Gaming Update 2013

A coast-to-coast guide to where the action is

MGM ConnecticutFoxwoods officials will break ground this year on the Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods, an addition to the resort casino in Mashantucket. The 75 outlet stores will be built as a corridor to connect the resort's 825-room MGM Grand at Foxwoods to its 825-room Grand Pequot Tower. Opening dates have yet to be announced.

Inside the tribal casino, the concourse area is being redone, updating the look of the storefronts and adding more shopping and dining. Other properties at the resort include the 312-room Great Cedar Hotel and 280-room Two Trees Inn. The hotels offer a combined total of 150,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 50,000-square-foot, column-free Premier Ballroom. Relaxation is on the agenda at the G Spa at MGM, the Norwich Spa at Foxwoods and the Lake of Isles golf course.

At Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, the Mohegan Sun Country Club at Pautiapaug reopened last June, following renovations to the course itself and the clubhouse, which holds 125 for an event. The casino-hotel features 1,200 guest rooms, the 22,000-square-foot Elemis Spa and 100,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 38,000-square-foot Uncas Ballroom. Among the dining options at the property are Bobby Flay's Bar Americain, Michael Jordan's Steak House and Todd English's Tuscany. -- SARAH J.F. BRALEY

The United States gaming industry appears to be recovering overall, post-recession, although the rate of recovery varies rather significantly among locations. The following pages provide real-world insight into that fact, through the quantity and scope of the developments happening in each city, state or reservation.

National gross gaming revenues grew by 3 percent in 2011, according to the American Gaming Association, to $35.64 billion. (The organization's 2012 figures will be released in May.) Revenue skyrocketed in 2011 in states such as Pennsylvania and Maryland, which are relative newcomers to the gaming world, while established gaming capitals like Las Vegas showed more modest gains.

Revenue growth at Native American casinos was particularly strong, according to Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report, with levels now exceeding pre-recession highs. Native American casinos generated about 44 percent of all U.S. casino revenue in 2011, according to the report. But like the commercial casino market, the success was spotty. Revenue "did not grow everywhere or grow uniformly across the country," noted economist Alan Meister, the report's author. Revenue was up in nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Native American casinos and three-quarters of Native American gaming states. Read on for updates on gaming venues that might host your upcoming events.

Las VegasLas Vegas welcomed a record 39.7 million visitors in 2012, and the city is preparing for that annual statistic to grow. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority unveiled an ambitious plan in late February for a Global Business District, a long-term, multiphase project that calls for the Las Vegas Convention Center to expand and become the hub of a surrounding business district. Specific upgrades to the convention center include additional exhibit space, meeting rooms and general session space; an improved technology infrastructure; new F&B venues, and a grand concourse connector with more lobby space. More public spaces outside the venue will help to transform the center into more of a business-district campus.

The LVCVA also aims to step up marketing efforts around the convention center's World Trade Center designation, drawing a bigger international crowd in the process. The final part of the plan will improve traffic flow in the neighborhood. The LVCVA has earmarked about $150 million for the first phase of development, which will include improvement to the current convention center space, land acquisition and budget development, to take place over the next two years.

Private investment in the city also is on the rise. Last month, MGM Resorts International and sports and entertainment company AEG announced plans to jointly develop a 20,000-seat arena on the Strip between New York-New York and Monte Carlo. The venue would be part of a development that includes shops, restaurants and entertainment outlets. At press time, the developers were awaiting the approvals needed to proceed.

On the long-neglected North Strip, hospitality company SBE broke ground in late February on the SLS Hotel & Casino, an adaptive reuse of the former Sahara Hotel and Casino. The 1,600-room property, a collaboration among SBE's Sam Nazarain, designer Philippe Starck and chef José Andrés, should debut in the fall of 2014.

Also on the North Strip, Genting Group acquired the unfinished Echelon casino resort site from Boyd Gaming Corp. last month for $350 million. The $4.8 billion Echelon project was shelved in 2008, and the site remained unfinished. Now, the Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-based Genting intends to turn it into the 3,500-room Resorts World Las Vegas. The $2 billion development will include about 500,000 square feet of meeting space, a 175,000-square-foot casino and 250,000 square feet of retail space.

In late February, Caesars Entertainment reversed its long-standing and much-publicized "no resort fees" policy (see "Resort Fees"), thus joining the ranks of most other area hotel operators. Resort fees of $10 to $25 per night were instituted at Caesars Las Vegas properties last month, although, at least for the time being, contracted meetings and events at Caesars properties are exempt from such fees.

