June 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions They Got Game June 1999 Current Issue
June 1999
North & South: Casinos like Beau Rivage (left top) and Foxwoods (left bottom) are luring gamblers to new destinations.

They Got Game

Odds are, a gambling venue is closer than you think

By Amy Drew Teitler

All the cherries are lining up for planners who have an interest in gaming destinations. As once-strict gaming laws are being relaxed nationwide, greater numbers of communities are becoming receptive to the promise of new jobs and revenue. Even in places like California and Connecticut, where gaming is restricted to land held by Native-American tribes, casinos are on the rise.

Las Vegas and Atlantic City still are the heavyweights, but some up-and-coming cities are well on their way to becoming viable contenders in this high-stakes market.

Gaming became legal in Mississippi in 1990, and the first casino opened two years later. Since then, more than 30 regulated casinos have opened, mostly in Tunica and on the Gulf Coast, plus one operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in the city of Philadelphia.

The most recent development in the Gulf Coast area, Mirage Resorts' Beau Rivage (800-239-2771), opened its doors in March. With a prime spot on Beach Boulevard, this 1,780-room casino resort has a 30,000-square-foot convention center, a 17,000-square-foot grand ballroom and other flexible meeting space. Amenities include a full-service spa, 12 restaurants and a shopping esplanade. Coming soon to the property will be a Tom Fazio-designed golf course and an extensive dock with a bar, where guests can observe the nautical goings-on along with the sunsets.

Hard Rock Cafe International and Full House Resorts are hoping to build a $270 million project that will include a casino hotel, rock 'n' roll-themed restaurant and a concert hall, Hard Rock Live, in Biloxi. Plans call for the 370-to-450-room property to have a bayside location near Beau Rivage. "We had site and infrastructure approval on March 25, and we want to open in 2001, maybe earlier," says Gregg Giuffria, president/COO of Las Vegas-based Full House.

It has not yet been determined how much meeting space the property will have, but Giuffria says Hard Rock Live will hold 2,500 people. "We could easily have Aerosmith there one night and a meeting there the next," he says. "Groups could definitely use the sound system, stage and the rest of the technology for meetings and presentations."

Other casino properties in the Biloxi-Gulfport area that have meeting space include the Grand Casino Hotel Biloxi, the Treasure Bay Casino Resort and the Grand Casino Hotel Gulfport.

Like Vegas against the desert night or Elvis' visage on a swatch of black velvet, Tunica County, specifically the town of Robinsonville, glows with neon from the comparatively subdued background of the Delta farmland.

This is one of the country's fastest-growing gaming destinations. There are 6,100 hotel rooms in Tunica, and a growing number of meetings are heading there. The number of convention attendees who have visited the region rose from 12,480 in 1997 to more than 20,000 last year. Memphis, Tenn., about 30 minutes away, is an option for off-site events.

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., based in Biloxi, Miss., recently acquired the original Harrah's casino, and a complete renovation is under way for a scheduled summer opening. The company has entered into an agreement with Vegas showman Wayne Newton to develop theaters in the Isle of Capri properties; the Tunica hotel is first on the list. Two theaters are planned, with combined seating for more than 2,000 people.

The Grand Terrace Hotel & Spa at Grand Casino Tunica is now open. This 600-room property is the third at the complex, joining the 188-room Grand Casino Tunica and 578-room Grand Veranda Hotel. Constructed at a cost of $72 million, the Grand Terrace offers a 48,000-square-foot convention center.

In the early days of gaming on Native American-held land, there was little experience among tribal representatives about running a large casino. It made perfect sense for tribes to bring in outside assistance from places like Atlantic City or Las Vegas.

Today, the tribes with the keenest business sense have gleaned knowledge from the outsiders and educated others on the reservations. In the future, more Native-American properties likely could open without the assistance of larger gaming corporations.

Mashantucket & Uncasville
Open since 1992, Foxwoods Resort Casino (800-752-9244) is run by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. The property started as a casino and high-stakes bingo hall but has undergone more than $1 billion in renovations, expanding to a property with 1,421 rooms, 55,000 square feet of meeting space and a gaming floor encompassing more than 300,000 square feet.

Foxwoods also offers high-end entertainment à la Vegas in the 1,400-seat Fox Theater; the Cinedrome, which converts into a dance club at night, and an additional room that seats more than 4,000. Celebrities like Vince Gill, Jackie Mason, Liza Minnelli and Debbie Reynolds are no strangers to the property.

In Uncasville, the Mohegan Sun casino (888-226-7711) is planning the $750 million Project Sunburst, which will add 100,000 square feet of gaming space, a 100,000-square-foot convention center, an events center with seating for 10,000, a 1,500-room luxury hotel, 300,000 square feet of retail space and nine restaurants.

The new areas of the casino, which has been operating since October 1996, will be unveiled in phases. There is no set completion date, but ground-breaking is scheduled for this summer.

Michigan has had gambling since 1933, when horse racing became legal. Tribal gaming appeared in the '80s, and, in 1996, nontribal gaming was legalized with the passage of the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act, which authorized the construction of as many as three casinos in Detroit. The following year, three licenses were granted; no additional casinos are expected to be granted licenses in Detroit anytime soon.

This fall, three temporary casinos are slated to open: The MGM Grand Detroit and Circus Circusin September, and the Greektown Casino, operated by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, in October. All three licensees are building permanent properties each with 800 to 1,000 hotel rooms in an area near the Detroit riverfront, and all have projected opening dates slated between 2002 and 2003.

The MGM Grand will cost an estimated $600 million and will feature a 1,200-seat showroom. Plans for retail expansion after the hotel is completed already are being discussed. While awaiting completion of its permanent home, the casino's temporary location, ironically, will be a building that formerly housed Detroit's branch of the Internal Revenue Service.

The two-tower structure (each with more than 40 stories) will cost a projected $419 million and will make its temporary and permanent home in the Trapper's Alley section of Detroit's Greektown area. Trapper's Alley will be renovated to include nightclubs, shops and other entertainment venues.

Renovations are going on now in Detroit's old Wonder Bread factory, which will be the interim home of the Circus Circus casino. Total cost of development of the permanent casino hotel is projected at around $600 million. The 26-story property will include a conference center, theater, health club and several restaurants.

Palm Springs
The Spa Hotel & Casino (800-854-1279) is run by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the same tribe that 900 years ago discovered the springs after which the city eventually was named. The resort was built in the downtown area in 1962 but since has been completely remodeled. This 230-room casino resort has 24-hour gaming and a spa offering loofahs, massages, facials and other treatments, along with natural mineral baths. The Spa Hotel also has meeting space for more than 200 attendees.

Two other casinos (sans hotel) are in the Palm Springs area: Fantasy Springs and Spotlight 29

San Diego
The Barona Casino (619-443-2300) is run by the Barona Band of Mission Indians, whose forefathers lived in the San Diego area 5,000 years ago. In 1984, the Barona opened a bingo hall in hopes of adding income to their community. Ten years later, it added the Big Top expansion a festive, circus-tent structure and became the first themed Indian casino.

Recently, the Barona announced plans for a $120 million expansion. The new additions will more than double the casino's size, bringing it to a total of more than 450,000 square feet.

In addition to added gaming space, plans are in the works for an accompanying 250-room hotel with 20,000 square feet of meeting space, several restaurants and an 18-hole golf course.

Elsewhere in San Diego, two other casinos the Sycuan Gaming Center and the Viejas Casino & Turf Club are in initial talks about expanding their properties to include hotels.

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