Bellagio Las Vegas is famous for its fountain show. Its Grand Ballroom, with 45,000 sf, can handle up to 4,500 attendees in a theater-style setting or 3,000 banquet-style. Credit: Bellagio Las Vegas
Casinos by nature are fun, exciting and offer people the chance to try new things and go beyond the norm. But that’s not the only reason people choose gaming resorts to hold meetings and conventions.
Tina-Marie Wassman, principal, TNC Events, has facilitated numerous meetings at gaming resorts and notes those in the insurance and banking industries always enjoy and appreciate the care that goes into serving attendees as they generally have great meeting space and welcome group business.
“We were just at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas in early 2019 and they have a team of service-oriented professionals who work as extensions of your team to help accomplish your vision and goals,” Wassman says. “The flexibility they have to help create a fun, engaging event for your guests is a key.”
The best way to collaborate with these resorts to create an ideal setting for the attendees all comes down to communication.
“You begin by discussing and outlining your expectations, goals and objectives for your meeting,” Wassman says. “Partnering with the right team makes all the difference in the world. The professionals at these facilities have expertise and experience working with groups of all types. Leverage that expertise and work together to create an exceptional experience for your attendees.”
Naturally, there’s the fun and excitement of the casino gambling to attract people, but attendees also appreciate the close proximity to the numerous shows, activities and fine dining.
“I’m of the mindset to always try to expand your horizons — keep learning,” Wassman says. “If you haven’t had a meeting at a gaming facility, give it a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Katrina Kent, CMP, CMM, director, the event group for TD Ameritrade in Jersey City, NJ, has arranged the company’s group meeting at MGM Grand in Las Vegas for the past four years and cites the consistent high-end service as a reason she keeps going back.
“MGM is not the newest or hippest choice in Las Vegas, but it is classic and they host large groups so well,” she says. “Service at MGM is on point and the people we’ve built our program with over the years are engaged and consistent. There are also so many fantastic restaurants at MGM Grand and entertainment choices for people to enjoy. It’s all right there.”
The idea that gaming resorts steal your attendees to go gamble and party, and lessen participation, is outdated at this point.
“Our experience has been that not only does Las Vegas attract more people, the big resorts are more equipped to handle large conferences than anywhere else,” Kent says. “They do it better from a service standpoint. The experience overall is elevated. Access to leading technology and production is easy, as well.”
Tony Yousfi, CMP, vice president of hotel sales for ARIA Resort & Casino and Vdara Hotel & Spa, notes that when ARIA was built, it offered 300,000 sf of meeting space, but this past year has added another 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space across four stories.
“When we look at those two segments financial and insurance, and we have done extensive studies, they are looking for an atmosphere that is professional, quiet, discreet, business-first and having alternative venues for one-on-one breakout meetings,” he says. “They are constantly entertaining clients that are coming in, so it’s definitely a big touch point having different areas of the hotel offering different things.”
Part of the $170 million expansion was the addition of the Cypress Executive Lounge, a nearly 3,000-sf space featuring a fully stocked pantry, three private suites for personal workspaces and one-on-one meetings, a conference room with flexible furniture set ups for up to 28, and a beautiful study for toasting to a successful event.
Dennis Hamilton, president of Hamilton Meetings & Incentives, a corporate meeting planner based in East Lansing, MI, has been in the industry for more than 40 years and thinks gaming resorts offer that “something special.” One of his favorite destinations to bring meetings and conventions is Las Vegas and Bellagio Las Vegas.
“The corporate programs I represent prefer very high-end properties and the Bellagio fits that bill. Over the past few years, we have hosted a multitude of our clients ranging in size and complexity,” he says. “It takes a very unique hotel team to make a small group in Vegas terms feel like a ‘Big Fish.’ The events team continues to strive to provide new experiences, program customization and unique problem-solving techniques to the planning process.”
Don Ross, vice president of catering, conventions & events at Caesars Entertainment, says the company has nine luxurious properties in Las Vegas and is building its 10th property, Caesars Forum, a 550,000-sf conference center that can accommodate more than 10,000 attendees.
