The Latest Spin on Gaming 2004

A state-by-state roundup of new and expanded properties

Illustration: Roulette wheelCasinos: Call them the great glitzy hope of municipalities from Connecticut to California. Call the building of them a great tidal wheel of fortune rolling across the Alleghenies and the Great Plains, leaving in its wake a trail of glittering new palaces devoted to games of chance. With the powerful lure of gaming revenues and related tourism spending, plus the increasing realization that if Region A doesn’t jump on the wagering bandwagon, Region B, right on the other side of the river, will, America is on an inexorable and unrepentant jackpot jag.
    Following is a guide to some of the latest developments in the sport of kings and queens, and jacks...

The Golden State has seen a burst of activity following the passage of Proposition 1A in 2000, which legalized Las Vegas-style gaming. Currently, more than 50 recognized Native American groups offer gaming in California, and more action is arriving from across the Nevada border.
    For example, Las Vegas heavyweight Caesars Entertainment (formerly known as Park Place Entertainment) is helping the Pauma-Yuima Band of Mission Indians develop a 500-room hotel-casino in California’s Pauma Valley. To be called Caesars Pauma, the $250 million resort will cover 30 acres. Plans call for 100,000 square feet of casino space, as well as a spa and several showrooms and restaurants. No timeline or further details have been given.
    Meanwhile, just west of Palm Springs, the $250 million Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa will open in November. The 44-acre, 659,800-square-foot property will rise 23 stories and offer a 310-room hotel, four nightclubs and sizeable convention facilities, among other attractions. 
     Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs, CaliforniaLast November, the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs (below) turned what could only be described as a casino tent into a plush $95 million, 130,000-square-foot Las Vegas-style casino. The resort’s owners, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, spent a further $2.3 million renovating the accompanying older hotel’s 228 guest rooms in a style labeled “desert contemporary.” In addition to a showroom, a casino, two bars and four restaurants, the resort offers 6,000 square feet of meeting space.
    In nearby Indio, the Fantasy Springs Casino, run by the Carazon Band of Mission Indians, will open a 12-story, 250-room hotel and a 100,000-square-foot events center in January 2005. Meeting space will include a 44,460-square-foot exhibit hall, a 3,400-square-foot ballroom and eight meeting rooms, all able to host up to 5,550 people.
    In the San Diego area, Harrah’s Rincon Casino & Resort, which opened in August 2002, is adding a new hotel tower with 449 rooms, for a guest room count of 650. Owned by the Rincon San Luiseño Band of Mission Indians, the resort will finish the expansion which will include a 10,000-square-foot events pavilion at the end of this year.
    Fifty miles north of San Diego in Temecula, the 522-room Pechanga Resort & Casino is undergoing a 413,000-square-foot expansion. Already offering 40,000 square feet of meeting space, the resort will add three more levels, a smoke-free casino section, a two-story restaurant and bar, and a nightclub, among other attractions. Work is due to finish this December. On the drawing board are plans to add a golf course.

Renee Hale-Pursel of Always Creative Inc.

Renee Hale-Pursel of Always Creative Inc.

With the unprecedented amounts of money casinos are spending on expanded and refurbished convention spaces, it’s no wonder these venues are working hard to entice meetings business. Not every planner is taking the bait, however.

“People are sometimes hesitant to bring their meetings here,” admits Patrick Sullivan, director of hotel sales and marketing at Uncasville, Conn.-based Mohegan Sun, which spent a hefty $1 billion transforming itself into a hotel and meetings juggernaut in 2002. “There’s a concern that if they bring their attendees to a casino, they will be promoting gambling.”

Indeed, several planners and destination management companies report similar misgivings on the part of some clients. Ethical concerns, as well as questions over the general efficiency of the casino-bound conference, can breed a reluctance to book.

Sullivan expects the stigma of gaming to diminish as more casinos crop up around the country, and as they offer more varied forms of entertainment. But a plethora of nongaming options raises anxieties of its own.

“The one concern we do see most often is that people won’t attend sessions because there’s so much going on here,” says Renee Hale-Pursel, chief executive officer of Always Creative, a Las Vegas-based event planning company.

