by Michael J. Shapiro | April 01, 2011

Meetings business in gaming destinations continues to climb, albeit slowly, from the depths of 2009. To further encourage people to meet up in such locales, gaming companies are turning to loyalty programs and partnership deals to sweeten the pot. This month Pinnacle Entertainment, which owns and operates seven casinos across the country, puts into effect a deal with Wynn Las Vegas: Members of Mychoice, Pinnacle's player loyalty program, can earn stays at Wynn and Encore on the Las Vegas Strip, where Pinnacle doesn't have a physical presence. Meanwhile, Wynn gets a crack at gamers accustomed to playing in smaller markets.

Last fall saw the partnering of the new Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas with Marriott International, and between the Las Vegas Sands properties and Inter­Continental Hotels Group. In each case, the hotel company's loyalty program members can be rewarded with stays at high-end properties on the Strip, while the Strip properties are granted access to the company's sprawling sales and reservations systems. Meanwhile, MGM Resorts International -- sprawling in its own right, with 13 hotels in Las Vegas alone -- recently launched mLife, its customer loyalty program. Across the board, frequent customers are being rewarded with what Las Vegas and other gaming destinations have to offer.

Las Vegas
Last December, the long-awaited, 2,995-room Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas opened on the Strip, tucked between MGM's CityCenter and Bellagio. The property has 150,000 square feet of meeting space and a 100,000-square-foot casino, as well as spacious guest rooms with private terraces overlooking the Strip.

Aria Casino at CityCenterDecember 2009 saw the opening of neighboring CityCenter's main properties: the 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino, with 300,000 square feet of meeting and convention space; the 1,495-suite Vdara Hotel & Spa, with 10,000 square feet of meeting space; and the 392-room Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, offering 12,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Aria is the lone gaming property in the complex.

The total of nearly 9,000 high-end rooms recently added to the Las Vegas inventory is a factor in keeping area room rates low, say many hoteliers. Rates are gradually climbing -- the average daily rate for 2010 was up 2 percent over 2009, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority -- but not at the clip found in some other convention cities.

Lake Las Vegas, the Mediterranean-inspired resort village 17 miles off the Strip, in Henderson, Nev., got a much-needed boost in February with the opening of Ravella at Lake Las Vegas. Dolce Hotels & Resorts opened the 349-room nongaming property after acquiring the former Ritz-Carlton following its closure last spring. The new hotel offers 30,000 square feet of meeting space and two on-site restaurants, as well as a spa.

In the city proper, deals were made in February to keep the 1,496-room Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas operational. The lenders agreed not to foreclose on the property, which is carrying $1.25 billion of debt; soon after, the Nevada Gaming Commission approved a shift in ownership from Credit Suisse and Morgans Hotel Group to one of the lenders, Brookfield Asset Management. Warner Gaming LLC will take over management of the property.

Back on the Strip, the Tropicana Las Vegas is nearing completion of extensive renovations and its new "South Beach" vibe. The 1,375 guest rooms and suites have all been renovated, with the 806 rooms in the Island Tower offering larger workspaces and other amenities to appeal to the needs of business travelers. Work is still in progress on the hotel's Nikki Beach Las Vegas, to open this spring with a restaurant, an outdoor café and bar, swim-up blackjack and concert space, plus Club Nikki, a Latin nightclub. A 10,000-square-foot spa is slated to debut this summer. The resort has a total of 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

The 2,716-room Wynn Las Vegas, meanwhile, is in the midst of a $99 mil­lion upgrade. Room renovations in the Resort Tower are now complete, while those in the Tower Suites should be wrapped up in the second quarter.

Harrah's Entertainment changed its name to Caesars Entertainment Corp. this past November. The name of its meetings group changed accordingly, to Las Vegas Meetings by Caesars Entertainment. That division facilitates group bookings at any of Caesars' eight Vegas properties, including Bally's, Caesars Palace, the Flamingo, Harrah's, the Imperial Palace, Paris, Planet Hollywood and the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. – Michael J. Shapiro