Lady luck hasn't been especially kind to credit markets or the global economy over the past several months, and the gaming industry has suffered as a result. Some casino companies have been forced to put development plans on hold while simultaneously looking for creative ways to refinance debt and stay out of bankruptcy.
But growth has hardly halted. The gaming industry performed exceedingly well in previous years, with record amounts of capital invested in expansion and development. The infrastructure required to attract meetings and conventions is firmly in place -- and continues to grow. Despite some disconcerting cancellations, groups are still heading to Vegas and other gaming destinations. In fact, those that might have had a hard time securing space in Vegas in years past are finding the welcome mat rolled out and enticing values to lure them in.
Following are updates from some major meetings-friendly gaming destinations across the country, as reported by M&C's editors.
The gaming hub of the nation has dealt with many well-publicized challenges over the past several months. In addition to damage wrought by the dismal state of the economy, the city took a lot of heat from the firestorm that erupted early this year over perceived corporate excesses, with convention business getting particularly burned. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, year-to-date convention attendance through February had dropped nearly 29 percent from the same period last year, and the number of conventions held was down by more than 17 percent. As of press time, talk of bankruptcy hounds a number of major casino chains.
But many have bet on the city's resiliency and are forging ahead with billion-dollar developments. The $1 billion M Resort Spa Casino opened as planned on March 1, covering 90 acres on the south side of the Strip. The 390-room resort is run by the Marnell family, known for the construction and development of the Wynn, Treasure Island and Mirage. M offers 60,000 square feet of meeting space and a 23,000-square-foot spa, and owns and operates nine on-site restaurants and five bars.
Steve Wynn's lavish, $2.3 billion Encore Las Vegas also opened on schedule, at the end of December 2008. The 2,034-room tower complements the design of the Wynn Las Vegas next door and is home to five signature restaurants, 60,000 square feet of configurable event space, upscale shopping at 11 boutiques and an over-the-top nightclub called XS.
Among other gigantic investments, the 202-room Aliante Station Casino, a $675 million property, opened last November. The venue offers 14,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, a 16-screen cinema and a 400-seat theater.
Construction continues on MGM Mirage's megaproject, CityCenter, expected to open late this fall. (One of the planned hotels, the 400-room Harmon Hotel and Spa, was delayed by one year and is expected to open in late 2010.) MGM Mirage chairman and CEO Jim Murren says completing the $8.6 billion CityCenter is the company's main priority, and despite the challenge posed by nearly $14 billion in debt, MGM secured a waiver in late April allowing it to fund its share of the remaining construction costs. At the same time, the company renegotiated terms with Dubai World, its joint venture partner in CityCenter, to complete the project. As a result Dubai World dismissed a lawsuit it had filed against MGM Mirage in March.
Slated to kick off CityCenter's opening, in early October, is the 1,495-suite Vdara Hotel, a nongaming facility connected to Bellagio. Vdara will feature a 16,000-square-foot, two-level spa and fitness center and 10,000 square feet of conference space. ARIA Resort & Casino, CityCenter's centerpiece, is a 4,004-room hotel-casino slated to open in December. The property will offer 300,000 square feet of meeting space and a 215,000-square-foot pool deck with 50 private cabanas. The 392-room Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas also is expected to open by the end of the year.
The $3.1 billion Fontainebleau Las Vegas had been on schedule to open on the Strip this fall, but in April the developer's lending banks notified the hotel company that it was in default and would not receive a prearranged $800 million loan to complete the project. Fontainebleau responded with a $3 billion lawsuit, claiming no default had occurred. At press time the developer was attempting to negotiate a new deal with one lender, Bank of America; the property's opening date may be affected by the result. Assuming it does open, the 3,812-room property promises 390,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space, 27 restaurants and bars, a 100,000-square-foot casino, a 60,000-square-foot Lapis Spa and about 300,000 square feet of retail space.
Also still in the works is the 3,500-room Plaza Las Vegas, slated to be built on the site of the former New Frontier. Construction had been scheduled to begin in spring 2010, with a 2012 opening, but owner El-Ad Group would not confirm the project's timeline at press time.
Speculation continues regarding the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan Resort & Casino, tentatively scheduled to open in 2010 next to CityCenter. Reports surfaced this spring that Hilton Hotels Corp. would manage the 2,998-room property for Deutsche Bank, the current owner. (Hilton declined to comment, and while it also was reported that the property would become one of the first of Hilton's new Denizen brand, development of that brand has been shelved due to a corporate espionage lawsuit filed against Hilton by Starwood.) Should the property open, it is slated to have 180,000 square feet of meeting space, a 40,000-square-foot spa and a 1,800-seat theater.
Crowne Plaza plans to build a new hotel-casino west of the Strip, slated for a 2011 opening. The property will include 386 guest rooms and 16,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.
MGM Mirage completed the sale of the 2,885-room Treasure Island this spring to billionaire businessman Phil Ruffin, owner of Ruffin Acquisition LLC, for $775 million.
With so many large projects in the pipeline, it was inevitable some would stall. Boyd Gaming Corp. suspended work indefinitely last summer on Echelon, while MGM Mirage and partners Kerzner International and Istithmar shelved a resort complex slated for the corner of the Strip and Sahara Avenue.
The 3,348-room Caesars Palace, meanwhile, delayed the opening of the 665-room Octavius Tower, which was to debut this summer. The company says it will open when demand grows. Other aspects of the hotel's $1 billion expansion, including an additional 110,000 square feet of flexible meeting, ballroom and exhibit space, are due to open in July as planned. The addition brings the property's total meeting space to 300,000 square feet, and includes a new, two-level convention center that connects to existing meeting space in the Palace Tower. The upper tier will feature a terrace with two private pools. -- MICHAEL J. SHAPIRO
Mohegan Sun, in Uncasville, has shelved plans for a major expansion that called for more than 900 new hotel rooms and 10,000 square feet of new meeting space. Currently, the resort has 1,200 hotel rooms, 100,000 square feet of meeting space, a 10,000-seat arena and a 350-seat theater. This summer, Mohegan Sun will add a new food court and extra retail space, as well as a Bar Americain, a restaurant brand from chef Bobby Flay. Last August, the resort opened a 64,000-square-foot Casino of the Wind, which includes two casual F&B outlets -- Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville and Chief's Deli.
Nearby, Foxwoods Resort Casino opened the 825-room MGM Grand at Foxwoods last year, bringing the resort's total meeting space to roughly 170,000 square feet. The MGM Grand also has a 4,000-seat theater and a 21,000-square-foot spa. The complex offers more than 2,200 guest rooms at four hotels, three of which are attached to the casinos.
At press time, the state legislature was considering a bill that would further restrict smoking at the casinos. The majority of the facilities, including meeting rooms, already are smoke-free; Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, has pledged to fight the regulation if it becomes law. -- TOM ISLER