Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas
They’re a win-win deal for planners and attendees
Meetings mean big business. This is the core premise that underlies our industry, which accounted for $114.2 billion in spending in 2014, according to U. S. Travel Association’s Meetings Mean Business Coalition. And given last year’s booming economy, an even larger amount can be expected.
That fact has not gone unnoticed in America’s $240 billion gaming industry, both commercial and Native American, across 40 states. “Meetings have had a significant impact on the gaming industry for decades,” says Andrew Ortale, vice president of industry services for American Gaming Association. “They drive tremendous business and foot traffic year-round to casino resorts.”
By the same token, he says, “the industry has done a great job in providing world-class facilities for functions of any size.” This is evident at casino resorts across the nation, which now offer, or are in the process of upgrading, all the elements that planners seek for a successful event: well-appointed guest rooms, high-tech meeting and event space, fine-dining restaurants, entertainment, shopping and luxury spas. A further plus is their availability in one location, a bonus that goes beyond the requirements of the leisure market.
In other words, it’s a win-win opportunity from both perspectives. To sweeten the deal, here’s an overview of property developments at gaming resorts across the United States and their resources for planners.
Atlantic City and Las Vegas have several things in common: they started small, grew larger, grew exponentially larger, hosted Frank Sinatra…Today, they’ve outgrown their modest roots and are moving forward as desirable destinations, with meetings and conventions at the forefront. And don’t overlook Reno, Nevada, an off-the-beaten- path gaming city with great meeting infrastructure and otherworldly outdoor pursuits.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
A 205-foot-tall Ferris wheel, anticipated to open this spring, isn’t the only evidence of Atlantic City’s new upward spiral. Several of the city’s premier casino resorts have invested heavily not only in nongaming entertainment and dining, but also in wooing planners with luxe new or renovated convention spaces, such as Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center (see sidebar), or plenty of guest rooms. The following two iconic properties are among them.
Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa: This Marina District resort, with its main tower wrapped in reflective gold glass, is investing $50 million in property improvements this year, including a new nightclub, additional celebrity-chef restaurant and brand-new outdoor pool with entertainment grounds. Bolstering its existing complement of event venues (70,000 sq. ft.) will be 25,000 sq. ft. of new conference space. Still in the planning phase, the two-level space will feature a 7,000-square-foot ballroom, four meeting rooms, a boardroom, office and a prefunction area on each level. The hotel offers 2,000 guest rooms; its equally glitzy Water Club has 800 rooms, plus 18,000 sq. ft. of its own meeting space.
Tropicana Atlantic City, New Jersey
Tropicana Atlantic City: Located on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and sporting a redesigned property entrance, this 2,079-room resort has invested another $25 million in renovations, a significant portion of which includes redesigning 500 Havana Tower hotel rooms. These and other upgrades, among them the new Latin Grill at Cuba Libre and a unique Ivan Kane nightclub experience, will debut this month. The latest improvements come on the heels of a $50 million guest room and entertainment project that was completed in 2015 and a recent $1 million renovation of the 17,848-square-foot ballroom (for a total of 122,000 sq. ft. of function space).
Las Vegas, Nevada
Surrender Nightclub at Wynn/Encore Las Vegas
Last year, Las Vegas welcomed a record 42.3 million visitors. What was the big reason for the 2.9 percent increase from 2014? According to Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, meeting, convention and trade show attendance was a primary driver of that growth, increasing 13.4 percent, to 5.9 million visitors. Attracting the planners of those events was (and continues to be) the huge array of new, expanded and/or upgraded function space and guest rooms.
Aria Resort & Casino: This LEED Gold certified resort in CityCenter (4,004 guest rooms) has just wrapped up a refresh of its 300,000-square-foot convention space, including such features as new media walls, charging stations, registration areas and more. New seating in the prefunction area now allows up to 200 guests, a 40 percent increase, to mix and mingle. Adjacent to Aria, the Shops at Crystals at CityCenter now offers Event Space at Crystals, a multilevel flexible area for 980 guests that overlooks the colorful dancing waters of Aria’s Lumia fountain. Newly opened Herringbone restaurant features an indoor/outdoor experience for up to 111 guests.
Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Las Vegas
Caesars Entertainment: Headquartered in Las Vegas, Caesars Entertainment Corporation is a major player in the gaming-entertainment world, encompassing 10 properties in its home city and nearly 40 nationwide (including Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City). The Vegas properties account for more than 1 million sq. ft. of meeting and convention space and 23,219 guest rooms. A recently announced refurbishment push will see 4,800 of these rooms upgraded in 2016 at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, its flagship, as well as Harrah’s Las Vegas, Paris Las Vegas and Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Las Vegas. The project will also include another 900 guest rooms in three regional properties (Harrah’s Gulf Coast, Caesars Atlantic City and Horseshoe Tunica).
Wynn/Encore Las Vegas: This mega resort property near the center Strip features two hotels, together providing 4,750 guest rooms, as well as outstanding restaurants and popular nightclubs. The 260,000 sq. ft. of meeting space includes many areas with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer stunning views overlooking pools and gardens.
