Meetings in major gaming locales pay off
Sponsored by Thunder Valley Casino
If you’ll excuse the pun, some planners consider hosting an event at a gaming destination a gamble. What if the attendees get distracted by the casino and skip the meeting? What if some don’t want to be around the slots and tables? Will there be enough to do outside of gambling?
These planners should rest assured that at the nation’s best gaming destinations, gambling is just one of many cards on the table. There’s also prime dining, nightlife in abundance, sophisticated guest rooms and meeting space with enough functionality to ensure business does indeed get done.
It’s also important to note that each planner can integrate gaming at his or her own discretion. For some, it may be a central component; for others, it can play a very minimal role. To prove the potential value of gaming meetings, we turned to the experts: planners who have organized them. Their positive feedback demonstrates that when it comes to gaming destinations, the odds for success are actually in your favor.
- Where: Detroit
- What: Bellacino’s Pizza & Grinders National Franchise Meeting
- Who: Kim D. Losik, executive vice president, Bellacino’s Inc.
- When: Oct. 23–24, 2011
- How many: 80-plus franchisees and eight franchisers
The event kicked off with an informal gathering at the lounge inside the casino. Business took up the next day, with lunch provided by the hotel’s catering group, followed by an evening cocktail hour back in the lounge.
Says Losik: “The Greektown Casino provided us with a very large comfortable banquet area that was more than adequate for the size group we had. We also had a room that very easily provided a display area for the eight outside vendors we utilize for our business to display their products to our franchisees. Once again, it was a very comfortable area with a well-designed layout for the vendors.”
Many attendees also integrated dining at restaurants surrounding the hotel in Detroit’s downtown Greektown area, a historic neighborhood whose roots have endured in a variety of Greek restaurants and sites, including buildings themed to resemble such iconic Grecian sights as the Parthenon. Many of the franchisees, Losik says, dined across from the casino at Fishbone’s, designed with 1920s-era Bourbon Street in mind and serving New Orleans-inspired cuisine. Some also ventured to nearby Ford Field and Comerica Park to check out the sports facilities.
For Losik, gaming was a key selling point. “Because of the nature of our business and the length of the meetings, we felt that we needed a form of relaxation and that gaming would be a nice means to keep the franchisees entertained, as well as keep them from straying too far away from the facility. Everyone likes the opportunity to win something, big or small, and even if they do not win, to have an opportunity to converse and socialize away from the daily rigors of the restaurants they own and work at. Additionally, we felt that new relationships would result from interaction between franchisees sitting together at a table, slot machine or even at one of the many casino bars. Honestly, I believe everyone looked forward to this.”
“I would rate the facilities, management team and F&B as a definite 10 out of 10. I cannot say enough good things about how the experience was, from day one of pre-planning to the cleanup following our meeting. Overall, everyone was extremely pleased with the facilities and the rooms. Many of the franchisees asked if our next meeting would be [there].”
Greektown Casino, Detroit
Biloxi Civic Center & Beau Rivage Resort and Casino
–Where: Biloxi, Miss.
–What: International Conference for Sustainable Agriculture
–Who: Aimee Murry, public relations and marketing communications manager, Bio Soil Enhancers, Inc.
–When: Jan. 18–19, 2012
–How many: About 230 attendees
The Biloxi Civic Center, which Murry calls “beautiful,” was used for conference day activities, while the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino was utilized for a welcome reception and plated dinner. Murry found the civic center foyer “massive” and says she was able to use it flexibly. “We utilized the foyer for continental breakfast, snacks, coffee, soda and water throughout the day. We used highboys during these times, as the guests needed a break from sitting. However, while the guests were in the meeting prior to lunch, we replaced the highboys with 60-inch rounds and gave the foyer a new, refreshed look for lunch.”
Murry also used the civic center’s “fabulous” courtyard, placing tables outside for an al fresco complement to the indoor meetings. “As Mississippi has beautiful warm weather practically year round, this was a bonus for our attendees,” she says. “Our guests were from all over the world and greatly enjoyed the warm-weather break in January.”
For Murry, gaming was just one draw among many. “We chose Biloxi because of the gaming opportunities, historical sites and the abundance of activities for tourists. We selected the Beau Rivage because of its proximity to the civic center, its ability to host a welcome reception and plated dinner, and the beauty and elegance of the property. Our guests enjoyed the gaming at the end of the day if they desired. Spouses and family members who accompanied our attendees and chose not to attend the conference enjoyed the resort during the day—there is a wonderful promenade. Biloxi has amenities for all ages and families.”
“A++ was our overall experience. Our guests were delighted by the beauty, grace and fabulous weather of the Gulf Coast and made many comments pronouncing their desire to return. They are looking forward to next year!”
