Groups Gone Gaming

Foxwoods Resort Casino
Foxwoods Resort Casino

Combining upscale accommodations and amenities with a highly diverse stable of onsite venues and entertainment often comes at a lofty price. But many of America’s gaming hotels have all of these offerings and an attractive group rate. We checked in with a few to learn how they’re attracting groups in today’s economic climate.

For groups in the Northeast, meeting in “Las Vegas” can be as convenient and cost-effective as a 2-hour drive. Rising high above the rural Connecticut horizon, the 1,200-room Mohegan Sun lays claim as the second largest casino in the country. Step inside the glass and steel towers and you’re greeted by a dazzling decor that seems inspired by equal parts Native America and New Age Modernism.

Mohegan Sun’s top restaurants are supervised by nationally known celebrity chefs. At Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain, groups enjoy classic American cuisine in a comfortably formal setting replete with brown and red earth tones. Todd English’s Tuscany brings the flavors of Italy’s fabled wine country to a rustic dining room complemented by a dramatic interior waterfall. The list of more affordable options runs the gamut from the tropical flavor of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville to Michael Jordan’s 23.sportcafe, with dine-arounds available for groups of up to an amazing 1,000 pax.

So what do planners think?

Besides the benefits of a captive audience, past planners who’ve booked Mohegan, such as Lisa Mollura of Zurich Financial Services, like the value of an all-in-one property and the 100,000 sf of flexible meeting and function space.

“Our concerns were budget, ease to get to, and flexibility,” says Mollura. “I don’t like to have boring, cookie-cutter events, but I also need to stay within our budget. We were able to do some amazing things at Mohegan Sun.”

Mollura’s group reserved the hotel’s Cabaret Theatre for a private, rollicking karaoke night, after taking advantage of the resort’s vast size to hold a scavenger hunt.

“There was a real ‘wow’ factor,” she says. “From the site visits to the moment I first got on property to start the event, Mohegan Sun’s staff was so accommodating. I hold them as a benchmark when I go to other locations and venues.”

While Mollura is assured her attendees remain on property, pinpointing their location might be a challenge. Guests can wander through a maze of shops, meet and dine in over 45 restaurants and bars, lounge by a sunlit indoor pool lined with palm trees or enjoy a massage at the Native American-themed Elemis Spa, all without stepping outside the hotel.

In the center of the casino’s nonstop action, groups often gather to enjoy free nightly shows at the Wolf Den, including acts like George Clinton and Kevin Eubanks. Or they can get up-close and personal in the more intimate Cabaret Theatre, where past performers have included the Indigo Girls.

For bigger shows with special group VIP privileges, or large group events, the 10,000-seat arena has featured such acts as Rihanna, Katy Perry and Sade.

Located 50 minutes east of Hartford, the sprawling 2,200-room Foxwoods Resort Casino consists of four different hotels, including the 4-diamond MGM Grand at Foxwoods with different ambiances ranging from classic American to Euro modern. For entertainment options, the resorts collectively outdo many a small city with 38 restaurants and bars, two theaters and several nightclubs including a Hard Rock Cafe. Total meeting and event space tops 150,000 sf.

“With our size and offerings we’re very similar to a Vegas property,” says Joan Esneault, VP of Resort Sales. “It’s such a great value here compared to going to New York, Boston or Las Vegas, plus you don’t pay for parking. Most groups find that their attendance at a venue like this actually goes up.”

Step into the Paragon restaurant and you’re met with stunning panoramic views of the Connecticut countryside from the 24th floor perch. Groups start with signature cocktails and live piano music in the restaurant’s lounge, then move to a private dining room for updated classic steak and seafood dishes, which have earned the restaurant a 4-diamond rating.

Another dinner and entertainment option is the Pan-Asian restaurant Shrine, where lamps are held aloft by terra cotta statues and modern Asian prints adorn the walls. Groups choose between The Red Room and The Karma Room for private dining, or two outdoor terraces with fireplaces overlooking the MGM Grand’s pool. After dinner, rub elbows with celebs at Shrine’s uber-hip lounge for a full-throttle nightclub experience.

Groups regularly convene at—and take over—Comix comedy club and High Rollers, a retro-chic lounge where GoodFellas meets Mad Men, with bowling lanes, billiard tables and a piano bar. For larger events, the MGM Grand Theater brings in major acts, including upcoming shows starring Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Isaak and Paul Simon.

The resort also helps personalize entertainment and team-building events.

