by Loren G. Edelstein | August 01, 2005

Mitchell Etess, Bob Boughner, Bob DeSalvio, Brett Magnan and Chuck Bowling

Game faces: (from left)
Mitchell Etess, Bob Boughner,
Bob DeSalvio, Brett Magnan
and Chuck Bowling

What does the future hold
for meetings in gaming destinations? That was the hot topic at the kickoff session for the second annual Trend Summit for Meeting Professionals, co-sponsored by M&C and T&E magazines, the Windsor, Conn.-based Goodman Speakers Bureau and Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn.

    The two-day event, held June 20-21 at Mohegan Sun, drew about 70 meeting professionals.
    Addressing current trends in the gaming industry were Bob Boughner, director of Boyd Gaming Corp. and CEO of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City; Chuck Bowling, executive vice president of sales and marketing for MGM Mirage in Las Vegas; Bob DeSalvio, executive vice president of Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Conn.; Mitchell Etess, president and CEO of Mohegan Sun;  and Brett Magnan, vice president of hotel operations for the Green Valley Ranch and Resort, Las Vegas.
    The discussion was moderated by Bernard W. Schraer, group publisher of M&C and T&E. Among the highlights:

M&C: How important are meetings to Las Vegas?
Boughner: Extremely. Convention visitation in Las Vegas has grown at twice the rate of leisure. On average, conventioneers spend 50 percent more on lodging and 20 percent more on dining than leisure travelers.

M&C: Is a small group welcome in a giant casino hotel?
Bowling: We’ve found that’s one of the biggest things planners are concerned about. At the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, 80 percent of the meetings business is 150 rooms or less, and four salespeople are dedicated to small meetings. But from what we hear, that might not be the norm. I hate to say it, but a lot of our small business is won by default: We called you back.
Magnan: Green Valley Ranch has just 201 guest rooms, so we are particularly geared to that market. A group with 300 room nights basically takes over the hotel, and it becomes their special place.

M&C: What particular challenges is Las Vegas facing?
Magnan: The “street vendors of adult entertainment.” I think that’s embarrassing. There’s a lot Las Vegas has to offer that’s good, clean fun.
Boughner: The taxi line at the airport is pathetic. There needs to be a mass-transit solution for getting people in and out. Unless and until that monorail runs, and unless and until busing becomes part of the equation, transportation is going to be the choke-point problem for Las Vegas. There needs to be a multijurisdictional solution one that involves city officials, airport officials, transportation interests and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

M&C: Is the rampant expansion at casino properties really warranted?
DeSalvio: Yes, and we know this by the amount of business we have to turn away. At Foxwoods, we’re tired of looking at turndowns. We have a 50,000-square-foot ballroom and another 25,000 square feet of meeting rooms, and it isn’t nearly enough. We have an expansion planned that will quadruple our meeting space.

M&C: What do you tell planners who express concerns about the negative image of gaming?
Etess: You can’t hide the fact that there’s gaming here at Mohegan Sun. But you can have a meeting, dining and shopping experience without touching the gaming floor.
Bowling: When people ask me if Las Vegas is a gaming destination, I say, “Absolutely not. Gaming is an amenity. Las Vegas is a complete destination resort.”

M&C: Will dramatic change continue to take place in Atlantic City?
Boughner: I believe that in the next few years, $5 billion worth of projects will be started in Atlantic City. Expect big news from Trump, Harrah’s and MGM Mirage. This is just the beginning.
Bowling: I agree. At MGM Mirage, we’ve got a lot of expansion to do. We’re just juggling our checkbook and trying to figure out where the best opportunity is right now.

M&C: Will Hartford’s new convention center create competition for Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods?
DeSalvio: We hope that new center is packed every week. As far as we’re concerned, get them in the region, and that only increases the chances that they’re going to come to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun.