When your meetings require everything in one place, with large group space, restaurants and attractions only minutes away from each, a gaming hotel or resort often fits the bill. The level of luxury and quality of services continues to evolve each year due to the level of competition in the market.
New hotels launch and others renovate, and we’re seeing an increase of first class amenities from championship golf courses to celebrity chefs, along with a subtle shift away from the gaming tables as a central focus of these full service properties.
Equally important, these highly varied venues bring an inherent energy, excitement and drama to any program without added cost to the group.
That’s certainly been the case for Mark Pinvidic, managing partner at Noble Financial Capital Markets in Boca Raton, Florida, who hosts an annual conference at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
“You walk into the hotel and it’s got attitude, personality, it’s big, it’s bold,” says Pinvidic. “Compared to an ordinary hotel, with its elevator music and empty hallways, the Seminole Hard Rock has got buzz, it’s got motion, and that adds to the excitement of doing our event there. Attendees have commented that every time they come out of a meeting, there’s people and activity, and it helps my conference look like it’s got a buzz.”
In other words, it’s always showtime at Seminole Hard Rock. Step inside the 500-room resort and you’re greeted with the bling of the casino on your way to the front desk. Guestrooms are decked in a sleek, modern décor of silver, black and dark wood after a recent $7 million room renovation. And the 40,000 sf of meeting space itself seems wired for action, from an active, colorful design of the carpets to a palette of lighting options that include vibrant reds and violets.
“It’s a hustle and bustle of the casino that pervades the resort,” says Mark Tascione, director of sales at Seminole Hard Rock, who is one of many gaming hoteliers promoting their property as hotel first, casino second. “What’s nice about our meeting space, it’s all the way to the end of our hotel, so you wouldn’t even know you’re in a casino.”
The resort has 23 retail shops, 18 restaurants, 10 bars and nightclubs, a 7,000-seat theatre and the Hard Rock Live arena, hosting acts from Elvis Costello and Marc Anthony to Liza Minnelli and Cirque Dreams.
Tascione also helps groups put together their own blockbuster events, such as a themed party for Pinvidic called Austin Power Brokers. It was held at one of the resort’s nightclubs, allowing the group to avoid the cost of renting a comparable venue elsewhere.
“All our guys walked in and there were 50 go-go dancers on all three tiers of the club, all professional dancers, and a 15-piece band,” says Pinvidic. “It was just like in Austin Powers. It was pretty cool.”
MOHEGAN SUN, CONNECTICUT
The New England countryside may not bring to mind world class gaming excitement, but that’s before we came upon the gleaming Mohegan Sun resort casino, rising out of the pastoral landscape in Uncasville, Connecticut.
When we stopped by, we were immediately impressed with the striking modern design swimming in watery blues and earth-tone browns and reds inspired by the surrounding nature, including a lobby with overhead canopies extending out from a grove of tree-like structures. The resort is well designed for large groups with 1,175 guestrooms, 100,000 sf of meeting space and the second largest casino in the U.S.
“You walk into the lobby and look around our building and it’s sort of an art piece; it takes your breath away,” says Gary Baker, director of sales. “Our convention center and meeting rooms are an extension of the hotel. Which means they’re very vivid and energetic, with reds, blues, yellows, white and black. It adds ambiance and character, and it’s very different than most meeting space anywhere else.”
The extravagant 4-diamond environment houses a massive inventory of amenities, featuring over 30 retail shops, 30 restaurants, 14 bar/lounges and three entertainment venues including a 10,000-seat arena. With so many options, Baker can easily provide a unique luxury experience to all kinds of groups without the VIP expense.
“We recently took a group of 110 up to our sky boxes in the arena to watch a Kiss concert, which included a reception and dessert stations,” says Baker. “It was really cool, and they didn’t have to get on a bus or take a taxi.”
And here’s one more option. The newly opened Ballo Italian Restaurant and Social Club boasts the largest bar in the state with 160 seats.
“It’s like a 12th century Tuscan cathedral with soaring ceilings, arched entryways and bright colors,” says Baker. “We’ve already had a half-dozen groups, from 75 to 500, use Ballo for receptions, dinners and entertainment, and it’s been a home run for all of them.”
Besides over 100,000 sf of gaming space, the resort also offers five lounges including the posh destination V Nightclub, which can be rented for group receptions and parties.
Opened in 2007, the MGM Grand Detroit provides groups with 30,000 sf of meeting space. Standing out as a beacon of Art Deco glamor on the city’s skyline, the same elegant design is found throughout the property. The grand scale of the architectural lines incorporates high ceilings, a chic lobby with wood-framed front desk, rich red carpets and furnishings, and the violet-hued ambient lighting of Ignite lounge.
“The minute you step through the door, it’s inviting and luxurious,” says Lisa Williams, director of sales. “Guests then have access to a private lobby living room, a warm, intimate space with a tremendous firewall.”
Groups also have full access to championship golf amenities through MGM Detroit’s partnership with the PGA golf course at TPC Michigan in nearby Dearborn. And that’s just for starters.
“We have use of the box suites at all of the concert, entertainment and sporting venues in the city,” says Williams. “So we can extend that to a group, or get additional suites for a great group experience.”
Williams especially promotes to planners the luxury experience at Immerse Spa, rated by Forbes as one of the top 90 spas in the country.
