Meetings & Conventions - Market Value - June
New Games in Town
The latest developments in gaming cities nationwide
By Terence Baker
conomic indicators notwithstanding, prospects
for the gaming industry look surprisingly game. An impressive $14.4
billion of casino development is going ahead or is in the advanced
stages of planning, according to Hospitality Real Estate Counselors
Inc., an Englewood, Colo.-based consultancy. And while this
represents a 7.2 percent decrease in capital expenditure compared
with 2001, investors are betting their confidence will pay off.
Coming soon: Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is building a
Las Vegas hosted more than four million delegates in 2001, and
meetings-related revenue in the city reached $4.8 billion, a 12.8
percent rise over 2000. This year, the city anticipates a 5.1
percent increase in convention business over 2001.
Meanwhile, casino towns across the country are continuing to
invest in renovations and new development. Following is a roundup
of the latest news.
After a relatively stagnant decade, Atlantic City is poised for a
resurgence. In the works are two new mega-resorts and the expansion
of the Boardwalk Hall entertainment complex. Citywide, between
4,700 and 6,000 new hotel rooms will be added before the end of
To open first is MGM/Boyd’s 2,010-room Borgata,
a $1 billion collaboration between MGM Mirage and Boyd Gaming Corp.
The 43-story resort is due to debut next spring in the city’s
Renaissance Pointe section, complete with 70,000 square feet of
function space and a 35,000-square-foot spa. Plans also call for
120,000 square feet of casino space, 5,000 parking spaces and 11
Scheduled to open in 2005 is the MGM Mirage Atlantic
City, a $1 billion-plus resort adjacent to the Borgata.
MGM officials are waiting to see how the Borgata fares before
finalizing the size of the property. In the event of overwhelming
success, the 170-acre parcel of MGM-owned land has space for a
third property, so future construction is possible.
The city’s 1929 Boardwalk Hall just finished a
$90 million renovation. The revamped East Hall now contains 14,000
seats for concerts and almost 10,000 seats for ice hockey. A new
300,000-square-foot shopping mall will soon link the hall with the
Atlantic City Convention Center, which has 500,000 square feet of
On the expansion front: The 1,600-room Tropicana Casino
& Resort is building a 502-room, $225 million hotel
tower, to open in March 2004. Within the tower will be 25 meeting
rooms offering a total of 20,000 square feet and a Latin-themed
mall called The Quarter.
Gleaming gem: The renovated Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic
Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. has two expansions under way: The
1,174-room Harrah’s Atlantic City is constructing
a 452-room hotel tower and 50,000 extra square feet of casino space
at a cost of more than $110 million. Work is scheduled to be
completed by year-end. The hotel’s sister property, the 755-room
Showboat Casino-Hotel, began work on a $90 million, 544-room hotel
tower due to welcome guests in June 2003.
The 644-room Resorts Atlantic City is going
ahead with a 30-story, 459-room expansion after having abandoned
the project following Sept. 11. With a price tag of $115 million,
the expansion will replace the resort’s North Tower and rebuild
adjacent Steeplechase Pier. Completion is targeted for spring
The 511-room Sands Casino Hotel, which has
almost 15,000 square feet of meeting and function space, is
incorporating the attached Madison House Hotel as a 135-suite
addition. Work should be finished this month.
The big news here is the debut of the $1 billion Project Sunburst
expansion at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville. The
highlight is a 34-story, 1,200-room hotel that opened in mid-April
with 100,000 square feet of meeting space, which includes a
Last September saw the opening of the Casino of the Sky, which
has 115,000 square feet of gaming space and a 55-foot-high indoor
waterfall. The property complements the 6-year-old Casino of the
Earth. Also new are a 300-seat cabaret lounge, a 10,000-seat arena
and a two-story, 130,000-square-foot shopping and restaurant area.
Soon to come: a 20,000-square-foot spa.
Bright addition: Mohegan Sun’s new Project
In Mashantucket, the 1,426-room Foxwoods Resort
Casino has renovated its 1,400-seat Fox Theater, which
opened with a performance by Frank Sinatra back in 1993. Also new
are two nightclubs, the 8,084-square-foot B.B. King Dance Club and
the 5,000-square-foot B.B. King Nite Club.
The city announced several mega-projects before Sept. 11; today,
most are going forward. The Las Vegas Convention
Center opened its South Hall (918,000 square feet of
meeting space and 51 meeting rooms) earlier this year and now
offers 2 million square feet of exhibit space and 170 meeting
rooms. The 3,309-room Mandalay Bay Resort &
Casino is moving ahead with its own 1.8
million-square-foot convention center. The $235 million facility
was due to open this August but has been rescheduled for January
Other news comes from Steve Wynn, the creative force behind such
Las Vegas behemoths as the Bellagio and Mirage hotels. Wynn’s new
$1.2 billion project, to be called La Reve (French
for “The Dream”), will be a 2,455-room, 45-story property on the
site of the former Desert Inn. Work should be completed by late
2004 or early 2005. La Reve will include a 132,000-square-foot
convention center, a 120,000-square-foot casino and 1,500- and
2,000-seat entertainment venues. The hotel also is likely to
showcase part of Wynn’s extensive art collection, including the
Pablo Picasso painting for which the property is named.
