Gaming properties offer the whole package, with something for everyone
When Angie Ashby, events director for Chalk Couture, a Utah-based company, sought a venue for a gathering of 250 executives and top salespeople, she initially resisted going to a certain city in southern Nevada. Her group was conservative by nature, and her own experience had not always been positive.
“I’m not really a fan of Las Vegas,” Ashby says. “But when push came to shove, we decided to take an event there because we knew it’s a great location. It’s easy to fly in and out of. There’s always good airfare from all over the nation going into Las Vegas, and it’s a huge draw.”
Ashby’s group booked a block of rooms at the M Resort Spa & Casino, a 390-room property located 15 minutes from the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. In addition to using the 92,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space, the group took advantage of many of the resort’s extras, on property and off. Some hit the casinos to gamble, while others headed to the spa. Some visited Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at the Luxor, while others shopped at the M&M store. A group of VIPs were treated to a show by magician Shin Lim.
“A place like Vegas has something for everyone,” Ashby says. “The options are endless. In the history of our company, we’ve never repeated a venue or gone back to the same city, but after our experience in Las Vegas, we plan on rebooking and repeating our business there. We do a survey after each event, and this one was all five stars. We didn’t have any complaints at all.”
Whether in Las Vegas, Reno, or Atlantic City—or in Native American tribal areas across the country—gaming properties provide an appealing option for planners because they come with an array of built-in amenities. Yes, they all have casinos, but they also tend to have plenty of restaurants and lounges, spas, nightclubs and other entertainment options that provide an easy template for team building, spouse activities, incentives or just after-hours fun.
“When you’re a meeting planner looking at a traditional hotel in a traditional market, you have to actively plan what your attendees are going to do when they’re not in your meeting,” says Abby Hobbs, director of sales with Las Vegas properties for Caesars Entertainment.
“In Las Vegas, there’s not a ton of planning you have to do because there’s a lot available to them, whether it’s dining, entertainment, shopping or spas. It makes the meeting planner’s life a lot easier not to have to take on those additional responsibilities, above and beyond planning the actual meeting.”
Thinking Outside the Box
By having so many resources under one roof, gaming properties create opportunities for planners to divide up their groups for different activities, based on their interests. The key is to think creatively about how all the “extras” might best map on to your group’s interests.
“It makes the meeting planner’s life a lot easier not to have to take on additional responsibilities.”
–Abby Hobbs, Caesars Entertainment
When Jan Stieger, executive director of Receivables Management Association International, planned a meeting for 1,300 attendees at the Aria Resort & Casino, in Las Vegas, she took advantage of the property’s on-site spa to organize a networking event. Offered as an alternative to a golf tournament, “Pedicures with Peers” allowed attendees to connect while enjoying pedicures at the lavish Spa & Salon at ARIA.
Come evening, Stieger and her team took advantage of the property’s poolside cabanas to organize a “Cabana Crawl,” with sponsors serving up food and cocktails as attendees mingled under the moonlight. “We have people who like to gamble. That’s part of what they do. But we did a lot of other things,” Stieger says. “It’s great to think outside the box, using the resources they naturally have there.”
A pool area could also double as an outdoor space for a health and wellness activity, says Stephanie Glanzer, chief sales officer and senior vice president at MGM Resorts International. “You could coordinate morning yoga or medication on the beach at the Mandalay Bay pool, then in the evening, use it for a party on the beach—something you don’t think about having in the middle of the desert,” Glanzer says. “In Las Vegas, even without stepping outside, you’ve got retail, art, dining and entertainment like you really don’t have any place else in the world.”
More Than a Casino
Despite the challenges of Covid, gaming properties have remained a popular draw for meetings and leisure travelers alike. Atlantic City, New Jersey, for example, booked more than 230,000 room nights for meetings, conventions, events and motorcoaches in 2021—a number expected to increase in 2022.
“Our world-class casino resorts encompass more than just a casino,” says Larry Sieg, president and CEO of Meet AC, Atlantic City’s convention and visitor’s bureau. “If you want to stay on property the entire duration of your stay, you have all the amenities and more: incredible dining options, relaxing spa treatments, and can’t-miss headline entertainment. Not to mention, six of our nine casino resorts overlook the spectacular beach and world-famous Boardwalk.”
Atlantic City, too, offers a wide range of extras that planners can redeploy for fun activities. Groups with an axe to grind can let hatchets fly at Westecunk Axe Throwing. Those looking to get away from it all can pay a visit to Escape Rooms at the Tropicana. And a team looking for more spice in their lives could take a lesson at the Viking Cooking School, at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City.
Like other gaming destinations, Atlantic City is constantly adding new attractions. Set to open in 2023, Island Waterpark at Showboat Hotel will be the largest indoor beachfront waterpark in the world. “If going where the locals go is more your style, we have various hidden gems and local options as well,” says Sieg, who notes that the Atlantic City Arts Foundation offers a jitney tour of the city’s murals, created as part of the 48 Blocks AC Mural Program. “Atlantic City is located in the heart of the northeast and surrounded by many major cities, making it the perfect location to meet.”
In northern Nevada, the Reno-Tahoe area also offers a range of options for planners to organize group activities, including more than 30 golf courses and multiple world-class ski resorts within easy driving distance. (Come at the right time of year, and a group can ski and golf in the same day.) A spouse activity in Reno could entail a kayaking trip on the Truckee River, or a “Weird Reno Walking Tour, which combines comedy, magic, and offbeat history.