“We’ll create a private casino space and operate tables with games such as blackjack, poker and baccarat,” says Esneault. “It’s an affordable option and groups have a blast with it.”

From the stately façade and manicured gardens to the massive chandeliers and boldly traditional color palate of greens and pinks, The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV will make your group feel like they’ve traveled back to a more genteel era. And with a new pricing structure after the property’s sale in 2009, the resort is now a model of affordable luxury.

“Our room rates have been reduced significantly in order to expand our demographic,” says Todd Gillespie, Director of Sales. “We used to cater to the super rich, but now we also cater to meeting groups.”

Gillespie touts the newly opened Casino Club (jackets required) that might be best described as an antebellum Monte Carlo, perfect for James Bond-themed baccarat parties and group poker lessons and tournaments.

“The casino has been a game changer,” he says. “We can now offer nighttime entertainment.” There’s no loud clanging from monster video gaming machines here, he adds. The Casino Club feels both plush and intimate with plenty of Southern hospitality served up from the gracious staff.

With 710 guest rooms and a 100,000-sf conference center, The Greenbrier offers more than 50 outdoor activities on its sprawling grounds, from fly fishing and equestrian sports to falconry and whitewater rafting. One of the most popular group adventures is the Land Rover Driving School. Even if you’re just a passenger, it’s a beautiful drive through the forests and a great way to put together an elegant picnic amid the spectacular greenery of West Virginia’s rolling hills.

Golf is also a huge selling point for planners. Home to the annual Greenbrier Classic PGA event, golf is a highlight for groups of all skill levels on one of four championship courses.

And lastly, the property is soon to become even more accessible, in true Greenbrier fashion.

“In summer of 2012, we’re unveiling The Greenbrier Presidential Express,” says Gillespie. “It’s a luxury rail service and will match up seamlessly with our unique décor, running here from Union Station in Washington, DC.”

The newest gaming gem in the glam Scottsdale desert oasis, the 497-room Talking Stick Resort has already achieved 4-diamond status for its contempo design and impeccable service. Groups will immediately be drawn to the glass-walled Orange Sky restaurant and bar located on the 15th floor, with additional outdoor seating for stunning sunsets over the mountains.

Most importantly, the resort offers 100,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting space at a highly approachable price point within its competitive set, without sacrificing the upscale ambiance and deft service.

“Our groups look to keep attendees on property and not have the worry and expense of transporting them after an event,” says Steven Horowitz, Director of Sales. “They can stay here for three to four days and not have to repeat a restaurant. The same goes for entertainment, whether golf, spa or gaming.”

Entertainment options start with the Vegas-style Casino Arizona at Talking Stick Resort, “which brings a whole different perspective to the Scottsdale desert,” says Horowitz. He adds that the Salt River Ballroom is a hit venue for big name acts, with upcoming performers including the band Los Lobos and comedian Bill Engvall.

But it’s the endless Arizona summer that inspires groups to take their activities outdoors, especially at the Ben Crenshaw-designed golf course with lush greens set amid massive saguaro cacti and dusty arroyos.

Horowitz says he and his staff work with groups on the whole package, including Jeep tours, horseback riding, hot-air ballooning, shopping at Scottsdale’s tony boutiques and trips to nearby Grand Canyon.

A highlight for all groups visiting the Motor City, the 400-room MGM Grand Detroit Casino Resort is a towering Art Deco refuge of urban cool and downtown sophistication. Opened in 2007, the $800 million resort features 30,000 sf of meeting space and a host of options for group activities and entertainment.

One of three restaurants on property, Bourbon Steak from celebrity chef Michael Mina is a contemporary American steakhouse with a modern twist and vibe to match. Alternating walls of woven brick, massive railroad ties and colored glass surround diners, while the sleek, sophisticated bar serves up cocktails, burgers and ‘adult’ milkshakes.

Saltwater is another Mina creation with group dining options, serving affordable seafood favorites in an elegant setting.

“Groups can buy out the hotel for special events. We allow them full exclusivity of the event space and all the guest rooms,” says Lisa Williams, Director of Sales. “It’s an affordable option, especially for a property that’s rated 4-diamond/4-star for its restaurants, spa and hotel.”

After dinner, attendees can catch a set from acts such as fabled jazz singer Jimmy Scott in the INT ICE Lounge before heading to V Nightclub where the city’s young and sexy dance to the Motor City’s top DJs. According to Williams, groups often reserve a nightclub themed around Detroit’s Motown history.