June 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions - FeelingLucky - June 2000

Current Issue
June 2000
The Peppermint Hotel Casino in Reno Fun amid the foliage:
The Peppermint Hotel Casino in Reno


Gaming towns are investing high stakes in new casino hotels, expansions, renovations and other draws

By Amy Drew Teitler and Terence Baker

  The business of risk seems less of a financial gamble than ever before, if the pace of growth within the gaming industry is any indication. Las Vegas, a one-horse desert outpost a century ago, was rated the fastest growing city in America in the 2000 edition of the Places Rated Almanac.

Mergers are big news, with MGM Grand Inc. swallowing the Mirage Resorts empire in one huge $4.4 billion gulp, padding its portfolio with some of the most desirable properties in Las Vegas (Bellagio, Mirage and Treasure Island) and elsewhere. Plans for The Borgata, Mirage’s $750 million project scheduled to break ground this summer in Atlantic City, still are rolling on schedule.

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. also has been busy, having recently absorbed the Lady Luck Gaming Corp. by means of a cash merger. This deal will include the acquisition of the Lady Luck Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas before the end of 2000, provided Nevada’s gaming regulators OK the matter.

Every state in the union is making money from some form of gambling, be it Powerball or poker. Here are the latest developments of pertinence to planners.

Las Vegas
Big news of late is the MGM/Mirage merger, of course, but properties all over town are making themselves more meeting- and family-friendly, spending dollars to revamp conference space and draw visitors to their doorsteps.

Although plans for an additional tower at Bellagio have been put on hold since the merger, the Water play: The Mirage in Las VegasMirage properties still have plenty to report. The 3,054-room Mirage recently announced plans to double its convention space as part of a $125 million renovation. The new areas will be completed in two phases, with a 17-room meeting complex scheduled to open this month and a 60,000-square-foot events center to be available in April 2001. Six of the 17 meeting rooms will combine to form the 10,000-square-foot Montego Ballroom, which will have built-in teleconferencing and videoconferencing capabilities. The events center will include a 60,000-square-foot ballroom that can expand to 90,000 square feet. The new space, totaling 160,000 square feet (including an existing 40,000-square-foot ballroom), will hold groups of 10 to 7,450 attendees.

Treasure Island at the Mirage recently installed high-speed Internet access using T-3 lines in select guest rooms and meeting rooms. Groups meeting here can use the Internet to enhance events for an initial fee of $700; $200 for each additional day.

Treasure Island recently completed a $100 million remodeling that added Francesco’s, an Italian restaurant, which features celebrity artwork. Work also involved refurbishing its 2,700 rooms and adding a new lounge, the Hideaway.

In a town where just having a casino is never enough, two new resorts have made a dramatic European-themed splash. The 2,196-room Paris Las Vegas opened in September 1999, complete with re-creations of the Paris Opera House, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe, as well as a 540-foot Eiffel Tower (three of its legs spring from the resort’s 85,000-square-foot casino floor). Switchboard operators answer with “Bonjour!” Dining and entertainment also are suitably à la française.

The other European-styled newcomer, the 3,036-room Venetian, welcomed its first guests in May 1999. Noted for gondolas and the Vegas version of Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, the property also has a sprinkling of non-Venetian attractions, such as Madame Tussaud’s Celebrity Encounter. When the Venetian was built, it took over the old Sands Hotel and its expo center; the result is 1.7 million square feet of exhibition space and the world’s largest pillarless ballroom. Just as lavish, the 120,000-square-foot casino is a replica of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Reopening this spring is the New Aladdin (its namesake closed in 1997), a 2,567-room hotel and casino costing a reported $1.3 billion. Nearly 100,000 square feet of meeting space will be offered at the new property, which will be much more elaborate than its predecessor.

Vantage point: Stratosphere TowerThe Stratosphere, which features the tallest free-standing observation tower in the United States, is adding 1,000 rooms (2,400 in total) in an extension that is intended to boost the hotel’s resort image. Coupled with the expansion is a large pool and spa complex. Work is due to be completed by the end of March 2001.

At Mandalay Bay, new amenities include Rock Lobster, a hip new restaurant from the creators of China Grill. Its high-end lobster-intensive menu will score points with VIPs, and the innovative conveyor belt bar delivers serve-yourself sushi to patrons dining barside. The venue seats 220.

The new Spa Mandalay overlooks the resort’s lagoon and features a wide array of massage, aromatherapy and body-scrub and wrap treatments from all over the world.

Opening this summer is Shark Reef, the newest entertainment attraction at Mandalay. Featuring fearsome and unusual aquatic animals, it comprises a mock-up of an ancient temple that is slowly being claimed by the sea. More than an aquarium, Shark Reef will be a total sensory experience.

A $20 million transit system linking the Mandalay Group’s three South Strip properties (Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay) has been completed. This cable-propelled driverless monorail is the country’s first “cable liner” transit system. Shuttles leave every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day.

The NASCAR Cafe, a new 75,000-square-foot, 400-seat restaurant, has opened at the 1,782-room Sahara Hotel & Casino. The NASCAR theme carries throughout the complex and includes giant projection TV screens featuring famous drivers, the latest news and actual races. Nearly 20 authentic stock cars are displayed, including “Carzilla,” a three-ton Pontiac Grand Prix.

Outside of the Strip’s neon glow, the Regent Las Vegas (which in March changed its name from the Resort at Summerlin) has added Aquae Sulis, a 40,000-square-foot luxury spa, and Nevada Nick’s, a restaurant that seats 320 and is designed around a huge exhibition kitchen with wood-burning ovens. This property also has completed a new six-story tower, its second, which includes 255 rooms, a restaurant and lounge. Featuring 21,000 square feet of meeting space, a 40,000-square-foot spa and 540 guest rooms, the Regent Las Vegas lies adjacent to three golf courses; the hotel controls half the tee times for one of the courses.

The 2,034-room New York-New York Hotel & Casino has completed renovations that began last April. Improvements included room upgrades, new guest lounges and an expansion of meeting space from 12,000 to 15,000 square feet.

Progress is the word here. The city of Reno recently authorized Cordish Co. to develop an entertainment complex and modernize the downtown area. Market analysis is under way, with an emphasis on entertainment uses. Featured attractions that are up for discussion include historical museums relating to the culture and wildlife of Northern Nevada, an aquarium, retail shops, partnerships with local arts organizations and the creation of new restaurants.

Developers have begun converting the closed Riverside Hotel into 35 artists lofts and first-floor commercial space. The estimated project cost is $7.9 million, funded from a series of government grants and tax credits. Retail shops should open early in 2001.

Atlantis Casino Resort finished a $70 million expansion and renovation, which added 390 rooms (for a total of 982), an expanded casino and a health club and spa. Also new is an oyster bar and the Monte Vigna Italian Ristorante, which offers winemaker dinners complete with award-winning wines of Marchesi Antinori Estates and a five-course gourmet meal.

The 950-room Harrah’s Reno expects to unveil its new plaza this month near the famous Reno arch. Harrahs’ recently acquired Harold’s Club and the Nevada Club and demolished both to make way for the plaza, which will include landscaping, lighting and a covered walkway into Harrah’s north entrance. The area, expected to host major musical acts, will accommodate 1,500.

In the shadow of the mountains: Harrah's Lake TahoeAt the 525-room Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, all 70 suites have been remodeled, as have two restaurants, the Forest Buffet and Friday’s Station. The resort also has added Seafood Cove, a $26 million seafood restaurant that has replaced Café Andreotti.

Reno-based Sapphire Gaming has purchased the 310-room Comstock Hotel Casino and has agreements in place to buy both the 604-room Flamingo Hilton-Reno and 46 percent of the Sands Regent company, which owns and operates the 836-room Sands Regency Hotel Casino.

Peppermill Hotel Casino is in the midst of a $300 million expansion due to open this summer. It will feature two restaurants, an 85,000-square-foot convention center, a 1,700-seat entertainment complex and a 17-story tower that will bring the room total to 1,702.

The 458-room Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort & Casino is to undergo a $47 million renovation that will include a remodeling of 250 rooms (10 rooms also will disappear), the casino, the lobby and all on-site restaurants. Much of the interior work will be completed this year, with the rest continuing through 2004.

Plans are in development for the revitalization of this entire town. City and county officials are searching for ways to make Tunica a more compelling destination to the area’s 10 million annual visitors, many of whom are meeting and convention attendees. Dining, shopping, sightseeing, day-trip itineraries and other options are being explored.

The Paul Battle Jr. Arena & Exposition Center (named for prominent local Paul Battle) is set for completion next month. The facility features 48,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 13,000-square-foot concourse, 2,000 permanent arena seats (with capability to expand to 8,000), banquet seating for up to 2,500 and 14 luxury skyboxes that seat up to 24 and are equipped with wet bars. The Expo Center is the largest facility of its kind in Mississippi and was designed for a wide array of events, from conventions to concerts to livestock shows. A full-service catering kitchen will be on site.

In growth mode: Horseshoe Casino & Hotel TunicaIn the Robinsonville casino area, the Horseshoe Casino & Hotel Tunica is in the midst of a $38 million expansion that will include an enlarged parking area, 17,000 square feet of added gaming space and several new restaurants. The 505-room property already offers a wide selection of dining options from steaks to Southwestern and Southern fare and the Bluesville Showcase Nightclub.

The 860-room Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall is about to undergo a $21 million renovation that will remodel the entire casino, add a new restaurant and revamp the prominent atrium, which will host seasonal and special events.

Tunica County has allotted $10 million to be spent over the next three years for the development of the River Experience Park. Phase One will include a marina and ecotourism park. Under a five-year plan and an additional $15 million investment, a golf and tennis facility will be developed within the park. Locations are still being scouted, but it is expected to be built in the casino resort area.

Tunica Airport is gearing up for a modernization and expansion with the hope that many visitors will be soon able to bypass Memphis and fly nonstop to Tunica. The airport currently serves only small aircraft, but plans are under way to expand the runway to more than 7,000 feet, allowing aircraft as large as Boeing 737s to land. The project is slated for completion in 2004 at a cost of more than $35 million.

Atlantic City
Plans have been submitted to local and state planning committees for the development of an entertainment and retail complex. This city project will stretch five blocks between the Atlantic City Convention Center and the boardwalk but will not be connected to the convention center.

The 644-room Resorts Atlantic City is expected to complete a $50 million renovation next month. The refurbishment will include a bright new casino floor, redesigned rooms, grand new entrances, porte cochères and lobbies, and several new restaurants, such as Exotic Asian Spice and the Breadsticks Café and Grill, which overlooks the ocean. Eleven33, the property’s new nightclub, is now open and is to feature well-known musical acts. The property offers 40,090 square feet of meeting space, including nine meeting rooms and a 12,028-square-foot ballroom.

The Borgata, a planned $750 million property, is about to break ground in the marina district and is expected to open late in 2002. The joint venture, initially between Boyd Gaming and Mirage Resorts, will go on as planned despite the massive buyout of Mirage by MGM Grand Inc. The Borgata (named for the Italian word for “hamlet” or “neighborhood”) will be architecturally inspired by the buildings of Tuscany, combined with the energy of Milan. Its 27-story tower is to have 1,207 rooms, and another 559 rooms are planned for the site.

Plans for the property include eight restaurants (including a trattoria, steak house and Asian noodle shop), a spa, a bus terminal, a large parking lot, 133,000 square feet of casino space, and 63,000 square feet of meeting space, with a special events center at the heart of the conference area.

New Centurion Tower: Caesars Atlantic City Hotel CasinoCaesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino unveiled the $280 million, 26-story Centurion Tower, adding 620 rooms, for a total of 1,144. The Palladium Ballroom on the Tower’s second floor holds up to 2,000 people for events and banquets. Plans are under way for a $30 million expansion that will connect Caesars to Bally’s Park Place and Wild Wild West Casino; completion is expected by Labor Day. Future plans call for adding 8,000 square feet of meeting space and a Boardwalk-level promenade.

Boardwalk Hall, open since 1929 and the home of the Miss America Pageant, is in the process of a $72 million renovation. New seating to accommodate up to 12,000, along with other remodeling plans, is scheduled to be completed by 2001.

Renovations of all 1,175 rooms at Harrahs Atlantic City have been completed, and all on-site restaurants should be revamped by the end of this summer. In December, 142 slot machines were added to casino floor space that now totals 86,000 square foot. Expect more additions and more gaming space by the end of the year.

Inspiration from the East: Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City The 904-room Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino has two new additions, one of which is Asian-influenced, the other health-influenced. The Shangri-La is an Asian-styled casino-within-a-casino that features Asian trimmings, games and food, the latter via the new Shangri-La Café. Two large dragons greet arrivals to the new space. Also new is the Salon at Trump Plaza, a 2,700-square-foot facility on the 7th floor.

Harrah’s Atlantic City announced plans for a 450-room expansion that would bring the hotel’s capacity to more than 1,600 rooms. The project, expected to cost $110 million, is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2002.

Mississippi Gulf Coast
The big news is Isle of Capri Casinos Inc.’s purchase of the Lady Luck casinos. Among other developments:

A new 30,000-square-foot convention center has just opened at the Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino. Connected to the casino’s 1,086-room hotel, the center adds to the resort’s existing 20,000 square feet of meeting space and can seat 3,000 theater-style and 2,500 classroom-style.

The Palace Casino opened the 236-room Palace Hotel on May 25. (The casino dropped the word “New” from its name at the end of last year.) The 11-story hotel, which connects to the casino and overlooks Biloxi Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, features 7,500 square feet of banquet and meeting space and a 45-foot-high atrium crowned with a domed skylight. A restaurant, spa and a 4,800-square-foot elevated patio area with two pools round out the new amenities.

Twice-weekly air service serving Gulfport/Biloxi Regional Airport from Toronto began on April 7. The Canada 2000 airline will provide an extra 348 seats a week.

Back to Current Issue index
M&C Home Page
Current Issue | Events Calendar | Newsline | Incentive News | Meetings Market Report
Editorial Libraries | CVB Links | Reader Survey | Hot Dates | Contact M&C