Just outside the city in Lake Las Vegas, the $170 million
Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa is
set to open in November. The 350-room resort features a re-creation
of the Pontevecchio Bridge (the original is in Florence, Italy)
spanning a faux lake. In the works are four restaurants, an 18-hole
golf course designed by Tom Weiskopf, a 30,000-square-foot spa,
40,000 square feet of casino space and 25,200 square feet of
meeting and function space.
In a related European vein, a London-themed resort hotel might
soon come to the Strip. Plans are for Turnberry Associates to
develop a 2,050-room property with a 90,000-square-foot casino and
a 500-foot-high Ferris wheel reminiscent of the London Eye. In the
true tradition of New York, New York, expect re-creations of Big
Ben, and Buckingham Palace. So far, no groundbreaking date has been
Preferring a Miami Beach theme, developer Marvin Lipshultz is
set to turn the 150-room Howard Johnson’s Plaza into a 420-room art
deco hotel called South Beach, with 27,000 square
feet of casino space. A groundbreaking date is yet to be
In other Las Vegas news:
" The 2,767-room Mirage completed a $32 million
renovation of all its guest rooms in March; decorators found their
inspiration in the South Seas.
" The 716-suite Tuscany Hotel, which opened
last December, is debuting a new casino this fall and adding 36,000
square feet of meeting space for a total of 42,686.
" At the 4,411-room Luxor Hotel and Casino, all
2,777 guest rooms in the property’s pyramid have been freshened up.
The $40 million project has left the Egyptian decor intact.
" The 1,444-room Stratosphere Casino Hotel &
Tower opened an outdoor events center in March. The venue
has 3,606 grandstand seats and 6,318 bleacher seats; 1,500 chairs
can be set up on the playing field. The hotel also plans to build a
new 510-foot-high thrill ride that will whisk guests down its
signature tower overlooking Las Vegas Boulevard.
" The 840-room Orleans Hotel & Casino is
adding a 9,000-seat arena. The $140 million expansion also will add
620 rooms, to open this September. All work is scheduled to finish
by spring 2003.
" The 1,550-room Stardust Resort & Casino
opened the 40,500-square-foot Stardust Pavilion & Exhibit
Center last October. The resort now offers more than 65,000 square
feet of meeting space.
" Also new are two off-Strip properties: The $265 million
Palms Casino Hotel opened last November and
features 455 rooms, a 1,200-seat entertainment venue, 9,000 square
feet of meeting space, 95,000 square feet of gaming and a nightclub
that can host 1,500 people.
The other newcomer is the 247-room Green Valley Ranch
Resort, which welcomed its first guests last December. The
$280 million property includes a spa, a cinema, a casino, seven
restaurants and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
Mississippi magnet: The Palace Casino Resort in
Mississippi Gulf Coast/Tunica
The Casino Magic-Bay St. Louis opened a 291-room,
14-story hotel tower at the end of June, giving the property a
total of 492 rooms. The tower offers 10,000 square feet of meeting
space, for a total of 30,000.
The 236-room Palace Casino Resort in Biloxi
opened only two years ago but already has finished its first
renovation. The $15 million project wrapped up in June and included
remodeling the dining room and adding a 24-berth marina.
The 1927-vintage Gulf Hills Resort in Ocean
Springs, which has hosted such legends as Judy Garland, Frank
Sinatra and Elvis Presley, was closed for a much-needed renovation
and reopened last year. The property features French Provincial
decor, 64 guest rooms and 6,000 square feet of meeting space. In
January, Copa Casinos moved a 150,000-square-foot
barge down to Gulfport from Tunica, Miss., where in the 1990s the
vessel served as the Treasure Bay Tunica Casino. The venue will
reopen for gaming in September after a multimillion-dollar
renovation, and Copa officials plan a hotel at the barge’s dock
within five years.
In Tunica, a $4 million expansion to the Tunica Arena
& Exposition Center, also known as the Paul Battle Jr.
Arena & Exposition Center, will add a 92,000-square-foot,
500-seat arena. Work should be completed this fall. The facility
contains approximately 48,000 square feet of exhibit space.
In January, the 1,572-room Circus Circus Hotel &
Casino in Reno opened its Mandalay Convention Center.
Accommodating up to 1,500 people, the center has 18,000 square feet
of ballroom space and six meeting rooms, supplementing the hotel’s
four existing meeting rooms.
The year-old, $70 million Siena Hotel Spa
Casino in Reno has 214 rooms and 13,000 square feet of
meeting space. Also on-site are a spa, a 23,000-square-foot casino
and a restaurant, Enoteca.
Refurbished: Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe
The Reno-Sparks Convention Center is being
enlarged in a $105 million project set to wrap up next month. The
expanded center will contain a total of 381,000 square feet of
exhibit space and 79,000 square feet of meeting space. The existing
facility should be fully renovated by October.
The nearby city of South Lake Tahoe, Calif.,
plans to build a 91,000-square-foot convention center, which should
finish in mid-2003. Also new will be a 540-room convention
The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort &
Casino, in Incline Village on the north shore of Lake
Tahoe, is midway through a $60 million renovation. Completed now
are improvements to the casino, lobby, restaurants and 14,000
square feet of ballroom space. The second phase, to finish in
summer 2003, will add a 150-room wing and a three-tiered pool
complex with swim-in/ swim-out access to a new spa.NEW PROJECTS PROPOSED
In the planning stage: more than $3 billion in new facilitiesNameLocationCostNumber of Hotel Rooms
London theme resort
MGM Grand Detroit Casino*
MGM Mirage Atlantic City
Lake Charles, La.
South Beach theme resort
*Existing casinos adding hotels
Hospitality Real Estate Counselors Inc. and M&C
CASINO DEVELOPMENT CONTINUES
Now under way: $3,345 billion in new or expanded gaming
propertiesNameLocationCost# of Hotel RoomsCompleteion Date
Harrah’s Atlantic City
Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe
Incline Village, Calif.
Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
Orleans Hotel & Casino
Resorts Atlantic City
Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas*
Tropicana Casino & Resort
* New properties
Source: Hospitality Real Estate Counselors
Inc. and M&C
Game FaceHow did gaming destinations weather a rough
year, and what’s in store for the future? Frank Fahrenkopf,
president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based American Gaming
Association, recently shared some insights with M&C.
What was the effect of Sept. 11 on the major gaming
Las Vegas is a fly-in market, with 48 to 51 percent of visitors
coming in by air. They were really devastated. Participation in
conventions and other tourism was down. But most other major U.S.
gaming destinations are drive markets. Places like Atlantic City
and Mississippi were negatively impacted, but not like Las Vegas.
Their year-end numbers were flat or had a modest increase, but
Nevada saw its first decrease since the 1980s.
How is the recovery going now?
They’re getting there. Various destinations had to offer lower
room rates to get people back, particularly in the luxury hotels,
and they did a good deal of target marketing. In Vegas, they’re
doing extremely well on weekends, but weeknights are still soft.
Assuming we don’t have another crisis, I think by early summer
we’ll be back to normal.
What are some key developments drawing groups to
The big growth is in the new casino jurisdictions: Mississippi,
Louisiana, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois. In these riverboat
states, major hotels have been built in conjunction with casinos,
and that has changed the dynamic in those areas.
You’ve got hotel rooms, golf courses and spas to make those
destinations more attractive. That is what Las Vegas has done;
people are going to Las Vegas for the complete entertainment
In these new jurisdictions, there was a federal study to look at
the impact of gambling. Destination-type resort casinos attracted
capital investment and spurred tremendous development in those
riverboat markets, which makes them more attractive to groups.
How has the relationship between meetings and gaming
The change took place in Las Vegas because of the building of
the Venetian; the developer was going after the group and
convention market. He competes with the Las Vegas Convention
Center, and Mandalay Bay is going to open a new convention center
In most communities the convention bureau is trying to draw
groups to the city, and the hotels benefit. Now you have more
dynamic competition and just tremendous demand. Do you see Las
Vegas reaching a saturation point in the future?
When we were trying to find dates for the AGA’s new trade show,
the Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the market was very crowded, even 10
years out. You would think sometime you’d reach a max, but Las
Vegas is one of those rare places that reinvents itself every eight
or 10 years.
What are other gaming destinations doing to woo the group
Mississippi is a dramatic success story. When you look at the
facilities that have been built and the construction of golf
courses, they seem to be following the approach Las Vegas took
they’re developing other attractions.
We’re also seeing changes in Atlantic City. It’s been a drive
market for years. They just improved the airport to handle larger
airplanes and more volume. I think the opening of Borgata will be a
different approach, with the shopping and restaurants. Also, MGM is
building. A number of existing hotel casinos are acquiring golf
courses to be part of that total entertainment package.
What sort of synergy do you see between the meetings
and gaming industries?
There are very close working relationships in most of the
communities. You normally will find reps of the gaming industry on
The new dynamic is this prospect of hotel casinos becoming
themselves the sites for major conventions. Now, with the
construction of some of these, there’s a little healthy
• Martha Cooke
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