“We’ll set up the spa for a party, with bars and hors d’oeuvres stations, and mini-services like foot massage, mini facial, and manicure and pedicure,” says Williams. “It’s one more reason you don’t have to leave the building.”
TALKING STICK RESORT, SCOTTSDALE
While not an official amenity, the year-round sunshine and warm weather at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale pairs well with the 50,000 sf of outdoor event space.
“Our outdoor function areas are very unique and very pleasant,” says Steven Horowitz, director of sales. “They overlook the pool areas and our 36-hole championship golf course, and they have mountain views as well.”
Opened in 2010, the 497-room casino resort enjoys the best of both worlds: 50,000 acres of stunning Valley of the Sun desert landscape, and just six miles away, the trendy shops and swank restaurants in Scottsdale.
A modern sophisticated design is found throughout the property, with a water motif and earth tones inspired by the surrounding landscape, including decorative trees sprouting up from the floor. Even more impressive is the museum-quality collection of Native American artworks and handicrafts on display, both modern and traditional.
“Folks are always pleasantly surprised as soon as they walk in the door because they realize right away the value they’re getting,” says Horowitz. “They’re getting a four diamond level property and amenities.”
Besides the Spa at Talking Stick on the 14th floor (and its gorgeous views), the resort features four restaurants, two bar/lounges, the world’s largest poker room, the 650-seat Showroom for intimate shows, and the 25,000-sf Salt River Ballroom for headlining acts such as Jay Leno and Smokey Robinson.
“We’ve had name acts like Cher here for two nights, and one night will be exclusively for the group,” says Horowitz. “It’s almost a shared cost so it’s definitely a great advantage we have. And groups really feel special.”
CASINO DEL SOL, TUCSON
Just two hours to the south in Tucson, the 215-room European-style Casino del Sol is the newest casino resort on the Southwest scene. Opened in November last year with 65,000 sf of flexible, high-tech meeting and event space, the property is truly a labor of love for its staff, two-thirds of whom are members of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.
“They’re basically owners, so they bring that extra level of care, detail and longevity, since they’re working for their own tribe,” says Wendell Long, CEO.
The design is classic Mediterranean, complete with a copper dome atop the 10-story tower, combined with the ambiance of a well-appointed Italian castle. Exposed wood-beams crisscross the high ceilings, iron-wrought chandeliers hang with rustic charm and red crush-velvet drapes line the luxurious Prema Lobby Lounge bar. PY Steakhouse continues the motif with rich browns, arched stone entryways and plush, dark leather chairs.
The resort offers seven restaurants, five bar/lounges and three entertainment venues, including the 5,000-seat AVA Amphitheater featuring big-name acts from Rihanna and Tony Bennett to Gwen Stefani and Van Halen.
“We have a lot of options to give groups a special experience by using some of our venues on property,” says Long. “PY Steakhouse is great for events and parties, and opens up onto a display kitchen. And the pool area is by far the best in Arizona, with palm trees right in the pool and fountains that are synchronized with music. It’s a very special place.”
BEAU RIVAGE RESORT, BILOXI
Set on the lush Mississippi Gulf Coast in Biloxi, the 1,740-room Beau Rivage Resort & Casino serves up generous helpings of Southern charm and hospitality. The front drive is lined with 29 majestic live oaks while the porte-cochère canopy is suggestive of a stately Southern mansion surrounded by long formal English gardens. We especially like how the light streams down through a glass ceiling in the atrium lobby, filled with bursts of azaleas, hydrangeas, begonias and chrysanthemums.
“It’s pretty overwhelming when you arrive,” says Mike Davis, director of sales/marketing. “The theme is just casual elegance, starting with the fragrance and floral display that greets you. Groups are pleasantly surprised to find this jewel down here on the Gulf Coast.”
The resort features 10 restaurants, a dozen retail shops, four nightclubs and bars, an 18-hole golf course, luxury spa and a large pool area overlooking the Gulf. And according to Davis, all of it used to provide a flexible VIP experience to groups. Total meeting space is 50,000 sf.
“We’ve set up cooking demonstrations in our restaurants, jewelry and fashion shows in the shopping promenade, and we use the 14,000 sf of space of our pool area for receptions and parties,” says Davis. “We have a beautiful setting here and can turn it into any type of atmosphere a budget can allow.”
Davis adds that the hotel likes to really get creative with group events, because he says that’s part of the culture at the parent company, MGM Resorts International.
“We’ve done an event around a circus theme where we actually brought live animals into our ballroom,” laughs Davis. “The décor included a big top, circus barker, ringmaster and a video arcade in the foyer. We’ve got a lot of resources here, and own a lot of props and decorations. So we’re really just limited to the imagination of the group.”
MARGARITAVILLE RESORT CASINO
In Bossier City near Shreveport, Louisiana, the much anticipated Margaritaville Resort Casino is scheduled to open in June 2013. The $197 million project will have 30,000 sf of gaming floor space, a 396-room upscale hotel, a 900-seat entertainment venue, an outdoor pool deck and dining area, and a full-service spa and fitness center.
As the name suggests, the F&B product should be all kinds of fun with Jimmy Buffett involved. The Chief Executive Parrothead will infuse the spirit of the four restaurants, including the signature Margaritaville Restaurant and It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere bar. Like all of Buffett’s establishments, the networking is easy and you can leave your decor budget at home. The singer/songwriter was on hand for the February groundbreaking, with plans to return.