Beau Rivage Resort and Casino, Biloxi, Miss.
Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa
–Where: Chandler, Ariz.
–What: Dinner in Honor of Arizona Vietnam Veterans
–Who: Colonel Joseph E. Abodeely, director, Arizona Military Museum
–When: Oct. 22, 2011
–How many: About 430 attendees
A memorial dinner and reception anchored the conference, with a social hour beforehand for mixing and mingling. The keynote speaker was General Barry R. McCaffrey, the distinguished Vietnam War veteran and former cabinet officer in charge of U.S. drug policy.
Gaming was integrated, but not crucial. “We had several graduates from West Point, and after dinner they went over and played the games. For those who stayed at this hotel and casino, the lodging, the food and the gaming made an attractive entertainment package,” Abodeely says.
Abodeely has nothing but praise for the host venue, but the feedback is perhaps best left to McCaffrey; he told Abodeely it was “the Cadillac of events.”
Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, Chandler, Ariz.
Peppermill Resort Spa Casino
–Where: Reno, Nev.
–What: 20th Annual ASQ Audit Division Conference
–Who: Quitman White, vice chair, arrangements, logistics and support of the Audit Division of ASQ
–When: Oct. 27–28, 2011
–How many: About 375 attendees
The robust itinerary encompassed an opening gala, technical sessions, keynotes, a closing reception and more. The general session each day was held in the main ballroom, and five breakouts were additionally used. For F&B, rather than using standard hotel menus, White worked with the hotel chef and had menus custom-created for the conference, mixing hotel staples with items attendees were known to enjoy.
White used gaming as a thematic element; sessions were given names such as “Be an Audit Winner” and “Use Common ‘CENTS’ Sense When Writing Audit Findings.” But, he notes, “the Peppermill was wise enough to design the property such that folks didn’t have to go through the gaming area if they didn’t want to.”
“The Peppermill was light years ahead of [other properties we’ve used]. The staff was wonderful. There was so much audiovisual and technology stuff we could do, like [high-tech] light controls. And the entire property was so elegant.” But the real proof is on the dotted line: “We signed another contract for 2015 before we left.”
Tuscany Ballroom at Peppermill Resort Spa Casino, Reno, Nev.
Thunder Valley Casino Resort
–Where: Lincoln, Calif.
–What: The Sleep Train, Inc. Strategic Leadership Retreat and The Sleep Train, Inc. Quarterly Review Meeting
–Who: Sarah Tierney, executive assistant
–When: Multiple dates over the last three years
–How many: Group sizes have ranged from 35 to 125 attendees
Meetings typically lasted all day, with dinners catered onsite by the resort catering team. Pano Hall, a 9,740-square-foot venue that can be divided into five separate spaces, was the primary space used. For smaller groups, Tierney integrated meals at High Steaks Steakhouse, which features a private dining area.
“Much of our group enjoys relaxing in the casino after the meeting has ended,” Tierney says. “The casino is lively and clean and the hotel is separate from the casino for those of our guests who aren’t casino people.”
“We love working with the crew at Thunder Valley and the reaction of attendees is always positive. We are planning on holding more meetings there.”
All these rave reviews suggest it’s a smart choice to host a meeting in a gaming locale. You could even bet on its success.
High Steaks, Thunder Valley Casino Resort, Lincoln, Calif.
A Tale of Three Las Vegas Meetings
Snapshot 1: Small Hotel Off The Strip
Tuscany Suites & Casino
Beverly Goodwine, senior events and meeting planner for a national nonprofit, brought 200 attendees to Tuscany Suites Feb. 28—March 1 for the 2012 National Executives Meeting. “Our attendees were pleased by the price and size of the room, the amount of meeting room space and the proximity of the Tuscany to other parts of the city,” she says.
Except for the onsite chapel, Goodwine used all of the property’s 37,000 sq. ft. of meeting venues, some of which feature an Italian balcony and views of the hotel’s pool and gardens. For meals, she utilized the Tuscany’s four restaurants, including Tuscany Gardens, which serves surf-and-turf, and The Cantina, featuring Mexican dishes.
Gaming, she says, was incidental to her decision. “In my search and site visits I was looking for a nongaming facility, but was unable to secure a nongaming hotel with enough meeting space. We were primarily attracted to Las Vegas for the low cost of hosting a meeting of this size, many flight choices from across the country and an airport within 10 minutes of everything.” Proof that even in gaming-hub Vegas, you don’t have to incorporate gaming.
Snapshot 2: A Caesars Entertainment Property
Lt. General Nathaniel Walpool, convention coordinator for the National Antlered Guard, brought 80 people to Imperial Palace Hotel Oct. 25–30, 2011, for the Pacific/Northwest Division Antlered Guard Encampment.
