June 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions That's Entertaiment June 1999 Current Issue
June 1999

That's Entertaiment

In Las Vegas, casinos aren’t the only game in town

By Maria Lenhart

Not long ago, Las Vegas’ entertainment options, dominated by headline entertainers, showgirls and lounge acts, played a supporting role to the city’s main attraction: gaming. Now, a wide spectrum of entertainment is taking center stage as a wave of new theaters, showrooms, concert arenas and theme venues are enlivening the scene. Anything from a full-length musical with Broadway stars to a blues legend in concert can strike a memorable chord in a meeting’s agenda.

According to gaming-industry analyst Warren Marr, director of hospitality and leisure for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Philadelphia, there is good reason to expect the trend to continue. “Over the past five years, gaming revenue, on a per person basis, has gone down in Las Vegas; at the same time, however, overall revenue has gone up,” he says. “While still significant, gaming has become just one of many things to do.” Marr also notes there has been a shift away from headliners and toward Broadway-quality productions. “Headline entertainers have often been loss leaders for hotels, designed to attract people to the casinos,” he says. “The trend now is larger theaters featuring long-running shows because once the initial investment is made, the payback is greater.”

Many resort hotels are investing in new theaters and showrooms, with scheduled performances open to the public, but some are incorporating entertainment venues into their meeting space. Recent additions at both the Riviera Hotel & Casino and the Rio Suite Hotel & Casino include convention/entertainment complexes equipped for concerts and theatrical productions as well as for meetings and trade shows. Other properties with dual-function facilities are the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, which opened in March, and the MGM Grand Hotel.

Following are some of the diverse entertainment options and theme venues available.

Mandalay Bay Theater/Mandalay Bay Events Center
Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
(702) 632-7591; fax: (702) 632-7919

Broadway comes to the Las Vegas Strip courtesy of the new 1,700-seat Mandalay Bay Theater, which was built specifically to handle large-scale musical shows. Currently booked into the theater is the Tony-award-winning musical Chicago, which first opened on Broadway in 1975 and made an acclaimed return in 1996. Ben Vereen and Chita Rivera star in the Las Vegas incarnation. Ticket discounts are offered to groups of 15 or more, and the show is available for buyouts.

Also at the 3,300-room resort is the Mandalay Bay Events Center, a 12,000-seat sports and entertainment complex that can be converted into a meetings and trade show facility. Although the events center features scheduled entertainment that ranges from championship boxing matches to Luciano Pavarotti in concert, it also can be rented for groups. When converted to a meetings and exhibition center, the facility offers 39,000 square feet of exhibit space and 26,000 square feet of meeting space.

House of Blues Las Vegas
Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
(702) 632-7600; fax: (702) 632-7613

The seventh location for the expanding House of Blues chain, House of Blues Las Vegas’ 2,000-seat music hall hosts nightly acts representing a wide range of musical styles. Available for buyouts, the hall also has private areas for smaller groups, including a luxury skybox overlooking the stage. It accommodates 150.

An adjoining 500-seat restaurant, decorated with African-American folk art, serves such Southern-inspired dishes as Memphis-style ribs with Jack Daniels sauce and “voodoo” shrimp with rosemary cornbread. Among the restaurant’s several private-party areas is the Crossroads, which offers a small stage and accommodates up to 250 for a reception. Together, the restaurant and music hall hold up to 3,000 for private events.

The International House of Blues Foundation Room, on the top floor of the 43-story Mandalay Bay Resort, comprises several luxurious, private dining rooms and conference areas that accommodate groups of 50 to 500.

MGM Grand Theater/MGM Grand Garden Arena/Studio 54
MGM Grand Hotel/Casino
(800) 546-6114; fax: (702) 891-1003

Entertainer Tommy Tune is the new star, dancer and choreographer of EFX, the popular show that opened at the 1,600-seat MGM Grand Theater in 1995. The special-effects extravaganza uses sophisticated lighting and computer technology to honor figures like Harry Houdini and P.T. Barnum. Backstage tours to view the show’s elaborate costumes and sets can be arranged for groups of 15 to 65. Also available for groups are packages that combine dinner at one of the MGM Grand restaurants with a performance. Ticket discounts are offered for groups of 20 or more, and the show is available for buyouts.

A recent addition to MGM Grand’s entertainment offerings is Studio 54, a nightclub inspired by the famous New York City disco that closed in 1980. A monument to 1970s pop culture, the nightclub is decorated with celebrity photos taken at the original Studio 54 and features a troupe of disco dancers. The three-story venue offers four separate dance floors and several semiprivate lounges that can be used for receptions of up to 400. The entire venue, which holds 1,300 revelers, will close for private parties between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.

When not in use for scheduled concerts or sports events, the 16,325-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena can be rented for general sessions and other large-scale events.

Cirque du Soleil
(702) 693-7790; fax: (702) 693-7768

Bellagio, which opened in October, is the permanent home of O, a new show by the Cirque du Soleil performance company. In a showroom designed to resemble the Paris Opera House, this water-themed production is centered around a 1.5 million-gallon pool and includes diving feats, synchronized swimming, contortionist acts and aerial acrobatics. Ticket discounts for groups of 40 or more are available.

