by Michael J. Shapiro, Lisa A. Grimaldi and Sarah J.F. Braley | March 01, 2017

When it comes to attracting meetings business, these destinations are upping their game with new and newly renovated accommodations, attractions and venues. Here's what's happening in select gaming markets around the country. 

LAS VEGAS

The action never really stops in the nation's gaming capital, and that's as much true for property development and renovations as it is for entertainment. A host of new venues, redesigned guest rooms and an expanding convention center are among the highlights in Sin City.

Las Vegas already is the largest metro market in the U.S. in terms of room count. In fact, its nearly 162,500 guest rooms rank behind only Beijing and Shanghai globally, according to lodging-data provider STR. And that figure will continue to rise, given the city's 4,116 rooms presently under construction -- up 5 percent year-over-year.

The vast majority of those new rooms will belong to the 3,000-room, $4 billion Resorts World Las Vegas, above left, a megadevelopment on the North Strip. Malaysia-based Genting Group purchased Boyd Gaming's failed Echelon development back in 2013, and at press time it appears construction will finally be ramping up shortly. Genting has been shooting for a 2019 opening. The resort will cover 87 acres and promises a 110,000-square-foot casino, 150,000 square feet of convention space and a 3,200-seat theater. Among other amenities expected to eventually debut are a multiplex movie theater.

Other new venues were to include a proposed $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat stadium, but as of late January that project is in limbo. The stadium was to be built, in part, to lure an NFL franchise to town; the Oakland Raiders, who were all but guaranteed to be that team, asked for a deal in late January that led Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson to back out of the project. Goldman Sachs subsequently backed out, leaving the Raiders in need of some deep pockets to make the deal happen. Adelson, who owns Las Vegas Sands Corp., had originally committed to funding about a third of the stadium project, but claims the Raiders were asking for terms quite different than what was discussed originally, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

One deal that's progressing as planned is the Las Vegas Convention Center District, anchored by the expansion of the convention center. Earlier this year, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority revealed the new Diamond Lot, a parking and outdoor exhibition space that marks the completion of Phase I of the multibillion-dollar project. The lot, on the site of the former Riviera, includes 20 acres for outdoor exhibits, 3,100 parking spaces, new landscaped walkways and four power-source locations for the outdoor exhibit area. Subsequent phases will include the addition of 600,000 square feet of exhibit space to the convention center, plus new meeting rooms and renovations throughout the venue. 

The T-Mobile Arena, a joint venture for MGM and AEG, opened last spring alongside MGM's The Park.
MGM Resorts has opened a couple of important event facilities over the past year, both abutting The Park, an outdoor dining and entertainment district between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo casino-resorts, and alongside Aria Resort & Casino. Last April marked the debut of the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena. The joint venture with sports and entertainment giant AEG already has become a hot spot for large concerts, boxing matches and more, and as of the 2017-2018 season will be the home of the NHL's Las Vegas Knights expansion hockey team. The facility is rife with high-end Vegas touches, including 44 luxury suites, eight event-level suites, two party suites, two dozen private loge boxes and a variety of food-and-drink venues, including the 18,000-square-foot Hyde Lounge, a sleek upper-level lounge and club with sweeping views of the action below and several private event spaces.

The newest facility to open alongside The Park is MGM's Park Theater, a 5,200-seat venue that debuted last December. The theater marks the first phase of the Monte Carlo's transformation: Over the next two years, the resort will be divided into two properties, the Nomad Hotel Las Vegas and the luxury Park MGM. Guest rooms will be fully redesigned for both, as will the food-and-beverage offerings. 

Let luxe rule: W Las Vegas Extreme Wow Suite, designed by Lenny Kravitz
The latest Strip property to open is the 289-room W Las Vegas, which also began welcoming guests in December. The W is part of the SLS Las Vegas, a Tribute Portfolio Resort on the North Strip, and is a conversion of the former Lux Tower, one of three guest towers on-site. The W offers its own welcome desk and the signature W Living Room lobby and bar area, complete with seating nooks that reference the Sahara, the classic Vegas icon that originally stood at that site. The hotel offers 15,000 square feet of meeting and event space spread across three floors, which complement the 80,000 square feet of space available at SLS. The rooftop is home to the WET Deck, which includes a bar, private cabanas, and views of the Stratosphere and desert mountains.

Many existing Vegas properties look new again, thanks to extensive renovations and redesigns. By the end of this year, Caesars Entertainment will have renovated 40 percent of its local room inventory -- including modernizing makeovers at Harrah's, Planet Hollywood and Paris. At Harrah's, all 600 rooms and 72 suites of the Valley Tower feature a sleek new look, with new backlit vanities and room furniture.

In addition to elevated style, planners should note rising resort fees, which Caesars Entertainment increased by $1 to $3 per night this month. A $30-per-night fee is now tacked on for guests at Bally's, the Flamingo, Har­rah's, The Linq and Rio. Those staying at Caesars Palace, The Cromwell, Nobu, Paris and Planet Hollywood will be charged $35 per night. 

In terms of the guest experience, Vegas properties are known for showcasing cutting-edge room technology. Among the newest initiatives -- capitalizing on the chatbot and virtual-assistant trends -- is Rose, the sassy virtual concierge at The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. Rose can be reached 24/7 via text; upon check-in, guests receive a business card for "her," which reads "Know my secrets. Text Me" and "I am the answer to the question that you never asked." Via text messaging, the flirty chatbot can guide guests around the resort to its many F&B and retail outlets, arrange for amenity deliveries and even provide a guided art tour.  

As of this summer, the virtual assistant at the Wynn and Encore properties will be none other than Alexa, the chatbot behind the Amazon Echo. The voice-controlled, hands-free devices will be installed in every guest room at both properties, and be able to handle voice commands for in-room functionality such as temperature, lighting, TV, music and more. -- MICHAEL J. SHAPIRO