Construction continues on Caesars' $550 million Linq project, a Center-Strip open-air retail, dining and entertainment district to be anchored by the world's tallest observation wheel, the 550-foot High Roller. Retail and restaurant tenants should be open by the end of this year. The High Roller, slated to open in early 2014, will have 28 cabins, each accommodating up to 40 people and available to reserve in any capacity, including group buyouts. A building adjacent to the wheel will add 2,500 square feet of meeting space.

The newest hotel to open is the world's first Nobu Hotel & Restaurant, a 181-room boutique property in Caesars Palace. Guests experience luxury accommodations, as well as the opportunity to order room service from, or dine in, the largest Nobu Restaurant to date.

Pool table at the bellagioThe 3,933-room Bellagio recently finished remodeling all 928 rooms in its Spa Tower. The $40 million, six-month project also produced three new Executive Parlor Suites, each of which spans 2,500 square feet and features a billiards lounge and a high-tech home theater.

The Tropicana Las Vegas, which earlier this year officially became the Tropicana Las Vegas–a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, reopened its 1,045-seat Tropicana Theater in February, following a two-and-a-half-month overhaul. The redesigned theater now has U-shaped booths and cocktail tables in a VIP area near the stage. -- MICHAEL J. SHAPIRO

All Eyes on Massachusetts
Rick Day, head of the Massachusetts Gaming CommissionIn November 2011, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill allowing casino gambling in the state; the law authorizes three casinos and one slot-machine parlor. The state is taking its sweet time deciding which casino companies will be awarded those licenses. The most recent activity took place this February, when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission appointed Rick Day as its executive director, hiring him away from the Washington State Gambling Commission; he was expected to settle into his new position in the middle of March.

The Bay State's casino regulators are on track to award the slot-machine license by this fall and hope to issue two of the resort commission licenses -- for regions A and B, the eastern and western parts of the state -- by February 2014. There is no timeline for bestowing the third casino license, for the southeastern part of the state, as there is a possibility that a tribal gaming property will be built there. According to a gaming commission spokesperson, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is working on a deal with the state; if that materializes, no third casino resort license will be awarded.

All the big gaming companies have expressed interest in building properties in Massachusetts, announcing projects and partnerships, and promising to commit billions of dollars to the state.  Among those anteing up are Ameristar Casinos, Caesars Entertainment, Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos, MGM Resorts International, Mohegan Sun and Penn National Gaming. -- S.B.

Atlantic City
Revel Atlantic CityLast fall, Hurricane Sandy dealt yet another blow to Atlantic City, which was already struggling with dwindling casino revenues and increased competition from neighboring Pennsylvania. Though the physical damage to the city's tourist areas, attractions and casinos was minimal, news coverage and images painted a different picture, causing a public relations nightmare for tourism officials (see M&C's report, After Hurricane Sandy).

In February, the city got more bad news when its newest gaming resort, Revel, announced it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March. The voluntary, prepackaged bankruptcy will wipe away about two-thirds of the property's $1.5 billion debt by converting more than $1 billion of it into equity for lenders. Kevin DeSanctis, Revel's CEO, said the restructuring will give the casino resort more flexibility to operate. The $2.4 billion resort debuted last summer with 1,800 guest rooms, 160,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and 90,000 square feet of outdoor function space. In addition to its casino, the resort offers the Bask spa with 32 treatment rooms, plus an array of 14 restaurants and a private beach.

Last summer, Hard Rock International announced a decision to shelve its plans to build a new 850-room casino hotel on the Boardwalk, citing poor market conditions.

But there is some positive news for the Garden State's gaming center. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed off on legislation this past February that will allow Internet gambling in Atlantic City. The law will allow any game played in the city's 12 casinos to be played online as well, in New Jersey only at first and eventually in other places willing to partner with the state. Licenses will be limited to the Atlantic City casinos. State officials expect online gaming to be a big boon for casino revenues, which fell to a reported $235 million in fiscal year 2013.

The law comes just two months after Rational Group U.S. Holdings, parent of online gaming firm PokerStars, applied to the state's casino regulators to buy the 804-room Atlantic Club Casino Hotel for an undisclosed amount. If approved, the deal would mark the first purchase of an Atlantic City casino by an Internet gambling company. At press time, the deal was still pending.

