indeed, from Las Vegas to Atlantic City, to Connecticut to New Mexico, gaming resorts across the country are a popular meeting and event destination for groups of all sizes.
As Pilcher explains, for the meeting planners, direct flights, easy travel and large space-to-room ratios make Las Vegas an attractive destination. Conferences of any size and budget can find a great fit. “If you’re looking for more high-end, then you can head to Wynn or the Bellagio. If you’re looking for more middle of the road, you could head to more historical-focused property like the Flamingo, or if you really care about the size of the rooms, head toward the Rio, which provides all the guests with suites,” Pilcher says. “There really is a property for all budgets and needs in Las Vegas.”
From the attendee perspective, in addition to the gaming, there are activities such as shows, high-end dining, and amazing spas to enjoy pre- or post-conference. And Las Vegas does an amazing job marketing all the attributes it offers across the country. “So, chances are, your attendees have always wanted to go to or have already experienced Vegas, and are ready to go back,” Pilcher says.
Pilcher and her team are working on an event coming up in late spring for a group that historically celebrates in Las Vegas the accomplishments of their sales force. They like the consistent availability of short or direct flights from around the country, and the extensive variety of entertainment options. “Invited guests are not required to attend this event, so the client selected this location as it appeals to the most guests,” Pilcher says.
And while COVID-19 continues to alter the meetings and events industry in myriad ways, meeting planners expect that, post-COVID, gaming resorts will resume being the preeminent locale for meetings and events. “For large conventions, there aren’t many U.S. locations that provide comparable meeting space other than Vegas, Chicago or Orlando,” Pilcher says. “And I think gaming resorts have always found creative and innovative ways to keep guests entertained, and provide value for the dollar spent. With respect to COVID, gaming resorts have already made great strides to employ safe and sanitary protocols within their venues to protect guests, and I expect they will continue to do so as COVID becomes a less prevalent threat.”
In an effort to continue to meet the ongoing needs to meeting and event customers, many gaming resorts throughout Las Vegas are continually expanding upon, and improving, their meeting and convention offerings. Early last year, Wynn Las Vegas announced the opening of its new 430,000-sf meeting and convention expansion, which more than doubles the meeting and convention space at Wynn and Encore by adding 300,000 sf. Wynn also offers 192,000 sf of casino space. In total, Wynn and Encore now offer group event clients 560,000 sf of flexible space.
And prior to the pandemic, ARIA Resort & Casino opened an additional 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space to its convention center. The $170 million expansion included a new executive meeting lounge and open-air verandas with retractable windows — the ideal locale for a healthy, open-air option for meetings.
Of course, The Venetian Resort Las Vegas has long been a favorite choice among meeting planners looking for a unique venue in Las Vegas. With more than 2 million sf of meeting and exhibition space, as well as 300 configurable spaces for breakout sessions, The Venetian offers attendees a wealth of space to spread out during gatherings of all sizes. To host events from expansive trade shows to more intimate affairs, The Venetian has introduced impressive initiatives to offer healthy and clean meeting and event options. In fact, at The Venetian Resort and Sands Expo, more than 800 separate initiatives have been rolled out to meet or exceed guidelines set forth by national, state and local governments.
And while Caesars Entertainment, the largest gaming and entertainment company in the U.S., has taken extraordinary steps to keep visitors and employees safe during the pandemic, the company was the first to offer live entertainment again on the Las Vegas Strip. Of course, one of the most talked about additions to Las Vegas last year was the opening of the 550,000-sf CAESARS FORUM conference center, which is complete with 300,000 sf of flexible meeting space and the two largest pillar-less ballrooms in the world, each at 110,000 sf.
Reno-Tahoe Gaming Options
Don Goodman, executive director of sales at THE ROW Reno, agrees that the value that gaming resorts brings to meetings and events is paramount for many companies and organizations. THE ROW is a Caesars Entertainment destination comprising three distinct resorts in Reno, Nevada: Eldorado Resort Casino, Silver Legacy Resort Casino and Circus Circus Resort Casino.
As Goodman explains, casinos typically have peak times in which casino guests fill up the hotel. This is where the most revenue is made for any casino resort. “These peak times, not surprisingly, are during the weekends. This is why room rates tend to increase dramatically on Friday and Saturday,” Goodman says. “Meeting planners benefit from this, as most conventions occur mid-week . . . in contrast to corporate hotels in non-gaming destinations, where room rates are highest midweek. Holding meetings in gaming destinations offers the benefit of lower cost, which gives the end-user more bang for the buck.”
