The Silver State’s Winning Ways

When you add up all that Nevada offers groups—from dazzling casino hotels and rustic ranch resorts to lavish entertainment, state-of-the-art convention centers, scenic mountain vistas and year-round sun—your meeting attendees will head home feeling like they’ve hit the jackpot. As the saying goes: Winner takes all.

Nevada has long been known for its talents when it comes to mixing business with pleasure. In addition to holding conventions in Las Vegas—still a favorite destination for group events—planners organize meetings to coincide with the state’s lauded cowboy poetry gathering in Elko or more active agendas in the Reno-Tahoe area. No matter the destination, you can bet there’s something here for every group.

Greater Las Vegas: Built to Impress

“Las Vegas makes it so easy,” said Sherri Lindenberg, who recently planned a meeting in Las Vegas. She said her group continues to return to the city for business events for three main reasons: very good airlift, the number of high-end hotels with reasonable prices and the diversity of activities which, she said, “go way beyond gambling.” For example, she set up team-building golf lessons, rock climbing and jewelry-making classes.

Each year more than 1 million attendees and some of the nation’s top trade shows meet within the 3.2 million-square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center, which finished a two-year improvement project last spring. The facility features a new exterior and carpeting, upgraded lighting and additional parking options, which include electric-vehicle charging stations. In addition, the main entrance is now home to the OPEN Business Lounge, a 3,400-square-foot area for American Express OPEN card members that offers refreshments, free Wi-Fi, printer use and seating for meetings. The convention center renovation is the first step toward realizing the Las Vegas Global Business District, a $2.5 billion vision to turn the convention center into an international business destination.

This fall, two major hotels are expected to open with large meeting space: The SLS/Las Vegas, which has gutted the former Sahara Hotel on the north Strip and is planning to open with 1,600 guest rooms and 30,000 square feet of function space, and the South Beach–style Delano/Las Vegas (formerly THEhotel) within the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino complex, expected to offer 1,110 guest suites and 36 meeting venues in 21,000 square feet of space. Another host property within Mandalay, the Four Seasons, renovated all of its 424 guest rooms in late 2012.

In December, the Cosmopolitan unveiled The Chelsea, a 40,000-square-foot event space complete with a grand staircase and advanced digital and audio-visual technology. It can be configured to accommodate up to 65 trade show booths or seat up to 2,566 people. At the adjacent Vdara Hotel & Spa, small groups might be interested in the new Silk Road, a 6,500-square-foot meeting space with floor-to-ceiling windows that can be used for up to 200 guests.

A new $550 million entertainment and retail development called Linq is scheduled to debut its star attraction this spring: the 550-foot High Roller observation wheel, which is comparable to the London Eye, only taller. And event planners who want to take advantage of the city’s near-constant sunshine might opt to host a future event at the $100 million outdoor plaza under construction between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo hotel casinos. The space, being funded by MGM Resorts International, will feature restaurants and shops (including an interactive, two-story Hershey’s Chocolate World mega-store) and is expected to serve as the pedestrian entrance to a 20,000-seat sports arena slated to open as early as 2016. Late this year, the new Grand Bazaar Shops is scheduled to open in front of Bally’s Hotel & Casino with more than 150 shops.

Last fall, the Downtown Grand Las Vegas opened with 634 guest rooms and event space for up to 1,500, and in 2012, and two blocks away is the D Las Vegas. Both are steps away from the Fremont Street Experience, which touts itself as “vintage Vegas,” features nightly sound-and-light shows and can be rented for group events.

Vegas boasts its fair share of large event venues. These include the Sands Expo & Convention Center, with 2.25 million square feet of function space; the 1.7 million-square-foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center, home to the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center; and the MGM Grand Conference Center, with more than 602,000 square feet of space.

To the east, groups can meet at the Clark County Wetlands Park & Nature Center, which opened in April and can host up to several hundred people. It invites exploration among its 210 acres and 13 miles of trails. Another unique option for group activities is the Creative Cooking School, an award-winner for culinary team building, Iron Chef-like competitions and spouse programs.

Henderson, 15 miles south of Las Vegas, is Nevada’s second-largest city. Groups such as the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics like Henderson’s residential ambiance and proximity to the glittery scene of Vegas. In fact, Henderson’s M Resort, Casino & Spa is located on the south end of the Strip.

On the eastern side of Henderson, at Lake Las Vegas, the new Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa (formerly the Ravella at Lake Las Vegas) offers attendees a 30,000-square-foot spa, more than 35,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and extensive outdoor event areas. Guests also enjoy access to the nearby Jack Nicklaus–designed championship golf course and a European-inspired shopping and dining village. For an off-site event, the yacht La Contessa can host parties of up to 135 people.

The Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa & Casino is another Henderson favorite. Planners can host smaller events within its luxury suites, including one with a DJ station and motorized blackout shades, another with a pool table, or the 4,000-square-foot Penthouse, which features a double-sided fireplace, baby grand piano and dining table.

Nearby, the 2,444-seat Henderson Pavilion is connected to an 18,000-square-foot courtyard and promenade. Downtown, the Henderson Convention Center has 13,800 square feet of meeting space and is adjacent to the 60,000-square-foot Henderson Events Plaza.

Henderson is also excellent for recreation. The city features 80 miles of bike trails—one of the most extensive such trail systems in Nevada. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area beckons with water sports, from boating and fishing to scuba diving, and Hoover Dam is a must-see for first-time visitors.

Southern Nevada’s Border Towns: Surprises at Every Turn

White picket fences, shady picnic tables, Italianate ceramics—this is wine tasting at its best and it’s found 60 miles west of Las Vegas in Pahrump. The Pahrump Valley Winery has become a favorite with wine tasting tours among the vineyards and a restaurant that can seat up to 55. It’s a fun day trip from Vegas or other nearby meeting destinations. The Pahrump Nugget Hotel & Casino has remodeled rooms, 6,000 square feet of space and a bowling alley.

Another fun outpost for meetings is the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, which recalls Nevada’s cowboy past. The historic site, once frequented by Clark Gable, welcomes visitors with horseshoes, commercial “cook-it-yourself” barbecue grills and indoor-outdoor gathering space. And about 20 miles south, on the California/Nevada border, Primm has matured into a meeting-golfing-shopping mecca. Groups that want to overnight in the area have three large resort casinos at their disposal with a combined 2,643 guest rooms and ample meeting space. Guests enjoy play on two Tom Fazio–designed golf courses, and the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas feature more than 100 shops.

The Colorado River has always added big splashy fun to meetings in Laughlin, 90 miles south of Las Vegas. And the new Laughlin Event Center is upping the ante on entertainment and convention space. The $4 million amphitheater is scheduled to open this month with versatile seating for as many as 21,000 people, VIP skyboxes and food outlets.

Laughlin offers nine meeting hotels, most on the riverfront, with a combined 152,000 square feet of meeting space. Among them are the Edgewater Casino Resort, which has renovated its Santa Fe guest tower and offers 38,648 square feet of convention space.

Golf is the driving force that attracts associations to Mesquite, located about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Golfers drive and fly in from across the country to play its seven public courses, five of which are championship designs by legendary pros including Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Mesquite’s largest meeting property is the CasaBlanca Resort-Casino-Golf-Spa, with 70,000 square feet of event space.

Reno & Carson City: Peak Performance

An active, younger crowd has transformed Reno into a city that has fostered a burgeoning arts scene, several thriving brasseries and a destination for those who love recreational mountain and river sports. In addition, a newly completed, $26 million makeover at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport has made the arrival and departure experience even better.

New ownership at the Grand Sierra Resort & Casino have given this high-rise property a sleek contemporary look with rubbed bronze and brushed aluminum accents throughout. Ongoing improvements include a new nightclub, racquetball court and pool and renovated guest rooms. For meetings, it offers 200,000 square feet of space.

Downtown, the Whitney Peak Hotel (formerly CommRow) is being re-imagined into a boutique property, with 200 of its 352 rooms and its 164-foot-high climbing wall slated to open this spring. Meeting space will include the existing, 5,000-square-foot Cargo venue.

The National Bowling Stadium, one of the city’s most-famous attractions, is enjoying a multimillion-dollar renovation. New stadium seating for up to 600, event space for up to 2,000 and 10 new lanes—for a total of 88—make customized bowling tournaments irresistible.

The Truckee River Arts District is ideal for free-time strolls past cafes and galleries. Its Magic Underground theater is available for receptions of up to 200 and includes magic shows. Just south, in Midtown, several new eateries and watering holes have turned this neighborhood into a hot spot. One of the newest to open, Brasserie Saint James, has a rooftop deck and welcomes private events.

According to the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority, Reno attracts more than 1 million attendees a year to its numerous venues. The largest is the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, with 381,000 square feet of function space. Other choices include the 7,000-seat Reno Events Center and the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center, with features that include a 20,000-square-foot exhibit hall, and 55,200 square feet of outdoor event space.

Just east of Reno, in Sparks, the new owners of John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort are beginning a massive redesign that is expected to transform the property over the next few years, including its 110,000 square feet of meeting space. One of the resort’s newest venues is Gilley’s Reno Sparks, a 10,000-square-foot nightclub expected to open this spring that will recreate the dance hall featured in the classic film “Urban Cowboy.”