Caesars Magical Empire
Caesars Palace
(702) 731-7333; fax: (702) 731-7769

Two themes, ancient Rome and magic, blend at Caesars Magical Empire, a catacomb-like entertainment and dining complex comprising private dining rooms, bars and small theaters. A typical evening begins with a three-course dinner served in one of 10 dining chambers, each of which seats 24 and is named for a Roman god. Guests enjoy dinner in a special effects-enhanced atmosphere and are entertained by a “wizard.” After-dinner entertainment includes light and magic shows at two theaters, the 72-seat Secret Pagoda and the 144-seat Sultan’s Palace. Up to 240 are accommodated.

Royale Pavilion
Riviera Hotel & Casino
(702) 734-5110; fax: (702) 794-9663

The Riviera Hotel & Casino unveiled a new convention/entertainment facility in March called the Royale Pavilion. Designed as both a concert and meetings venue, the pavilion can provide theater seating for 3,500 or banquet seating for 2,800. When converted to a trade show venue, it offers 46,000 square feet of exhibit space. For VIP seating, the pavilion provides 20 skybox/hospitality suites, each with a wet bar and two tiers of 12 theater seats.

Rio Suite Hotel Convention/ Special Events Center
Rio Suite Hotel & Casino
(702) 252-7777; fax: (702) 253-6090

The Rio Suite Hotel & Casino, which previously had only 13,250 square feet of meeting space, in March unveiled its new convention/special events center. The facility, which includes a 100,000-square-foot exhibition hall that can be divided into 28 meeting rooms, is equipped to handle concerts, new-product presentations and theatrical productions. Its technical features include a ceiling that can be raised or lowered, raised stages, mezzanine control booths and a “space frame” that can be adjusted to meet numerous rigging, lighting and sound requirements.

Ra, a Nightclub at Luxor
Luxor Las Vegas
(702) 262-4822; fax: (702) 262-4825

Where would Cleopatra want to party in Las Vegas? She might head for Ra, a nightclub with a futuristic Egyptian atmosphere created by sound and light systems not available in 3000 B.C. The club, which can be rented for private parties of up to 800, sports a center stage where live rock acts perform nightly, plus two large bars and a central dance floor that is surrounded by tables, cigar lounges and VIP booths.

Dive! Restaurant
Fashion Show Mall
(702) 369-8011; fax: (702) 369-2522

Facing the Strip, the exterior design of this underwater-themed restaurant features the nose of a life-size submarine crashing through a 30-foot wall of water. On the inside, a computer system simulates the experience of a submarine dive, with flashing lights and water bubbling outside the porthole windows. Film footage of an underwater voyage is presented on 64 monitors throughout the restaurant and on a 16-foot video wall. Along with submarine sandwiches, the menu features salads, pastas, pizzas and daily specials. Available for buyouts, the two-story restaurant holds 500 for a dinner and 750 for a reception.

Race Rock Las Vegas
Fremont Street Experience
(702) 385-7035; fax: (702) 385-7736

Set to open in August, Race Rock, a car-racing-themed restaurant, promises to be the ultimate pit stop in downtown Las Vegas. Co-owned by celebrity drivers that include Mario and Michael Andretti, the two-story restaurant will be festooned with such racing memorabilia as Craig Breedlove’s rocket car and Big Foot, the largest monster truck in the world. Other attractions: a multiscreen system that will flash scenes from famous racing finishes, and race-car simulators guests can drive. Menu items will include such specialties as “crashed” potatoes and “nitro” chicken wings. Available for buyouts, Race Rock will hold up to 350 seated and 1,000 for a reception. A first-floor dining area will accommodate 150.

That goes for Atlantic City, too Atlantic City is still the East Coast’s premier gaming destination, but finding fun group venues away from the clang of the casinos is getting easier. At these theme restaurants, guests can dine while gazing at the ocean or marvel at such indoor wonders as Madonna’s favorite black lace bra. Among the options for groups:

Hard Rock Cafe Atlantic City
Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort
(609) 441-0007; fax: (609) 449-1836

Decor here includes John Lennon’s faded Army jacket and the Zappa Quilt, a throw made entirely of panties tossed on stage during various Frank Zappa concerts. A Gibson-guitar-shaped bar is a particular attraction. The menu offers standard American fare, from the staple Hard Rock burger to the “Tennessee pulled pig” sandwich. The entire restaurant can be booked for up to 250 seated or 400 for receptions.

All Star Cafe
Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort
(609) 347-8326; fax: (609) 347-1007

This is the fourth of 11 nationwide restaurants that feature displays of sports memorabilia, much of which was provided by the chain’s sports celebrity owners. Check out the gigantic tux Shaquille O’Neal wore to the Oscars or the stylish duds Andre Agassi donned when he took home the Davis Cup. The restaurant seats 300 and holds 500 for receptions.

Planet Hollywood Atlantic City
Caesars Palace Atlantic City
(609) 347-7827; fax: (609) 347-1988

Among the celluloid fun stuff showcased here are Anjelica Huston’s Morticia Addams dress from The Addams Family, plenty of Rat Pack memorabilia and life jackets from Titanic. Upstairs is the Mezz, a private room with a dance floor that seats 150 and holds 300 for a cocktail reception. The restaurant accommodates 600 for a reception and 400 seated. The menu features so-called California cuisine, including a portobello mushroom burger, Thai chicken sandwich and “L.A.” lasagna.

Amy Drew Teitler

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