by Michael J. Shapiro, Sarah J.F. Braley and Lisa A. Grimaldi | October 01, 2015
Harrah's Atlantic City's new Waterfront Conference Center (pictured) is emblematic of a fresh new focus on meeting space in the gaming mecca.
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While the sweet sound of a jackpot score on the casino floor may have its allure, gaming destinations have long drawn groups with the breadth of the nongaming amenities at hand. On-site entertainment, state-of-the-art convention facilities and celebrated restaurants are among the many perks gaming venues push to planners. A quick tour around some of our nation's gaming locations reveals a number of trends and developments that planners should note.

In Camp Verde, between Phoenix and Flagstaff, the Cliff Castle Casino Hotel will build a new luxury hotel to complement the 80 rooms the resort currently offers. The Yavapai-Apache Nation intends to begin construction in January 2016.

The hotel will offer 122 guest rooms, a parking garage, retail space, a pool and an adjoining 5,000-square-foot meeting center. The $27 million addition is set to debut in December 2016.


New meeting space abounds in A.C. The 942-room Resorts Casino Hotel has unveiled 15,000 square feet of new conference space with 12 meeting rooms. The new conference center brings the total offerings at Resorts to 24 function rooms with more than 64,000 square feet of space, much of it featuring natural light and ocean views. The New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority helped move the project along by approving $9.4 million in funding.

In August, Harrah's Atlantic City opened its 100,000-square-foot Waterfront Conference Center. The new space features two 50,000-square-foot ballrooms that can be configured 200 ways. The facility has been chosen to host Meeting Professionals International's 2016 World Education Congress, which had to be moved from Philadelphia after the City of Brotherly Love was chosen by the Democratic National Committee for next year's convention. The gaming property offers 2,590 guest rooms, an Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, six lounges, nine restaurants, a family fun center and a fitness center with a pool. Harrah's now offers 125,000 square feet of meeting space.

The state of New Jersey is moving forward with a plan to allow smaller casinos in Atlantic City. The state legislature is modifying the requirements of a 2011 law so they can attract developers willing to build two new casinos with as few as 200 hotel rooms. A bill that has passed state assembly and senate committees removes the requirement that one of the two projects eventually expand to 500 rooms. The changes also remove a requirement that the venues be new-builds; the casinos can be constructed using existing structures.

"High-end casinos with a price tag of $1 billion or $2 billion have gone extinct in Atlantic City, crushing the economy and forcing thousands of workers into unemployment," said Deputy Assembly Speaker John Burzichelli, a Southern New Jersey Democrat. In the past two years, four of Atlantic City's 12 casino resorts have closed.

In nongaming news, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority has granted zoning approval for the former Atlantic Club Casino Hotel to be converted into a family-friendly entertainment complex. The new venue will include an 81,000-square-foot waterpark and an 800-room nongaming hotel. Developer Endeavor Property Group pro­jects the complex, pending further approvals, will be completed in late 2016 or early 2017 and will cost between $150 million and $165 million. The Boardwalk property was the former Atlantic City Hilton Casino until 2012, when it was rebranded as the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel; it closed in January 2014 and has since been vacant.

The Bay Area's largest gaming destination is about to get larger. Last month, the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria broke ground on a $175 million expansion of the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park. Included in the 342,000-square-foot addition will be a 200-room hotel with a spa, 20,000 square feet of meeting space and a pool. The pool area actually will be a focal point that extends from the hotel lobby and provides an outdoor connection to the convention space. The new facilities are slated to open in fall 2016.

Currently, gambling at the Isle Casino Hotel Bettendorf in Bettendorf is on a riverboat, with the 514-room hotel on the shores of the Mississippi River. The casino is moving on land next year, when a $60 million facility will be completed. Meanwhile, the 251 guest rooms in the hotel's south tower have undergone an $8.5 million renovation to bring them up to the standards of the newer north tower. New amenities at the land-based casino will include a Farmer's Pick Buffet adjacent to the gaming floor, an O&H Express restaurant, and the Lone Wolf bar and stage. The 35,000-square-foot gaming floor is being built between the two hotel towers. The property offers more than 13,000 square feet of meeting space at the Isle Center.