For meetings with a historic perspective, head to the state capital, Carson City, located 32 miles south of Reno. Groups of up to 172 can meet within the historic Capitol Building, and the Capitol Legislative Building is available for 300 people when the government isn’t in session. And the Brewery Arts Center building, which dates back to 1864 and has been restored to its original grandeur, has three venues, the largest of which can accommodate up to 297 people.

Off-site suggestions include the Pony Express Pavilion at Mills Park, with 31,020 square feet of space, and the Carson City Fairgrounds/Fuji Park, with bleacher seating for up to 1,160 and a 6,840-square-foot exhibit hall. Five golf courses welcome association tournaments and offer clubhouse event space.

Between late May and late October, attendees can take a ride on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, a reconstructed 19th century steam train that rolls from Carson City’s Eastgate Depot to Virginia City, home of the legendary Comstock Lode gold mines. Passengers explore the boomtown’s historic saloons, schoolhouse, church and cemetery.

Lake Tahoe: Crystal Blue Persuasion

It’s hard to turn down a meeting at Lake Tahoe, America’s largest alpine lake. A year-round recreational playground with spectacular scenery, events held here tend to feel like vacations. In the winter months, downhill and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling top agendas, while in the summer, folks flock to the sandy beaches, head out for a sail or hike part of the Tahoe Rim Trail.

On the South Shore, two resort-casinos in Stateline are popular for group events: Harveys/Lake Tahoe and the adjacent Harrah’s/Lake Tahoe, each of which have approximately 25,000 square feet of meeting space and work together to host large functions. Off-site events can be held at Edgewood Tahoe, a 2,750-square-foot venue with 10 walls of windows overlooking the lake and mountains, or at Heavenly Resort, with special-event space for up to 250 people.

Big plans are underway to improve the South Shore with pedestrian-friendly shops and promenades, and nearly a dozen area resorts have been busy renovating and rebranding themselves. In South Lake Tahoe, California, the lakefront Beach Retreat & Lodge at Tahoe (formerly the Timber Cove Lodge) added new outdoor event space, and the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel (formerly an Embassy Suites property) plans to undergo a $5 million upgrade. And in December, the Landing Resort & Spa (formerly the Royal Valhalla Lodge) opened with 88 guest rooms, a restaurant, a spa and event space for up to 300 people including a rooftop space that overlooks the lake.

On the North Shore, the lakefront Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa & Casino in Incline Village offers 50,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, much of it offering views of the lake. In nearby Crystal Bay, the Cal Neva Resort, Spa & Casino is expected to re-open as early as December following a massive overhaul by its new owners.

Rural Nevada: Cowboy COUNTRY

Friendly welcomes, hard-working spirit and love of the outdoors, all of which typified the American West, are alive and well and enhancing events in northeastern Nevada. Each year the Ranch Hand Rodeo Weekend and the National Senior Pro Rodeo Finals attract thousands of visitors to Winnemucca, a high-desert hot spot 160 miles northeast of Reno, proving it’s got the skills and the venues to host association groups. The Winnemucca Events Complex features three arenas, the largest of which can seat up to 2,300; an 11,862-square-foot exhibit hall; and a 96,000-square-foot Event Center. The Winnemucca Convention Center offers an additional 25,000 square feet of flexible space. Some 1,500 guest rooms are at the ready.

Framed by the snow-capped Ruby Mountains, Elko—home to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and the Ruby Mountain Balloon Festival—is also well-versed in hosting groups. Venues include the 50,000-square-foot Elko Convention Center, which includes a 12,150-square-foot theater, and the Western Folklife Center, with space for up to 300 guests.

West Wendover, on the Nevada-Utah border, gives planners the sizzle of nightlife in 11,237 square feet of combined meeting space in the Rainbow Hotel & Casino and its sister properties, the Peppermill and Montego Bay casino resorts. Individually, the Rainbow has the largest space, some 6,300 square feet.

Trains are the magnetic attraction in Ely, 120 miles south of West Wendover. At the 40-acre Nevada Northern Railway Museum, delegates can overnight in a caboose or bunkhouse and operate locomotives, and groups can hold special events aboard the trains or charter passenger cars for special events. For traditional-style meetings, Ely’s Bristlecone Convention Center can accommodate up to 500 people and includes a 4,600-square-foot auditorium.

The Odds of a GREAT Meeting

Planners who have never organized an event in Nevada will quickly discover that the odds are in their favor when it comes to putting on a successful gathering. Top accommodations, entertainment and food-and-beverage options are just a few of the essentials that come in a variety of price points. Add in all kinds of spectacular attractions and Nevada is sure to win over attendees, too.