A Booming Business
The easing of pandemic restrictions has led to a surge in demand, and bookings are up at many properties. “The pent-up demand is causing a lot of compression,” says MGM’s Glanzer. “The demand for short-term availability right now is very high. So, we are getting some shock and surprise over lack of availability for this year, as well as into next year, depending the size of the group. That doesn’t mean there are no dates, but we are back to 2019 levels.”
Meanwhile, properties are continuing to invest (and re-invest) to keep up with their neighbors. Caesars Entertainment is making its “largest, biggest capital reinvestment into the city ever,” says Hobbs, and the company is opening a variety of new restaurants, including Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, near the CAESARS FORUM convention area, and Vanderpump a Paris, a French-themed restaurant inside Paris Las Vegas. “People are definitely excited to get back to face-to-face meetings,” says Hobbs. “We’re seeing it both in our availability and the number of enquiries we’re receiving. Meetings are back.”
The tribal gaming industry is also booming. At the start of 2021, there were 511 gaming operations in 29 states, according to 500Nations.com. Slot machines and blackjack might be the primary attraction, but many of these properties also include hotels, retail areas, golf, spas and other perks that are well-suited for group activities. A new $165 million casino and entertainment resort set to open in 2023 in Hochatown, Oklahoma will include a 100-room hotel, an outdoor amphitheater and a family game zone. Southern California’s Yaamava’ Resort & Casino is wrapping up a $570-million expansion that will add a 2,800-seat entertainment venue, a hotel pool deck and a new restaurant and bar.
Some tribal casino resorts offer the opportunity for groups to learn about the culture of the native tribe. Foxwoods Casino, in Connecticut, has a 308,000-square-foot museum dedicated to the history of the of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation that includes a 320-seat auditorium. And Talking Stick Resort, in Scottsdale, Arizona, has a cultural center with the largest collection of Native American art outside of a museum. (The property also boasts over 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, as well as an entertainment district with options ranging from golf, bowling, mini-golf and indoor skydiving, not to mention a luxurious 14th-floor spa.)
A Customized Experience
Given the vast buffet of options available, planners can put a twist on meetings themselves. In Las Vegas, Caesars Entertainment’s High Roller—located near the massive new CAESARS FORUM conference center—is regarded by most as a fun Ferris wheel-style attraction. But groups can use the pods inside the wheel as breakout spaces. “It’s a 30-minute round trip, so you know you’re going to start and end on time,” says Hobbs. “It just gets them out of a meeting room. You want them to feel different. It’s an amazing space for it.”
Restaurants abound inside gaming properties, and creative planners can use these, too, for group activities. “Foodie Tours” and dine-arounds are a popular activity, and some restaurants’ chefs might be willing to give demonstrations or cooking lessons. MGM’s Glanzer notes that groups can take also tours of the art galleries found in many gaming properties, including the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. They can also coordinate scavenger hunts, or use retail shops as venues for “extreme retail” incentive experiences for top earners. “We have done things like ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ where the guests get to buy items at Tiffany’s,” Glanzer says.
“Use our team as consultants in order to give the attendees the best possible experience.”
–Stephanie Glanzer, MGM Resorts International
“Planners can seamlessly mix and match receptions at celebrity chef restaurants, as well as closing keynotes in thrilling, nontraditional venues,” says Kelly Smith, director of sales of the Eastern Region for Caesars Entertainment. “Gaming properties tend to have the superior ‘wow experience’ factor built right into them. Many attendees can look forward to sumptuous chef cuisine food and beverage outlets, as well as entertainment and world-class spas—all within a few yards of each other in one property.”
While many attendees will want to spend their after-hours time in the casino, gaming properties often have nightclubs, theaters and other venues that can host groups. Nightclubs can be perfect for event planners to use to for evening events or kick-off parties.
Rather than send a group to battle the lines at a popular hot spot, a planner might put together an early-evening private event inside the club, then provide wristbands to let the crowd keep dancing after the public flows in. “It’s a little bit more affordable that way,” Hobbs says, noting that Caesars Entertainment enables planners to include a group’s spend at select clubs toward their food and beverage minimum.
It’s also smart to keep an eye on entertainers already appearing on stage at a given property, as gaming destinations are a regular circuit for acts of all kinds. This year alone, Las Vegas will see residencies by Silk Sonic, Usher, Lady Gaga, and other acts, and Cirque du Soleil will be opening a new show, Mad Apple, at New York-New York. Even off-strip venues get their fair share of big-name acts. The M Resort, for example, has attracted acts like Ke$ha, Dwight Yoakam, and comedian Marlon Wayans.
Ironically, there is one thing a group strictly cannot do in Nevada’s properties: organize a casino night. “There’s no private gaming allowed, but we can divide groups up and give lessons on blackjack or craps and improve their confidence for when they go into the casino,” says Angela DiCostanzo, director of sales for the M Resort. “We’ve also had groups that have given casino credit or chips when people register.”
No matter how you approach your meeting, working closely with the on-site meetings services team can reveal a treasure trove of ideas and recommendations. “Use our team as consultants in order to give the attendees the best possible experience,” Glanzer says. “Ask them what worked that was amazing for another group. Really use their knowledge and expertise in order to help you execute the best event possible.”
This article appears in the May 2022 issue.