“We know how busy all meeting planners are and especially how busy the insurance and financial sector is,” he says. “We make it easy to host a meeting with flexible meeting space. Several of our properties have guest room towers with direct access to the conference space, which is very convenient for attendees.”
The properties also understand the needs of VIPs and offer a range of services to assure a top-tier experience from limos, to diamond cards, and priority access to restaurants, spas and shows.
“In Las Vegas, we will have over 2 million sf of conference space available when Caesars Forum opens next year,” Ross says. “The facility will feature 300,000 sf of flexible meeting space, including two 110,000-sf pillar-less ballrooms, two 40,000-sf ballrooms and six state-of-the-art boardrooms.”
What’s great about hosting a meeting in Las Vegas is that when after the show’s activities are over for the day, there’s plenty of post-show activities to keep people busy.
“Las Vegas is one of the top entertainment destinations in the world, Ross says. “If it is dining you are looking for, Caesars Entertainment has Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen, Nobu Restaurant and Giada De Laurentiis’ Giada, which overlooks the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. We have world-class nightlife and entertainers in residency including Backstreet Boys, Gwen Stefani and many more.”
There’s also the LINQ Promenade, an outdoor retail, dining and entertainment plaza that is home to the High Roller, a 550-foot observation wheel — the tallest in the world — offering 360-degree views of the Las Vegas valley. For the adventurous and adrenaline-seeking event attendee, Caesars Entertainment recently debuted FLY LINQ, a zip-line experience 12 stories above The LINQ Promenade and the Strip’s only zip line experience.
“We understand how important and challenging a meeting planner’s role is, and we have worked hard on our processes to assure alignment and our customer’s satisfaction,” Ross says. “From a food and beverage standpoint, we pride ourselves on providing restaurant-quality catering. Our chefs enjoy sitting down with a customer to create custom menus that will elevate the events.”
Amanda Voss, vice president of sales for Bellagio Las Vegas, says many insurance companies are looking for privacy and the resort takes extra care to offer white-glove treatment to ensure clients leave happy with their service. And once the meeting ends, there’s plenty of high-end dining and entertainment options.
“A lot of our groups do dine around, and we help them coordinate everything so they don’t have to leave the property,” she says. “All of this is by our beautiful fountain show, which really sets us apart from our competition. That makes it very special.”
Tori Brumfield, vice president/management supervisor for EvansHardy+Young, a full-service creative agency specializing a four key areas, one of which is gaming resorts. She says some may question the attractiveness of both hosting and attending a meeting or conference at a casino resort and that’s understandable given the immediate connotation of the Las Vegas Strip — the crowds; the sensory overload. However, casino resorts offer a wealth of opportunities for both those planning the conference and those attending the conference, she says.
“Many casino resorts are located off the beaten path, often in wine country or other bucolic locations,” Brumfield says. “They are often self-contained ‘mini-cities’ where attendees can meet, learn and network during the day, then switch gears to enjoy a little thrill on the gaming floor at night, indulge in over-the-top culinary offerings, relax at the spa, or get a few holes in before the sun sets.”
M Resort Spa Casino in nearby Henderson, NV, has 390 rooms and offers more than 92,000 sf of gaming. The Villaggio Del Sole Pool and Entertainment Piazza spans 100,000 sf and is perfect for scenic outdoor functions. M Pavilion, at 25,000 sf, can host corporate events for up to 2,300 guests, and its 92,000-sf conference center brings in plenty of natural light with views of the Las Vegas skyline. There are also diversions beyond the casino after meeting sessions, such as a 23,000-sf spa and salon.
Atlantic City has long been known as the gambling capital of the East, and although the city was devastated by Tropical Storm Sandy in 2012, it has rebounded strongly and offers major appeal to corporate meetings for those in the insurance and financial industries.
“Attendees can do it all under one roof; meet, eat and sleep,” Jim Wood, president of Meet AC says. “Attendees are also able to utilize the added amenities the casino property offers, such as the fitness gym, indoor pool, spa and much more. In addition, attendees can explore the array of dining and entertainment options just steps from the meeting room.”
Both the insurance and financial industry markets are more incentive based than educational and tend to gravitate to Tier 1 resort destinations. Atlantic City is definitely a place for them to go.