In addition, most non-gaming hotels may have a restaurant or two, plus a coffee kiosk and perhaps a gift shop. But variety is the spice of life, and gaming resorts certainly represent a lot of variety. For example, at THE ROW, convention guests can choose between 25 dining experiences, 11 nightspots, 23 bars and lounges, a showroom that showcases Broadway-style entertainment, a comedy club, a large variety of shopping venues and a luxury spa. All of this is under one roof. “This is the kind of full-service variety that gaming destinations are famous for,” Goodman says.
And when it comes to transportation convenience, you can’t get much more convenient than a gaming destination. In Reno, the airport was built with resort guests in mind. Most attendees will land and check in to their room in minutes versus hours. THE ROW is located only 3 miles from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, and guests can often find their way from the tarmac to their guest room within 30 minutes.
“There is also a 24-hour component to gaming destinations, which means no more searching far and wide for dining, shopping or entertainment options when your meetings run long,” Goodman says. “It is always nice for a convention attendee to unwind in a way that doesn’t just include a lobby bar. Gaming destinations offer just that.” Whether you want a martini while listening to live music, plenty of gaming, a Broadway-style show, a spa treatment or to dance the night away, gaming resorts have attendees covered.
As Jamie Lipman Rodriguez, founder and director of possibilities at absolute. Wedding & Event Planning explains, a gaming resort provides necessary entertainment and distraction. “The meeting or convention can’t occupy 100% of the attendees’ time, and a gaming resort gives them numerous alternatives for relaxation and the use of their spare time,” Lipman Rodriguez says. “It’s a great alternative, and gaming resorts offer an opportunity to make the most of any meeting and to provide enjoyment even in the work arena, and relaxation when needed after full-day sessions dealing with business.”
Lipman Rodriguez planned a national meeting at a gaming resort that consisted of more than 100 attendees from major markets such as New York and Los Angeles, to smaller markets such as Memphis and Portland. “The daytime hours were dedicated to new technology in energy conservation being distributed by these dealers, including the support from the manufacturer and host of the meeting. The evening hours were spent in the casino and at shows that were welcomed by the attendees, thereby making the daily sessions much more effective,” Lipman Rodriguez says.
And like any industry, gaming resorts need to renew and refresh their physical presence as well as their offerings to keep visitors coming back for more. At THE ROW, many enhancements have been made over the past couple of years. More than 80% of the THE ROW’s guest rooms and suites have been renovated, with the remainder currently being renovated, or scheduled to be completed shortly. THE ROW also has a 21,000-sf luxury spa and a TopGolf Swing Suite.
In addition to a complete renovation of the Eldorado Convention Center, and updates to the Silver Legacy Grand Exposition Hall and Reno Ballroom, THE ROW has made some changes to better fit the growing needs of its convention clients. “At THE ROW Reno, we have purchased the equipment needed for hybrid meetings, which allows those who are comfortable with in-person meetings the opportunity to meet face-to-face, but also allows those who can’t be there in person the opportunity to partake in the general and breakout sessions of a conference,” Goodman says.
And while meetings and conventions held at gaming resorts include ample opportunities to “get down to business,” no visit to a gaming resort would be complete without incorporating fun amenities for attendees. “The main benefit to having a meeting or event at a gaming resort facility is you can get everything you need under one roof, which makes it super easy for the planner and the guests,” says Nichole Lefort, president and creative director of CLE Events & Rentals. “You have access to lodging, amazing resort amenities, ballrooms, meeting rooms, fine dining options, and of course, the gaming and entertainment. Although many are located near great trip options like Hoover Dam, beaches or skiing destinations, some guests may choose to extend their trip and take advantage of all there is to offer. It is one-stop shopping.”
Indeed, the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, for example, offers wonderful amenities for meeting and event attendees, such as Fun Quest, which features more than 40,000 sf of games and attractions, including laser tag and a carnival midway. In addition, the resort’s Grand Adventure Land is ideal for attendees interested in go-cart racing or miniature golf, while the Max Action Arena is ideal for axe throwing and free-roaming virtual reality.