Luxor Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas
Luxor Hotel and Casino: The pyramid-shaped property made a big splash on The Strip when it opened more than two decades ago, and its trendy and upscale design continues to appeal to business groups as well as leisure travelers. A total of 4,400 guest rooms feed its own 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting and convention space—including Galleria’s boardroom and two meeting rooms, which came online in 2014 and 2015—and its sister MGM properties.
The Venetian Las Vegas: This lavish mega-resort offers a whopping 2.25 million sq. ft. of meeting and exhibition space spread throughout The Venetian, sister hotel The Palazzo and Sands Expo & Convention Center—think 50,000 attendees. Last June, The Venetian completed an extensive remodel of its 3,000 standard suites, the bulk of the hotel’s 4,028 total. (The Palazzo, with 3,068 rooms, opened in 2008). The Expo Center itself is showing off recently redesigned lobbies and common spaces, plus reconstructed meeting rooms and upgrades for the exhibition halls. An $8 million Wi-Fi project also was recently completed.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas: In the heart of The Strip, this 2,959-room luxury property is an entertainment center thanks to The Chelsea, a transformable 40,000-square-foot venue. There’s a whopping 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
M Resort Spa Casino, Las Vegas
M Resort Spa Casino: For the seventh-consecutive year, M Resort and its Spa Mio have earned Forbes Four Star ratings. The 390-room resort offers 92,000 sq. ft. of event space and an even bigger outdoor piazza.
“We take great pride in our ranking among the world’s finest hotels and spas as it reflects in our mission to provide outstanding levels of service and elevated amenities while creating lasting impressions for every one of our guests,” says Bob Sheldon, president of M Resort Spa Casino.
Nicknamed “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno is a meeting treasure, with all the amenities a planner needs, plus access to nearby outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, biking and whitewater rafting.
Grand Sierra Resort and Casino: Since the completion of a $10 million renovation to the 2,700-seat Grand Theatre last summer, this property has become a very popular entertainment venue. There are 1,990 guest rooms and 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space for up to 4,000 attendees. Summit Pavilion connects to the grand ballroom to create 85,000 sq. ft. of rentable meeting space.
Atlantis Casino Resort Spa: This AAA Four Diamond property is connected to Reno-Sparks Convention Center. It offers 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 824 guest rooms. The convention center features five exhibit halls totaling 381,000 sq. ft. of space.
Peppermill Resort Spa Casino: The Tuscan-themed luxury property has 1,623 guest rooms and 106,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The 62,000-square-foot Tuscany Ballroom is the largest free-span convention space in northern Nevada.
Regional Gaming Resorts
Within the 40 states that allow gaming, there’s an array of casino properties, both Native American resorts—immersing guests into their colorful, cultural sense of place—and commercial destination resorts. Competition is strong in this market, due to the increasing number of brick-and-mortar casinos, and online gaming and daily fantasy sports games, all of which make your face-to-face meeting particularly valuable. Here is a selection.
Native American Resorts
California: About 30 miles east of Sacramento, California, Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln has jumped on the revived economy and is finishing off the top three floors of its hotel (which opened during the recession in 2010, adding 111 guest rooms to the mix within the following 18 months). They’re part of a $40 million project that will renovate the existing 297 rooms—all complementing 9,740-square-foot Pano Hall and two boardrooms. A fun entertainment option is the resort’s annual summer concert series, held nearby at its 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater.
Washington: Less than 10 years since its opening, Tulalip Resort Casino in Snohomish County has launched a $15 million renovation and redesign of its guest rooms. It will take place in phases over the next year and include new furniture and an updated media hub for electronics. Public spaces at this Seattle-area resort will see an upgrade, as well. The resort’s 30,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space includes a 15,000-square-foot ballroom and 6,000 sq. ft. of pre-/post-function event space. A 450-seat cabaret with a stage for special presentations is also available.
New Mexico: When you enter the lobby of Inn of the Mountain Gods in Mescalero, you’re greeted by a view of its namesake lake and the Sacramento Mountains (the gaming floor is separate from the lobby and guest rooms). A $2.4 million renovation of its 273 guest rooms was completed in June 2015; 25 upgraded suites are coming this spring. Flexible meeting and function space totals more than 40,000 sq. ft. And then there’s the championship golf course, ski resort, headliner entertainment and more.
Reflecting the region’s rich pueblo heritage, Sandia Resort & Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a meeting destination that just happens to have gaming. It’s 50,000 sq. ft. of event space includes a 27,000-square-foot ballroom, the largest in the state. The Mountain Terrace offers splendid views of the majestic Sandia Mountain and event space for up to 200. Amenities at the 228-room resort include the longest golf course in the state, at 7,772 yards. There’s a 3,000-square-foot outdoor patio that overlooks the 18th green. Sandia even features its very own 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheater.
Towering over its desert surroundings, Isleta Resort & Casino features a sublime landscape with spectacular vistas. The 201-room resort, located 7 miles south of Albuquerque on the Pueblo of Isleta, is colorfully decorated with the works of Native American artists. It features six dining options and offers more than 60,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space.