He was impressed not only with his experience at the hotel—“rated from one to 10, I would give it a big 10”—but with Caesars Entertainment, the gaming behemoth that operates several properties in Vegas and across the country. “I am definitely planning on returning, not only to Las Vegas, but to a number of Caesars Entertainment properties, and there are about 40 of them throughout the country. I like the Caesars One Contact/One Contract program—I have one point of contact who can check space and availability at all or any of their properties, which saves me time. Caesars also has two of the greatest reward programs I’ve found: the Total Rewards and Meeting Diamonds programs for planners.”
As for gaming, he says simply, “the attendees loved being housed in a property that has gaming.” The event mixed business with fun—including a disco dance—and gaming helped with the productive-entertaining balance.
Snapshot 3: A Vegas Classic
The Mirage Hotel and Casino
Michelle Troop is the cofounder and EVP, operations, of LeadsCon, which holds an annual Las Vegas conference focusing on lead generation. The event has grown from 800 attendees in 2009 to 2,800 this February. Each year, The Mirage, a longtime Strip fave and member of casino-hotel giant MGM Resorts International, has served as host.
“The team at The Mirage provides stellar customer service, the location works great for our size group and event format, and being in Las Vegas takes a lot of pressure off of us to provide activities each evening when the conference itself is done,” she says.
This year, in addition to sessions, breakouts and exhibits held in various spaces from among the property’s 170,000 sq. ft. of inventory, Troop hosted a dinner at Stack, which serves American cuisine and splashy cocktails in a space notable for its rippling walls. She also held a reception at King Ink, a lounge and bar with tattoo booths, and a final VIP party at 1 Oak, an avant-garde space encompassing two separate rooms, each with their own bar and DJ booth.
Troop says gaming “didn’t play a specific role per se. This is a highly interactive, Internet-savvy group of executives. They are very serious about the business they do at the event, but equally serious about their socializing, networking and playtime. Vegas and the endless array of world-class restaurants, hip nightclubs and great gaming make this the perfect location for our group and this event.”
What's up in key gaming locales
Atlantic City, N.J.
At the end of last year, the former Trump Marina Hotel Casino was converted into the Golden Nugget Atlantic City following a $150 million renovation. Last June, Tropicana Atlantic City unveiled 26 Cielo Suites, luxury suites with wet bars, temperature-controlled wine storage, dining areas and more. The biggest to-do in town is the opening this month of Revel, a 6.3 million-square-foot resort with 1,898 guest rooms, a 32,000-square-foot spa, 14 restaurants, and 160,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space.
In December, the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority welcomed a new president and CEO: respected industry vet Chris Baum. On the hotel front, a property worth revisiting if you haven’t lately is Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, which has undergone a $100 million upgrade and expansion. Among 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space are a newly designed grand ballroom, eight meeting rooms and a high-tech executive boardroom. (For information on Lake Tahoe, Reno’s neighboring gaming locale, see pg. 80.)
Fitzgerald’s Casino & Hotel changed its name in March to The D Las Vegas; it is also undergoing a renovation slated for completion in the fall. In January, Las Vegas Hilton changed ownership and its name—to LVH - Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The property continues to offer 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Plaza Hotel and Casino completed a $35 million renovation in August, and the MGM Grand is expected to complete a $160 million renovation in September.
In entertainment news, it’s been announced that the Cirque du Soleil show Viva Elvis at Aria will be replaced by another Cirque show, Zarkana, a modern rock opera, in November. The King will leave the building in August.
Gaming hotels with can’t-miss nightlife options
Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas
Two celeb-loved, uber-posh nightclubs, Rain and Moon, are on hand for post-meeting fun and networking. Rain features 28,000 sq. ft. of space and such glitzy touches as dancing fountains. The more intimate Moon includes a floor with color-changing glass tiles and a curtain of glass beads that hangs over floor-to-ceiling windows.
Desert Diamond Casino Hotel, Tucson, Ariz.
The place to see and be seen is Monsoon Nightclub, where local radio station 106.3 hosts a live broadcast of its old-school tunes every Friday night, and where Tex Mex and Tejano music ignites the dance floor during Noches Caliente on Saturdays.
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Center Bar is the go-to spot for post-meeting networking over a fancy cocktail. For live music, 505 Fusion offers an entertainment roster of DJ sets and local rock and country bands.
Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino, Mescalero, N.M.
The live music at Club 49 is diverse but consistently lively, spanning everything from classic rock to blues to country. The venue’s aesthetic—sleek tables under brightly colored strobe lights—adds to the allure.