Your oasis is waiting
Just 46 years ago, Laughlin, Nev., consisted of a single, boarded-up riverfront motel and bar. The settlement, then known as South Pointe, was left in disrepair after the construction workers who built the Davis Dam evacuated the area for other projects. Ready to cash in on the land, though, was owner of Las Vegas’ 101 Club, Don Laughlin, who purchased the 6.5-acre property for a mere $250,000. In less than two years, what’s now known as the Riverside Resort offered all-you-can-eat chicken dinners for 98 cents, 12 slot machines and two live gaming tables.
The area was renamed Laughlin when the U.S. Postal Service inspector insisted Don Laughlin give the town a name so that it could receive mail. Although Laughlin recommended the name Riverside or Casino, the postal inspector used Don’s last name instead. From there, the town grew—a second casino opened in 1967, and a third in 1968, and so on.
Now, with nearly 4 million visitors a year, nine hotel/casinos and 10,652 hotel rooms, Laughlin has quickly turned into a desert oasis along the Colorado River. In fact, it competes with big-name gaming destinations, and was listed as one of the Top 20 U.S. Casino Markets, according to the American Gaming Association.
But gaming is not the only reason that Laughlin is making meeting planners’ destination lists. “Location, price and convenience” is why Mike Flummer, Arizona Fire District Association conference coordinator, has hosted the association’s annual three-day meeting in the city every January for at least 20 years. That, and the local vibe: “You have the Vegas-style casinos, but you have a hometown, customer-service feel,” Flummer says. “Even though you’re at Harrah’s, you’re treated like a local.”
Major Meeting Venues
One property that stands out for Flummer is the Aquarius Casino Resort. “It’s the only resort in Laughlin that can break up our meeting into the conference layout that we need,” he says. With 1,900-plus guest rooms, the Aquarius offers 30,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space with easy-to-create breakout rooms, and its 20,000-square-foot ballroom is the largest single meeting space in town. Plus, the resort features a 57,000-square-foot casino for your group’s post-meeting entertainment.
What was once the only hotel in the area, with just four available guest rooms (the Laughlin family lived in the other four), Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino now features 1,400 guest rooms, a 76,000-square-foot casino and more than 27,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The property also hosts a vast amount of entertainment for guests, including a bowling alley, an arcade, an auto museum and Don’s Celebrity Theater. Musical legends Roy Clark and Debbie Reynolds will perform there this month, along with several holiday shows—The Nutcracker ballet being one of them.
Other popular meeting properties along the Colorado River on casino row include the Tropicana Hotel Casino Laughlin, which offers nearly 1,500 guest rooms and more than 14,000 sq. ft. of function space; the River Palms Resort Casino, with more than 1,000 rooms and suites, 10,450 sq. ft. of meeting space and 72,000 sq. ft. dedicated to gaming; and Harrah’s Laughlin Hotel and Casino, which has 1,505 rooms (including 158 suites), 7,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 47,000-square-foot casino.
Unique Meeting Venues
The Colorado River is truly what sets Laughlin apart from other gaming destinations. Not only was it the reason that gold and silver miners came to the area in the 1940s, it’s what keeps visitors coming back. “The first thing that stands out [in Laughlin] is the fact that all of the casino resorts line the banks of the Colorado River,” says Meg McDaniel, senior manager regional sales for Extended Destinations of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. And meeting planners can benefit from the area’s river access and natural surroundings during their meetings.
The 8,000-square-foot Starview Room at the Riverside Resort, for instance, features floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a view of both the river and mountain landscape, creating a welcoming, light-filled meeting space. With 1,401 sq. ft. of function space, the Coronado Room at the Tropicana offers the same feel with its big picture windows that overlook the resort’s pool. The Mardi Gras room at Colorado Belle Hotel & Casino also offers planners a 3,990 sq. ft. space that can be divided into two rooms, located beneath the “boat” deck.
Or planners can take groups outside to enjoy the view at the Tropicana’s Victory Plaza, which can host 100–150 people amid its lush landscaping.
Another way to take advantage of the river is by stepping aboard one of the riverboats offered by Laughlin River Tours. The Celebration and Fiesta Queen are 149-passenger boats, and offer sightseeing cruises, cocktail charters and dinner cruises.
While Laughlin provides the casino, golf and spa activities of a typical gaming destination, it also has some not-so-typical ones. McDaniel recommends checking out Laughlin Adventure Tours, which offers groups You Drive Dune Buggy Tours. “It’s like dune buggies on steroids,” McDaniel says. Groups can explore Secret Pass and the gold mining town of Oatman, Ariz., via buggy while learning about the history of the area.
Kayaking with Desert River Outfitters is another way for attendees to interact with one another while taking in the landscape. Desert paddling, as they call it, is offered to visitors year round. Groups can wade their way through cultural and historic sites, see colorful rock formations and deep canyons, and capture the desert wildlife along the Colorado River or Mead, Mohave and Havasu lakes.
Hiking at Grapevine Canyon and Christmas Tree Pass is another “must” that McDaniel tells visitors to try out when visiting Laughlin for the first time. “Enjoy the outdoor aspects, because it’s so relaxing and laid back; it’s a really different feel,” she says.
Attendees can also partake in the more characteristic-to-Laughlin activities, such as riding Jet Skis or Sea-Doos. Golfers can venture to one of the five championship golf courses, or spa-goers can rest up at Harrah’s Laughlin Spa, the River Palms Spa or the Riverside Massage and Salon.
Laughlin has its fair share of outdoor activities, but it also stands out because of its Vegas-style shows and events. Just 90 miles from the No. 1 gaming destination in the country, Laughlin is able to bring in some of the same big-name stars to its various resort casinos. From comedians to ballet dancers, these shows can enhance any event with some end-of-the-day entertainment.
Most of Laughlin’s resort casinos offer a variety of dining options to satisfy the palate, with steakhouses topping the list. The Steakhouse at the Tropicana, voted best steakhouse in the area for 12 consecutive years, can accommodate groups of up to 20; the Saltgrass Steakhouse at the Golden Nugget Laughlin can host 25–30 guests in its private dining room; and the Range Steakhouse at Harrah’s Laughlin has an elegant space for groups of 20–25.
Although prices have gone up a bit since the 98-cent chicken dinners that put Laughlin on the map, it wouldn’t be a gaming destination without buffet options. According to McDaniel, one property that does a particularly good job for groups is the Edgewater Casino Resort at its award-winning Grand Buffet, with a private room that features a beautiful view of the Colorado River. Other belly-busting buffet favorites include the city’s first buffet, the Riverside Buffet at the Riverside Hotel & Casino, the Captain’s Buffet at the Colorado Belle Hotel & Casino and the recently-renovated Windows on the River Buffet at the Aquarius Casino Resort.
Although Laughlin is still a young city, it’s grown exponentially over the past four decades, offering quite a value to meeting planners. “I know there are great deals out there right now because of the economy, but Laughlin is consistently a good value,” McDaniel says. “We have incredibly affordable room rates, as well as dining, catering and entertainment.”
So, move over Vegas, because Laughlin is here to stay.
Laughlin/Bullhead City International Airport is located across the Colorado River, just minutes from the heart of downtown Laughlin.