Sullivan claims, however, that the very plenitude of goings-on is what will keep attendees in their seats. “When attendees realize how many entertainment options there are, they tend not to blow off the meeting, because they know what waits for them at day’s end,” he says. A recent study conducted by Red Bank, N.J.-based research firm Exhibit Surveys supports his argument: On average, says the survey, attendees spend 3.7 more hours a day on the trade show floor at a casino than at a nongaming venue.

Another question is whether the frenzied, every-man-for-himself rush of a casino will undermine the team-building work of a conference. To address this concern, a good number of venues are turning gaming itself into the team-building exercise.

In Las Vegas, Activity Planners transforms the seemingly lone-gun art of gaming by setting up a private casino in the venue’s meeting area. Attendees are divided into teams and given a number of imitation chips to wager as they please. The triumphant team returns home with the bragging rights, along with a company-sponsored prize.

“This is exactly what teamwork is about,” says David Berwick, director of destinations services at Mohegan Sun, adding that during a similar program at the Connecticut venue, the teams “assemble and talk about working together. If there are five people on the team, they have to strategize which games they’re going to play, how long they’ll be out there and who’s strongest at which game.”

To drive the point home, a venue often will provide a post-game debriefing, in which attendees can examine the lessons they’ve learned and apply them to the workplace. (For a way to use gaming themes anywhere, see “Sure Bets.”)

And what about the attendee whose compulsive or self-destructive tendencies suddenly manifest themselves at the blackjack table? While no one wants to see an employee gamble away half his salary, planners agree a company can’t take responsibility for a newly indebted attendee. As Marina Nicola of the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority points out, “We are talking about adults here.” - MORTON D. ROSENBAUM

Gaming in this state is a two-horse race, with the 1,400-room Foxwoods Resort Casino and 1,200-room Mohegan Sun Casino, Hotel & Spa going neck and neck to secure group business.
    The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, owners of Foxwoods, will finish up a $99 million expansion of the property later this summer. The project will provide added parking, several restaurants and 20,000 square feet of gaming space. The resort has 55,000 square feet of meeting and function space.
Meanwhile, Mohegan Sun still is basking in the light of its two-year-old Project Sunburst, which added a 1,200-room hotel, a 10,000-seat arena and 100,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space.

Native American gaming in Florida recently has made the leap from mere bingo halls to splashy, Las Vegas-style resort-casinos. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is spearheading the charge, with two recently opened properties.
    The first, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, opened in Tampa in March. The $100 million resort with its  12-story, 250-room hotel tower features a spa, a pool, a 90,000-square-foot casino and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
    In April, the $200 million Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Resort opened in Hollywood, close to Miami. It, too, has a spa, as well as 500 guest rooms, 130,000 square feet of casino space and 25,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, including a 16,000-square-foot ballroom. An 80,000-square-foot outdoor event space also is available.

Like the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, Indiana requires all casinos to float, although the definition of “floating” seems to be fluid. In Indiana, for example, casino barges can opt either to cruise or dock permanently.
    One gaming property that has chosen to weigh anchor is the Belterra Casino Resort, which plies the Ohio River. The Belterra finished a $35 million expansion in May that added 300 more guest rooms for a total of 608. Owned by Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., the resort also added extra meeting space, for a new total of 35,000 square feet.

The Pelican State has only one land-based casino, Harrah’s New Orleans; all other casinos in the state have to float in some manner. After several years of negotiations, Harrah’s is getting a 450-room hotel. Final approval came in March, with the $142 million project expected to open early in 2006.
    Meanwhile, Pinnacle Entertainment is developing a $325 million casino-resort, including a 48,490-square-foot gaming barge, on 227 acres of land in Lake Charles, 150 miles west of New Orleans. No name has been given to the property as of press time, but plans call for a 721-room hotel tower, five restaurants, a spa, a Tom Fazio-designed golf course and almost 30,000 square feet of meeting space. The project is set for spring 2005 completion.

Casino development in Detroit should pick up pace as the city prepares for Superbowl XL in 2006.
    Following a settlement of legal issues last November between the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Native Americans and the Greektown and MotorCity casinos, the two gaming concerns now are free to build expanded establishments; a third entity, the MGM Grand Detroit Casino, has not yet settled with the tribe. All three properties have city permission to build 400-room hotels.
    Owned by Las Vegas-based Mandalay Bay Corp., the MotorCity Casino also plans to add several restaurants and 25,000 square feet of gaming space for a total of 100,000 square feet, while Greektown Casino and MGM Grand Detroit Casino are moving to new sites. Greektown’s new home will be opposite Ford Field, home of the city’s football team, the Detroit Lions.
    In other parts of the state, gaming is Native American-owned and -managed. The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (the majority stakeholder of the Greektown Casino) owns five Upper Peninsula casinos; all are to be renovated in the next few years. At the tribe’s flagship property, the Kewadin Sault, renovations recently were completed to 52 of the total 300 guest rooms, while work now progresses on makeovers to one of the two gaming floors, an art gallery and a restaurant. The resort has 30,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 1,500-seat DreamMaker Theater.
    Another Sault Ste. Marie tribal offering, the Kewadin St. Ignace, began a complete rebuilding in May. The new 110,000-square-foot property will include an 83-room hotel, a 225-seat restaurant and a 125-seat lounge, along with its 50,000 square feet of casino space. Work will finish late next year. 
    The Grand Traverse Resort and SpaThe Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in May finished a $10 million renovation to the 238-room Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (right).  The Traverse City resort has made improvements on all 54 holes of golf, the gym and all guest rooms. Work to its signature restaurant and executive-level guest rooms will begin late this year. The property offers 85,000 square feet of meeting space and shuttle service to its sibling casino, Turtle Creek, four miles away.

Most activity is taking place on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the state’s major gaming center. At year’s end, construction will begin on the 400-room Rock-n-Roll Casino in Biloxi. The $140 million property will have 35,000 square feet of gaming space and 40,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. The facility also will have a 30-berth marina.
    Also in Biloxi, the $225 million Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will open in May 2005. The 306-room resort will include 50,000 square feet of gaming space, four restaurants, a pool and a nightclub. In addition, the city’s 236-room Palace Casino Resort added a nightclub and 15,000 square feet of extra casino space.
    At the beginning of this year, Biloxi’s Isle of Capri announced the details of Phase II of its $79 million expansion and renovation. Among the new facilities will be a 400-room hotel for a total of 767 rooms, a 10,000-square-foot events center, a pool and a spa. Work will finish on May 1, 2005.
    Lastly, the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center in Biloxi will undergo a $72 million expansion to increase exhibit space to 350,000 square feet. A countywide 1 percent hotel tax hike has been proposed to fund the project, tentatively set to open in 2006.

The usual bullish atmosphere prevails in this storied gaming destination. Continued expansion includes more meeting space, exciting new restaurants and 6,500 more guest rooms planned over the next two years, with more to come after that.
    To begin with, Caesars Palace will unveil a 26-story, 949-room hotel tower next year. The $289 million structure is in addition to $76 million of improvements and additions to the resort’s meeting and function space. In total, the tower will increase the hotel’s room count to 3,372.
    Caesars’ expansion parallels giant projects at other megahotels. Last summer, the 3,036-room Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino opened a $275 million hotel tower named Venezia. With 1,013 suites, the addition hikes the property’s guest room count to a massive 4,049, still short of the city’s largest hotel, the 5,034-room MGM Grand. Venezia includes a pool with deck, a restaurant and even a wedding chapel.
    In addition to welcoming Venezia, the Venetian celebrated the opening of a 150,000-square-foot expansion of its Venetian Congress Center last June. Available now are three ballrooms and 67 meeting rooms. Making way for the project was the Tam O’Shanter Motel, a 45-year-old Vegas icon that had languished since the death of its original owner five years ago.
    The Venetian’s parent company, Las Vegas-based Las Vegas Sands, plans to keep the Italian theme going with a new, 53-story megaresort called the Palazzo, next door on the Strip. No timeline has been announced, but chairman Sheldon Adelson has hinted at a $1 billion price tag, 3,020 guest rooms and 400,000 square feet of meeting and function space. Together, the two Venetian properties will offer a staggering 7,000 or so guest rooms.
    Meanwhile, casino mogul Steve Wynn finally announced the opening date of his Wynn Las Vegas April 28, 2005. On the site of the former Desert Inn, the $2.5 billion property will be the first new resort built on the Las Vegas Strip since the 2,567-room Aladdin debuted in summer 2000. The 42-story Wynn Las Vegas will have 2,701 guest rooms, 110,000 square feet of casino space, a three-acre artificial lake and an art collection featuring Picasso’s La Rêve, the original working name for the resort. Other attractions will include an 18-hole golf course and two showrooms, one custom-built for a new Cirque du Soleil production. Shops will include Chanel and Christian Dior, along with Ferrari and Maserati car dealerships, and the property is expected to house more than 15 restaurants, including the French-influenced Balthazar and eateries overseen by culinary luminaries such as Daniel Boulud and Gordon Ramsey.
    Of course, in Vegas, change is the norm; Wynn already has announced that his new property will eventually get a second hotel tower, adding yet another 1,300 guest rooms.     The Aladdin itself was sold in late 2003 for $623 million. It will be managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts and renamed Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino, a Sheraton Hotel. Plans are to treat the property to a $100 million renovation to give it a Hollywood theme, though a timeline for the work has not yet been announced. Features will include 114,000 square feet of casino space and a 7,000-seat Theatre of Performing Arts.
    Also on the auction block was the 789-room Lady Luck Casino Hotel. The lucky bidder was Park Plaza Hotels & Resorts, which recently reopened the property as the Park Plaza Las Vegas Lady Luck Casino Hotel. Almost $20 million worth of work was carried out while converting the west tower into a time-share property.
    Over at the 2,033-room New York-New York Hotel & Casino, an ongoing  $30 million renovation to all 1,370 standard guest rooms will be completed in August. New in-room amenities will include 27-inch flat-screen TVs as well as high-speed Internet access.
    Meanwhile, the 2,543-room Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino is adding 70,000 square feet of meeting and function space to its Pavilion Convention Center for a new total of 168,000 square feet. Work will finish by the end of the year. The resort soon will also unveil a 600-foot-high Ferris wheel with 30 cabins, along with a 22,000-square-foot nightclub in its central support structure.
    More expansion news: The 3,644-room Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino added a hotel tower last December. Named THEhotel, the new 43-story structure hikes the resort’s guest room total to 4,766.
    This December, MGM Mirage which recently sold its 1,907-room Golden Nugget Las Vegas and 300-room Golden Nugget Laughlin properties will celebrate the opening of the 928-room Spa Tower at its 3,002-room Bellagio. The $375 million project includes an extension to the spa facility and a new restaurant called Sensi. This past February, the property celebrated a $110 million redesign of the original Bellagio Tower. Also, the Bellagio’s Nectar bar and nightclub and the Mark Miller’s Coyote Café & Grill Room were closed. New plans for the spaces have yet to be announced.
    The Jackson-Shaw Co., a Dallas-based real estate developer, announced that next February it will open the 548-room Marriott Renaissance adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center. To rise 15 stories, the $100 million nongaming property will have 32,000 feet of meeting and function space.