Oklahoma: AAA Four Diamond Choctaw Casino Resort-Durant is a premier destination in southeastern Oklahoma. The 286-room property features The District, which includes a 3,600-square-foot arcade, 20 bowling lanes, laser tag, a cinema, a sports bar and a food court. Some 20,000 sq. ft. of premier event space, including the 14,000-square-foot Magnolia Grand Ballroom, is available.
Turning Stone Resort Casino, Verona, New York
New York: Tucked into central New York’s scenic Mohawk Valley, Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona is chock-full of options for planners. For starters, there are four distinct hotels offering a total of 709 guest rooms, 268 of which (in the casino hotel) have been recently renovated. Add to that 125,000 sq. ft. of flexible function space, capable of hosting up to 2,000 guests, including a 33,000-square-foot event center and 26 meeting rooms. Five golf courses offer plenty of tee times and Finger Lakes wineries are nearby.
Pennsylvania: Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre, northeastern Pennsylvania, opened its 238-room hotel adjacent to the existing casino in 2013, along with the 20,000-square-foot convention center, accommodating up to 1,600 guests. The 16,000-square-foot Keystone Grand Ballroom is flanked by 2,800 sq. ft. of prefunction space. Nearby is the 8,300-seat Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, which headlines music entertainers and sports, while the resort’s live harness racing track opens possibilities for a fun offsite. Its Pacer’s Clubhouse has room for 250 guests and offers a panoramic view of the mountains and racetrack. (For more information on Mohegan Sun, see the sidebar on p. 109 of the Southern New England story.)
Maryland: Taking a different route to fully integrated meetings, Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Cumberland first opened as a golf resort at scenic Rocky Gap State Park; in 2013 it added a very popular casino. While the casino draws guests from around the region, it also is popular among meetings groups.
“We are truly a full-service resort that offers so much more than your typical regional casino,” says Skylar Dice, general manager of the property. That includes not only the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, but also the newly constructed The Allegheny Event Center, which can accommodate up to 400 guests in a variety of configurations.
Valley Forge Casino Resort, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania: Valley Forge Casino Resort, a 25-minute drive from downtown Philadelphia and Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), opened in 2012 in the heart of the historic area, in King of Prussia. The resort’s 100,000-square-foot convention facilities already have seen $1 million in technology upgrades and a renovated spa. A 54,000-square-foot exhibition space can accommodate up to 250 10-by-10-foot booths. Planners can book attendees in Casino Tower, with 242 guest rooms, or adjacent Radisson Valley Forge, with 243 guest rooms that recently underwent a $2.8 million renovation.
Deal Me In
If you’ve hosted an event at a casino resort, you’re aware of all the bells and whistles (entertainment, fine dining, spas and gaming) they offer. If you haven’t, the odds for success are in your favor.
If You Build It…
Meeting planners will get a firsthand look at the latest entry onto the Atlantic City scene—Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center—when Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress meets there June 11−14. It’s among the first large conventions to book this dramatic new facility, which has already prompted an increase of 90,000 advance hotel room bookings at Harrah’s for the coming year. Built to the tune of $125.8 million, the center encompasses 150,000 sq. ft. of function space that can be broken down into 63 separate rooms, in addition to the 20,000 sq. ft. of event space and 2,600 hotel rooms immediately adjacent at Harrah’s.
Hosting WEC gives the property—and the city—a huge boost in drawing more business travel to Atlantic City, as an estimated 2,000 planners from around the globe are expected to attend. Along with the convention’s direct economic impact, event data shows that after WEC, 75 percent of attending planners were more likely to book an event in the WEC city, according to San Francisco Travel Association, last year’s host.
At the ceremonies in September, Michael Massari, senior vice president of national meetings and events for Caesars Entertainment, noted, “The state-of-the-art center is conveniently located within driving distance of one-third of the nation’s population.” That puts the conference center, Harrah’s resort—and, not coincidentally, Atlantic City—squarely on the updated meetings map.
A New Focus: Integrated Resort Experience
Last fall, American Gaming Association (AGA) expanded the traditional gaming scope at its annual Global Gaming Expo (G2E) by adding a focus on nongaming concepts and technologies, such as the growing potential of meetings as a revenue driver.
The show, held in Las Vegas at Sands Expo & Convention Center, presented an “Integrated Resort Experience,” an immersive look at these nongaming technologies, products and services in six segments:
• Dwell: Sleeping room concepts
• Indulge: Food & beverage
• Captivate: Entertainment
• Connect: Meetings & conventions
• Zen: Stay well & spa
• Play: Gaming
The successful show brought attention not only to nongaming ways for casino execs to expand their businesses, but also to the mutually beneficial relationship between the gaming and meetings industries for the many meeting professionals in attendance.
“This relationship will only continue to grow as more states continue to embrace gaming,” says Andrew Ortale, newly appointed vice president of industry services for AGA.
Carolyn Koenig is the former editorial director of Smart Meetings and is a frequent contributor.