For a more relaxed experience, Peppermill Resort Spa Casino also in Reno offers its award-winning Spa & Salon Toscana, a spa experience that is housed in an awe-inspiring, three-story, 33,000-sf space that boasts 24 treatment rooms, Northern Nevada’s only Caldarium with indoor pool, sun deck and a full-service salon.
From fun adventures to memorable gaming experiences, to invigorating spa treatments, attendees love meetings at gaming resorts. But one downside is that it can be hard to get them to meetings or keep their attention. “This is where the content of programming is very important, otherwise the siren song of the gaming tables may be too hard to resist for some,” Lefort says. “Offering continuing education credits, incentives for attending all meeting and great content will help keep them in place until it’s time for fun.”
Atlantic City and Other Unique Locales
In a perfect COVID-free world, there are many factors to consider when selecting a gaming resort, such as time of year, size of your group, and budget constraints. “Also, do you want to be in a big city like Vegas or smaller area like Palm Springs?” Lefort says. “The demographic and personality of your group will help determine the best option.”
While Las Vegas and Reno have become synonymous with gaming resorts, there are a plethora of other great gaming resort options. Take Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. The resort is South Florida’s top destination for fun and entertainment with 24/7 action and amenities that include an expansive gaming floor, food and beverage outlets, luxury spa and salon with high-end gym, retail shops and more. After its $1.5 billion resort-wide expansion, Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood now boasts 120,000 sf of meeting and convention space. The casino features 150,000 sf of gaming space with 195 tables, including a variety of games such as blackjack and all of the favorite specialty games.
Not to be overlooked as a gaming hot spot is Atlantic City. As one of New Jersey’s largest gaming resorts, the Tropicana Atlantic City offers award-winning meeting and convention amenities, including more than 122,000 sf of meeting and event space. In addition, The Quarter boasts more than 200,000 sf of retail, dining, entertainment and spa options for visitors to enjoy.
And speaking of award-winning, Resorts Casino Hotel has earned accolades for its meetings and conventions section of its resort. Teeming with more than 64,000 sf of function space, including 24 meeting and event rooms, the Resorts Casino Hotel is an ideal Atlantic City location for meetings and events. And as part of its response to COVID safety, the gaming resort has introduced its “Play Safe, Work Safe” safety guidelines for groups and guests.
After receiving international hospitality awards last year, Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun, offers an integrated entertainment gaming resort destination all situated on 185 acres along the Thames River in scenic Southeastern Connecticut. Home to two casinos, two world-class spas, a golf course, more than 80 shops, restaurants and bars, as well as a 10,000-seat arena, Mohegan Sun has proven to be a gaming resort option to which many meeting and event planners turn. Mohegan Sun features two world-class convention centers that can be customized for a range of events and shows. In addition to the 38,000-sf Uncas Ballroom, which is inside Sky Convention Center, Mohegan Sun is proud of its $80 million Earth Expo & Convention Center.
Also in Connecticut, Foxwoods Resort Casino strives to connect with the needs and interests of meeting and event attendees. As such, Foxwoods recently opened one of its five gaming floors, located in the Rainmaker Casino, exclusively to guests 55 and older. Albeit temporary, the 55+ gaming floor was intended to help older resort visitors to have a safe option for gaming during the pandemic. In addition, the resort has made a concerted effort to enhance its many impressive outdoor event spaces. Dinners on the lawn, pool parties and golf are just a few of the activities that meeting attendees can enjoy in the fresh Connecticut air.
Far from the forests of Connecticut, the Inn of the Mountain Gods in New Mexico is another favorite gaming resort venue for meetings, events and conventions. In addition to high-tech meeting amenities, it offers 45,000 sf of meeting and event space, a 45,000-sf casino, and attendees can enjoy the many fun activities offered, including zip lining, big-game hunts, fishing, horseback riding and golf.
Whether Las Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City or the great Southwest is the perfect gaming resort locale for your group, after the pandemic, expect gaming resorts to return to the top of the list for meetings and conventions. “The world’s business will not be turned over to Zoom and Skype. Much more will still be accomplished by in-person meetings and conventions,” Lipman Rodriguez says. “COVID will be gone in another year, and the convention and meeting business will become an even better option than it was before. People will be more anxious to meet personally to pursue business and industry transactions, and equally as anxious to ‘let loose.’ We all deserve it. Gaming resorts will reopen to full casino floors and be able to market as they did prior to COVID. They will be a great option throughout the country.” I&FMM.