Luxury Hilton Hotels brand Conrad Hotels also is getting in on the Vegas act with its Conrad Las Vegas. The 378-room property, on the Strip, will open in 2006 and will be part of a dining, shopping, entertainment and residential complex called the Majestic Resort & Residences Las Vegas, most of which will open at the end of this year.
    Two other resorts to look out for: the 500-room Moulin Rouge Hotel & Casino, which was destroyed by arson in 2003 and will reopen in December 2005 with a rooftop nightclub and nine cinemas, and the 1,000-room Red Rock Casino, which will open in early 2006. Plans are for the hotels to have 117,000 and 82,000 square feet of meeting and function space, respectively.
    Even smaller, midrange properties are growing, such as the 286-room Embassy Suites Hotel Convention Center, which opened 7,100 square feet of extra function space this month for a total of 11,724 square feet, including the 3,184-square-foot Chancellor Ballroom.
    Another hotel-casino debutante of note is the 825-room Westin Casuarina, which opened last November with 20,000 square feet of gaming space and 10,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 3,600-square-foot ballroom. The 17-story Starwood property includes a new 200-room showroom/home base for comedian David Brenner.
   Work also continues on the $325 million South Coast Hotel-Casino, which was started by Coast Casinos before its acquisition by Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Corp. in February. The 750-room resort will open in summer 2005 with 200,000 square feet of meeting space, 100,000 square feet of casino space and 60 acres of land.
    Stardust Resort & CasinoCoast Casinos, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Boyd Gaming, already has announced its 1,550-room Stardust Resort & Casino (right) will be expanded, with further details soon to be revealed.
    Adding up all the above, Las Vegas officials confidently predict that within three years the city will have passed the 140,000 mark for guest rooms.
    When it comes to getting around town, a big change is coming. The Las Vegas Monorail, first scheduled for a March 1 inauguration, is now expected to open during the summer, following safety tests. The $650 million automated system will travel along the east side of the Las Vegas Strip, transporting an estimated 19 million passengers a year to seven hotel-casinos and the Las Vegas Convention Center.
    Finally, the words “reality” and “Las Vegas” rarely wind up in the same sentence, but the city will join the reality-TV craze this summer with the airing of 13 episodes of The Casino, which follows the complications, staff dramas, failures and successes of the relaunch of the 1,907-room Golden Nugget Las Vegas, part owned by tennis star and Las Vegas native Andre Agassi.

The 12,100-square-foot Grand Ballroom at the 1,000-room Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno is undergoing a renovation that will finish by year’s end. A makeover of the property’s Tower Two finished in late spring.
    Opening in January 2006 is the 118,000-square-foot Reno Events Center. The $65 million project will offer 55,000 square feet of exhibit space.

New Jersey
The 1,625-room Tropicana Casino & Resort announced a $265 million expansion project last fall that is set to finish this September. Highlights include a 200,000-square-foot event and retail space called the Quarter at Tropicana, which will have pre-Castro Havana as its theme and include 40 new shops and restaurants, plus a nightclub called Cuba Libre. In addition, the new 502-room Havana Tower will be connected by skywalks to the property’s original three towers. The resort’s new room count will reach a total of 2,127.
    Meanwhile, Resorts Atlantic City will open its new hotel tower on July 4. The $115 million expansion will boost the property’s guest room count to 879. The 27-story tower also will add 26,000 square feet of gaming space. In March, Resorts was granted approval by local legislators to buy 10 adjacent acres for even more expansion.
    Harrah’s Entertainment, based in Las Vegas, announced earlier this year that a new 700-room hotel tower will be added to the 1,626-room Harrah’s Atlantic City, with work likely to begin in 2005. The $200 million project is expected to include a restaurant, a nightclub, a spa and more casino space.
    The brightest star along the New Jersey coast still is the Borgata, which celebrates its first anniversary this month. The 2,010-room, $1 billion property has 70,000 square feet of meeting space and a 1,000-seat arena, among other enticements.
    Of course, any discussion of Atlantic City must include the ups and downs of Donald Trump, star of this season’s hit reality-TV show, The Apprentice, and proprietor of the 1,200-room Trump Taj Mahal. Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts reported a first-quarter 2004 loss of nearly $49 million and is mired in debt, but no one’s counting the Donald out just yet.

New York
After several years of heated debate, the New York Assembly voted last October to allow six Native American casinos to open in the state. Three are slated to open in the Catskills, and three will be built in the western part of the state.
    First on the drawing board is a collaboration between the state’s Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and Las Vegas’ Caesars Entertainment. Last November, the partnership revealed plans for the $600 million Mohawk Mountain Casino Resort. On Anawana Lake in the Catskill Mountains, 85 miles north of New York City, the 174-acre property will include a 750-room hotel tower, a 160,000-square-foot casino, 15,000 square feet of meeting space and a 2,000-seat theater, as well as eight restaurants and a spa. No opening date has been announced, but construction is set to start this year.
    A similar price tag hangs on the Cayuga Catskill Resort & Casino, proposed by the Cayuga Nation Council of Native Americans and owners of the former Monticello Raceway. In Monticello, 90 miles northwest of New York City, the resort will cover 30 acres; no other details were available at press time. n