Another troubled venue, the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, also is getting a new owner. The Downey, Calif.-based Meruelo Group expects to close on the acquisition of the Boardwalk property, which has 904 guest rooms and 15 meeting rooms, by May 31. The new owners intend to give the property a $100 million overhaul.
New Jersey's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Board has given the green light for Harrah's Resort Atlantic City to build a conference center with 100,000 square feet of meeting space. The proposed $134 million, two-story facility, adjacent to the 2,590-room gaming resort in the city's Marina District, will open next year. Plans call for about 50,000 square feet of meeting space on each floor. At present, Harrah's has 10 meeting rooms totaling 25,000 square feet.

The New Jersey Casino Control Commission has approved a deal between Mohegan Gaming Advisors and Atlantic City's 942-room Resorts Casino Hotel. Under the agreement, MGA will take over all day-to-day operations of the property for a five-year period, in addition to acquiring a 10 percent ownership interest in the casino-hotel complex. The measure marks the first time a Native American entity has become involved in the ownership and operation of an Atlantic City casino. MGA is a subsidiary of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which owns the Mohegan Sun casino resort complex in Uncasville, Conn., and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Plains, Pa.

In other news at Resorts Casino Hotel, the property will debut a Margaritaville complex, based on the brand created by famed entertainer Jimmy Buffet, this summer. Plans call for a new casino, a restaurant, the Five O'Clock Somewhere Bar, a clutch of retail stores, and the LandShark Bar and Grill, along with a coffee shop. In addition, the resort's boardwalk façade will be re-themed with the signature Margaritaville brand. -- LISA A. GRIMALDI

Out-of-the-Way Gaming
Casino resorts with meeting facilities turn up in some unexpected places. Head to one of these offbeat destinations and get your gamble on.

Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort HotelWORLEY, IDAHO.
Tucked away on a 345,000-acre reservation in Northwest Idaho, amid mountains, lakes, forest and farmland, the 300-room Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort Hotel is owned and operated by the Coeur D'Alene Tribe of Indians. The property has 40,000 square feet of conference space, a 20,000-square-feet casino, a golf club and a spa. The resort provides a free shuttle from nearby Spokane (Wash.) International Airport.

HARRIS, MICH. In the heart of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the 314-room Island Resort & Casino has 13,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, a casino featuring 1,200 slots and myriad table games, an 18-hole golf course and four restaurants. Owned and operated by the Hannahville Indian Community, the resort is serviced by Delta County Airport, 14 miles from Harris.

SHELTON, WASH. On Puget Sound, the 190-room Little Creek Casino Resort is owned and operated by the Squaxin Island Tribe. The resort has a smoke-free casino; an 18-hole championship golf course; more than 40,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and a full-service spa. -- AGATHA GILMORE  



Reno-TahoeGrand Sierra ResortLast October, the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority announced it would provide a customized mobile app free of charge to qualified planners organizing events at any RSCVA-owned or -managed property, including the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, Reno Events Center or Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center. Valid events at Northern Nevada resort hotels also are eligbile, provided the RSCVA is involved with the placement of business. The app, developed by Guidebook, provides area information and allows organizers to add company logos, maps, schedules, sponsor information, and, of course, session and speaker information.

As of April 1, the former Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe–Hotel & Ski Resort no longer is flying the Embassy Suites flag. The 400-room hotel now is known simply as the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel. PHR Management is the new operator and is retaining all 220 employees. Early this summer, the hotel will embark on a $5 million to $7 million renovation.

After facing some financial hardship, the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, and Ritz-Carlton Residences were acquired by real-estate firm Kennedy Wilson in December 2012. The 170-room hotel has a 17,000-square-foot spa and a signature restaurant, Manzanita, that offers French-inspired California cuisine.

Reno's Grand Sierra Resort is in the midst of a $25 million renovation, including a guest-room makeover. The 1,993-room resort already has revealed a substantially upgraded lobby as well as a new casino-floor lounge called Wet. Planned for the coming year are an indoor pool, a nightclub, a racquetball court and more. Renovations also will begin soon on the property's 200,000 square feet of meeting space.

CommRow, the Reno urban adventure and event facility that opened in late 2011, is under new management and currently undergoing a $10 million renovation to convert the building to the boutique Whitney Peak Hotel. The sports facility continues to operate as BaseCamp during the work. – M.J.S.