by Allen J. Sheinman | April 01, 2010

Las Vegas, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Atlantic City and the other destinations featured in our April issue's gaming roundup, "In Play," have long been a lure for meetings and events of all stripes, but there are myriad alternatives around the country for planners seeking something different. The following properties offer comfortably modern guest rooms, a variety of gaming options, dedicated meeting facilities and surrounding locales replete with varied attractions.

Harrah's Cherokee Casino & Hotel, Cherokee, N.C.
(828) 497-7777;

There's no end of activities in and around the 576-room Harrah's Cherokee Casino & Hotel, in the heart of western North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains. The casino alone has more than 3,600 slot machines and a bevy of digital blackjack and poker tables within its 88,000 square feet (8,000 of which are nonsmoking). In-house entertainment options include concerts at the 1,500-seat Cherokee Pavilion, while the surrounding countryside offers a feast of golf, hiking, whitewater rafting, canoeing and trout fishing.

Dining options include the Selu Garden Café (casual), Sycamores on the Creek (seafood and steak) and the Club Cappuccino coffee bar.

The property has more than 21,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 13,801-square-foot Council Fire Ballroom, which accommodates about 600 people and includes a 5,612-square-foot prefunction area.

Owned and operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Reservation, Harrah's Cherokee Casino & Hotel is serviced by a number of small nearby airports as well as the large Asheville Regional Airport, about an hour away.

Mystic  LakeMystic Lake Casino Hotel, Prior Lake, Minn.(952) 445-9000;

Owned and operated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the 596-room Mystic Lake Casino Hotel sits like a jewel in the peaceful setting of Prior Lake, just a 25-minute drive southwest of Minneapolis. Here, among some 200,000 square feet of gaming space, can be found more than 4,000 slot machines, nearly 100 blackjack tables, bingo and more.
The property also offers a spa with three treatment rooms (try the signature Moroccan Rassoul Body Wrap), complimentary Wi-Fi, an indoor pool, a self-service business center, seven restaurants to chose from and an 18-hole championship golf course.

For meetings, Mystic Lake features more than 67,000 square feet of space divided among 21 rooms and a ballroom that seats up to 750 people.
Nearby attractions include the Mall of America (with more than 400 stores), the Water Park of America, and all the culture you could want in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Morongo Casino ResortMorongo Casino Resort & Spa, Cabazon, Calif.(888) 667-6646;

Nestled at the foot of the San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountains, about a 30-minute drive east of Riverside, Calif., the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa takes full advantage of its scenic surroundings. Operated by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the property has 310 deluxe rooms and suites (and six secluded casitas), many with spectacular mountain or canyon views. All guest accommodations feature high-speed Internet access, two phone lines and 27-inch plasma-screen TVs.

The beautifully designed casino floor has more than 2,000 slots and 79 table games, ranging from the exotic (Pai-Gow poker) to the mainstays (blackjack, baccarat). An array of eight eateries includes the Potrero Canyon Buffet and the 24-hour Serrano Restaurant (known for its slow-roasted prime rib).

Also on tap: Morongo's Sage Spa, offering a full range of skin care, body massage and therapies such as the Gentle Jojoba Body Polish. For evening diversion, the Canyon Lanes bowling alley is a popular spot, while the Vibe nightclub and Mystique Lounge offer a mix of live entertainment and dancing.

When it comes to meetings, the Grand Ballroom on the second floor spans nearly 12,000 square feet (with a capacity of up to 1,300 people) and can be used whole or divided into seven separate meeting or breakout rooms, each with a full complement of audiovisual equipment (and an in-house A/V staff to run it).

Nearby are lots of shopping choices at the Desert Hills Premium Outlets and Cabazon Outlets; two world-class golf courses in nearby Beaumont (the East Valley Golf Club and Oak Valley Golf Course), and, to help attendees soak up the scenery, the colorful Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.