“Located within a few hours’ drive of nearly one third of the nation’s population and 20 percent of the country’s business addresses, the Atlantic City Convention Center is easily accessible for convention, trade show and meeting attendees,” Wood says. “Atlantic City is a beach resort destination that offers world class entertainment, dining, shopping as well as being the second-largest gaming destination in the country.”
The Atlantic City Convention Center offers 500,000 sf of meeting space, five spacious exhibit halls, 45 meeting rooms, 29 covered loading docks and plenty of CVB support. In the past year, TD Bank held its Merchant Service Sales Conference and three insurance events are scheduled in the center before the end of 2019.
“There are endless activities and experiences for attendees once the meetings are through,” Wood says. “They can visit the Orange Loop area; take in a show at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City; ride The Wheel at Steel Pier — the third-tallest wheel in the U.S.; climb the 228 steps at the Absecon Lighthouse; or eat with the locals at our famous eateries with unique dining experiences.”
Shelley Williams, vice president of sales at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, says the venue has no shortage of world-class entertainment, with performances 365 days a year. The property can arrange music for any event or for attendees to enjoy during their spare time.
“When you first walk into our property, you will notice how vibrant our space is and you will instantly feel the excitement as you listen to curated music throughout the property,” she says. “Our meetings rooms are conveniently located on the same floor and very accessible to our guest rooms as well as our on-property restaurants.”
No space within the property is off limits for events, and that’s something those in these industries appreciate. They can host an event in the nightclub, VIP lounge, world-class restaurants, spa, arena, or the performance space, Sound Waves.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City offers 2,000 guest rooms with more than 150,000 sf of meeting space that can accommodate events of all sizes.
“Whether you’re looking for an intimate board meeting to a large-scale event — indoor or outdoor — we can fit any bill,” Williams says. “Our Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena can hold up to 7,000 attendees. For a trade-show format, it can accommodate more than 300 booths. Our next-largest venue is our 29,000-sf Seminole Ballroom, which divides into six sections, perfect for any type of event. All A/V is handled in house by our very own experts.”
Guests have access to multiple entertainment venues throughout the property, where they can be entertained by world-class live music, comedians and even Broadway shows. And rock aficionados are in for a real treat.
The property boasts the largest music memorabilia collections in the U.S., including Elvis Presley’s Rolls-Royce, Madonna’s kimono, Michael Jackson’s famed glove, KISS’ reunion costumes, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA tour outfit, hand-written lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Imagine” and much more.
“Music is a part of our core, and we want you to channel your inner rock star with our Sound of Your Stay program — Picks, Wax and Tracks,” Williams says. “Guests can have a Fender guitar delivered to their room for a private jam session, get their groove on with a carefully curated collection of iconic records played on a Crosley turntable or download and enjoy an array of tunes during their stay. We want our guests to have a unique, memorable music experience that they will never forget.”
Steve van der Molen, Caesars Entertainment vice president meeting operations, AC Region, says Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City provides a secluded marina setting with exposure to natural light. Also, Bally’s Atlantic City and Caesars Atlantic City offer access to the beach and the historic Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Overlooking the Absecon Inlet — the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean — and the iconic Marina District, Harrah’s Atlantic City’s Waterfront Conference Center offers a beautifully designed meetings experience on the East Coast with a fantastic view of the water.
“The 125,000 sf of meeting space offers planners the ability to eat, sleep and meet all in one location with more than 2,590 newly refreshed hotel rooms,” Van der Molen says. “This versatile space has two 50,000-sf pillar-less ballrooms that can be configured 300 different ways. The Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center and hotel is the largest hotel-conference center complex from Baltimore to Boston.”
When the meeting is over, event attendees can choose from any of the diverse dining destinations, world-class entertainment and activities available at Caesars, Harrah’s, or Bally’s Atlantic City.
“Our motto at Caesars Entertainment is ‘One company, one contract and countless options.’ With one contract, event planners can easily create a one-of-a-kind meeting,” Van der Molen says. “Additionally, Caesars Entertainment offers one food and beverage minimum that allows meeting planners to host meals at different hotels within one destination or catered meals in unique spaces. Planners have the option to have an opening reception at Harrah’s, a general session at Caesars Atlantic City and a closing reception on the beach at Bally’s. All planning will be done with one point of contact who will personally take the time to get to know meeting planners’ specific needs.”
