August 3, 2015
By Deanna Ting at Baltimore Sun
These gaming resorts aren't in Vegas -- and that's the point
For five of the past six years, Dawna Leitzke, the Pierre, SD-based executive director of the South Dakota Petroleum and Propane Marketers Association, has brought her annual convention of 250 to 300 attendees to The Lodge at Deadwood Gaming Resort in Deadwood, SD.
And for the past 10 years, Lou Silfe, project manager for South Haven, MS-based Application Data Systems Incorporated, has brought his company's annual conference of approximately 100 to 125 attendees to Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica, MS.
What keeps Leitzke and Silfe returning to the same gaming resorts year after year? Well, it's because they have everything their groups need for a successful meeting.
"You don't need to leave the facility when you're there," says Leitzke. "It has everything for everybody, and our group really likes it." She adds, "It's not like Vegas or Atlantic City, but that's the point. It's very quaint, personal, and accommodating. This is a destination resort -- that's why they built The Lodge at Deadwood on this beautiful hill with that view of the mountains. People will come here and not want to leave."
Indeed, throughout the U.S., meeting organizers like Leitzke and Silfe are discovering the advantages of meeting in destination gaming resorts. While these properties possess many of the same attributes as their Vegas and Atlantic City counterparts, they aren't exactly like them -- and that's the point.
Maryland's largest casinos already have been reducing their slots offerings, freeing up space for popular table games or restaurants. Although their popularity may be ebbing, slot machines still generated $680 million at the state's five casinos in the fiscal year ending June 30.
Often, you'll find these properties a bit off the beaten path, or close to major cities but not necessarily in them. These are destinations in and of themselves. And they've got plenty of entertainment, food-and-beverage options, accommodations, state-of-the-art meeting spaces, and eager-to-please convention services teams to help planners pull off their best events.
Here's a closer look at why meeting at a destination gaming resort is a sure bet for many meeting groups.
All in One
One of the biggest advantages of meeting in a destination gaming resort is that they often have everything your group needs -- and much more. This especially holds true when it comes to entertainment and food-and-beverage options.
Pam McKenna, CAE, and president of McKenna Management, a Chelmsford, MA-based association management company, says she often brings her association groups to places like Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT, because "everything is under one roof." She notes, "You have the convention center, the overnight rooms, and the restaurants that run the gamut from high-end signature chef restaurants to grab-and-go."
And then there's the entertainment. McKenna says that when it comes to shows and nightlife, when staying at the Mohegan Sun, "You don't have to go anywhere."
Mohegan Sun, which is owned by the Mohegan Tribe, encompasses 185 acres. It has more than 350,000 square feet of gaming space; a 1,200-room hotel tower (with a new, 400-room hotel tower set to debut in fall 2016); a 20,000-square-foot Elemis Spa; more than 45 different restaurants and food-and-beverage outlets; three entertainment venues (one of which is a 10,000-seat arena); a 10,000-square-foot indoor pool; and more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space.
McKenna says, "Our numbers have been higher going to Mohegan Sun than they have been going to other convention centers that didn't have all that Mohegan Sun has to offer." For the past seven years, McKenna has brought four different meetings to the property, ranging from groups of 25 up to 900 for associations related to nursing and higher education.
In California, Noel L. Natividad, branch development and acquisition assistant for Platinum Home Mortgage in Carson, CA has found success in hosting the company's annual sales conference for 115 Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, CA. "The beneficial aspect of having the meeting at a casino resort like Pechanga is having a variety of entertainment options for attendees once the meetings are over, from spas and golf to sports bars and gaming. Compared to a normal hotel, our group wasn't limited to one or two restaurants and limited entertainment."
All Together Now
With so many entertainment options available at destination gaming resorts, it's much easier to keep your group all together when you're not in the meeting room. And while gaming isn't always going to be a main draw for all of your attendees -- or a major factor in why they choose to go to your meeting -- it can be used as an effective, and fun, teambuilding and networking tool.
Deb Hammond, vice president of sales and marketing for Seattle-based Worldwide Distributors, a retail buying cooperative, is responsible for organizing trade shows for the co-op's 280 retail members throughout the U.S. For the past 17 years, the trade shows for up to 1,000 to 2,000 attendees have been held in Reno, NV, and in recent years, most of her attendees stay at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa.
"Some of our attendees are really attracted to the gaming, but it's a much smaller atmosphere here in Reno than going to Vegas," she says. "Most of our attendees are from smaller communities and they're more comfortable with the gaming environment in Reno than they would be in Vegas."
One activity that brings her attendees together, she says, is a casino night at the convention center, which is connected to the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. "Why not just go to a casino and play? Well, it's a huge event for us, and our members and attendees just love it. It gives them that gaming atmosphere and allows people to learn how to play without spending their own money. It gives them that chance to learn, and practice, and get to know one another."
Leitzke has also found success in organizing a casino night for her attendees at The Lodge at Deadwood, pointing out that attendees feel a sense of camaraderie in putting a quarter in a slot machine or cheering one another along in a hand of blackjack.
"I think it's inherent in human nature to want to play a game of chance, but doing so also allows you to network with your colleagues and contacts," she adds.