Not all gaming resorts are in the cities known for gambling.
Atlantis, Paradise Island is home to the largest convention center in the Caribbean, which is why Wendy Blaney, chief sales officer of Atlantis, Paradise Island, says it’s the perfect meeting getaway spot for those in the insurance and financial industries.
“We have dedicated specialists who have worked with our insurance and financial sector clients for many years and continue to maintain a strong relationship with them,” she says. “Their knowledge goes way beyond the resort; they have strong knowledge of the clients’ industry and really understand the granular details that come with working with premier groups like these.”
Atlantis, Paradise Island draws a high attendee mix for meetings because there is so much to offer clients on-property. For example, the resort is built around Aquaventure, an innovative, 141-acre waterscape of thrilling slides and river rides. It is also home to the largest open-air marine habitat in the world with over 50,000 marine animals.
“The resort is a destination in itself. We have been operating in the meetings business for a long time, so we are highly experienced with all size groups within all corporate sectors,” Blaney says. “We offer premier group dining at some of our renowned culinary outlets, outdoor venues with picturesque views and flexible meeting space. We also have incredible relationships with our DMCs if a customer wants to provide an off-the-charts banquet function for their meeting attendees. We also have dedicated entertainment and in-house A/V departments, who are here to service the needs of the group.”
Sarah Kazhe-Kirgan, director of marketing at Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino in Mescalero, NM, says a meeting at this gaming resort allows participants to take advantage of the outdoors in their free time, as there’s plenty of fishing, boating, zip lining and hiking available.
As for the meetings themselves, the resort offers a 29,000-sf event center and smaller meeting rooms available for breakouts. Over the years, it has hosted numerous meetings for those involved in the insurance and financial sectors.
“This is a one-stop shop for a convention, as we are almost a little town within itself; you don’t need to leave to get anything,” Kazhe-Kirgan says.
Karen O’Connell, executive director of resort sales for Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, CT, says it has plenty to offer insurance and financial management clients. Foxwoods has diverse guest room options, meeting space flexibility, outstanding food and beverage from its catering team or from one of its more than 35 dining options, as well as fabulous amenities such golf, spas, shopping and world-class entertainment all reasonably priced and under one roof.
“Foxwoods has over 150,000 sf of flexible meeting and event space, including our Fox Tower Boardroom with built in state-of- the-art technology for an intimate meeting for 20,” O’Connell says. “Foxwoods’ three pillar-free ballrooms ranging from 15,024 sf to 47,553 sf are perfect for meetings and events for up to 5,000 people.”
What’s more, a group can have a week-long conference and Foxwoods can offer them a different experience every day without having to load everyone onto bus to go to the destination.
“When the meetings are over you have your choice of activities — head to the gym for a workout, a treatment in one of our two spas, team building in our 20-lane luxury bowling alley, live entertainment in one of the theaters or nightclubs, a great meal and dessert or try your luck on one of our casino floors,” O’Connell says. “In addition to having five pools, including a seasonal outdoor pool at The Fox Tower, Foxwoods has a 70-store Tanger Outlet Mall connected to the property and fun games for kids in our Tree House Arcade.”
Mohegan Sun, in Uncasville, CT is another gaming resort not in a traditional gambling city.
The resort has more than 40 restaurants, bars and lounges, but offers fine dining at Ballo Italian Restaurant and more Italian cuisine at celebrity chef Todd English’s Tuscany. For gaming excitement, visit Casino of the Earth and Sky, which at more than 300,000 sf, includes areas where there is no smoking allowed.
Its two luxury hotel towers have 1,563 rooms, there are two world-class spas, The Shops at Mohegan Sun — with 130,000 sf of retail shopping — and entertainment venues that include the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena and the 350-seat Wolf Den.
In addition, planners can have access to more than 275,000 sf of meeting and function space and a 17,500 sf outdoor sun terrace. I&FMM