Never has there been more need for Americans to have playgrounds for escape from life's all-too-harsh realities. Our annual update on the nation's gaming destinations includes commentary on how some of these destinations are faring in the wake of September 11, as well as what's new in each market. Gaming destinations find themselves in the same situation as all of us: certainly affected by the terrorist attacks, but working hard to return to a semblance of normality.
Even the highest roller of America's gaming destinations experienced a serious dropoff after September 11. However, by mid-October, Vegas had begun to rebound.
“Short-term, there was a definite impact, but we know we're going to recover fully. When that will happen is anyone's guess,” says Erika Brandvik, a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Immediately after the attacks on America, there were reports of widespread cancellations and hotel occupancies plummeting into the 30 percent to 40 percent range — reports denied by Brandvik. According to the LVCVA, Vegas hotel occupancies were at 67 percent for the weekend of September 14 (still a huge dip for Vegas, which registered a 94 percent occupancy rate for the same weekend last year). By mid-October, occupancies were again topping the 90 percent mark, Brandvik says.
“We expect our visitor numbers to continue to increase as time goes on,” says Rossi Ralenkotter, vice president of marketing for the LVCVA, in a September 25 press release. “People need leisure time, especially when day-to-day life becomes stressful. We just want everyone to know that when they're ready to get away again, Las Vegas will be here.”
They won't have any trouble getting there by air. Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport was the sixth to be cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration to reopen after the attacks, and at press time was running at 90 percent of its usual daily flight schedule.
As for meetings and conventions, Vegas saw three conventions and nearly 250 smaller meetings, virtually all of which were scheduled from September 11 into November, cancel. But various larger meetings convened on their scheduled dates, including Fun Expo, a family entertainment industry(October 4-6), and the giant Comdex software trade show (November 12-16) with an estimated attendance of 200,000.
In mid-October, the LACVA was gearing up a marketing campaign to get the word out that, like other markets, America's gaming capital is getting back to business. “There will be no hard sell,” Brandvik says. “The message is that we're here where we've always been.”
In other news:
The 1.3 million-square-foot expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center is in its final phase. When completed next month, it will bring the center to 3.2 million square feet, 2 million of which will be exhibit space and 170 meeting rooms.
Mandalay Resort Group announced September 21 that it was halting construction on the 1.8 million-square-foot Mandalay Bay convention facility. The opening has been pushed back to January 2003.
The Palms, a $265 million hotel/casino property with 447 guest rooms and suites and 9,000 square feet of meeting space, will open next month. Minutes from the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Palms will feature a 1,200-seat entertainment venue and 95,000 square feet of casino space.
In February, Las Vegas was named the top meeting destination based on cost by GetThere, a provider of Internet-based business-to-business travel procurement systems. According to GetThere, Las Vegas offers the most economical hotel room rates, food and beverage costs, and meeting room rates. Louisville, Ky., and Nashville, Tenn., finished second and third, respectively.
Las Vegas CVA
Contact: Nancy Murphy, director of sales
Phone: (702) 892-0711
Fax: (702) 892-2824
Total guest rooms: 125,700
Total gaming venues: 154
According to Joe Di Girolamo, vice president of convention development for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, the majority of meetings scheduled there in the days and weeks after the terrorist attacks postponed rather than canceled.
“There were some cancellations,” he admits. “In fact, on September 11 we had small military meeting groups in. Obviously, they had to leave immediately.”
The East Coast Video Show went ahead with its October 9 event, which at press time was expected to draw 5,500 attendees.
Asked if he's concerned that planners will be reluctant to book into a city so close to New York, Di Girolamo says he considers Atlantic City's location to be a plus rather than a minus.
“We feel that as a destination, we'll recover faster than most locations,” he says. “Remember, we draw from a very large market; one-third of the nation's population is within a day's drive of Atlantic City.”
In other news:
Harrah's Hotel & Casino is adding 500 rooms, which will bring its room inventory to 1,500.
Resorts International expands to 1,000 guest rooms with the addition of a 400-room tower.
The Tropicana will have 2,000 guest rooms when a 400-room tower is complete.
The 2,000-room Borgata Hotel & Casino remains on schedule to open in July 2003.
Atlantic City CVA
Contact: Joe Di Girolamo, vice president, convention development
Phone: (609) 449-7110
Fax: (609) 345-3685
Total guest rooms: 16,500
Total gaming venues: 12
Revised marketing efforts will beckon convention-goers and tourists within driving distance of Reno and remind more far-flung markets that Reno is ready to host meetings and other events.
Gloria Brown, national sales manager for the Reno-Sparks CVA, says one event, the Naval Reserve Convention, was lost. On the other hand, she says, “Street Vibrations, a huge annual gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts, decided to go ahead with their September 21-23 event. They rode their bikes in and really raised our spirits.”
In other news:
The Siena Hotel Spa Casino, a $70 million, 214-room property on the banks of the Truckee River, opened in July. The Siena has a 23,000-square-foot casino.
The Robert A. Ring Convention Center at Harrah's Reno completed a $500,000 remodeling. The center now features enhanced sound and lighting systems and state-of-the-art electronic reader boards.
Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority
Contact: Gloria Brown, national sales manager
Phone: (775) 827-7600
Fax: (775) 827-7666
Total guest rooms: 20,000
Total gaming venues: 72
North Lake Tahoe
At press time, the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association was surveying its members on the effect of the September 11 attacks. “The anecdotal evidence is that some groups scheduled to meet shortly after September 11 postponed, many went ahead in the weeks following, and few canceled outright,” says Jason Neary, senior sales manager for the association.
In other news:
The Squaw Valley Lodge has remodeled its on-site meeting rooms, which can now accommodate up to 80 people each.
The Village at Squaw Valley USA has opened the first building in Phase 1 of its construction. The second and third buildings — an events plaza, shops, and restaurants — will open early next year.
North Lake Tahoe Resort Assoc.
Contact: Paige Nebeker, director of conference and group sales
Phone: (530) 581-8709
Fax: (530) 581-8779
Total guest rooms: 6,800
Total gaming venues: 4
South Lake Tahoe
As part of a $1 billion redevelopment effort, construction of the Marriott Grand Residence Club and Phase 1 of the Marriott Timber Lodge is expected to be completed by November 2002. Because of a change in business partners in a proposed 91,000-square-foot convention center, that project has been put on hold, says Sue Barton, program director for the South Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. Negotiations are under way to get the center back on track, but no target date has been set.
South Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority
Contact: Sue Barton, program director
Phone: (530) 544-5050
Fax: (530) 544-2386
Total guest rooms: 11,000
Total gaming venues: 6
The New Orleans Police Department has implemented new security procedures, according to the New Orleans Metropolitan CVB. Police are on 24-hour standby. This and other security measures will continue indefinitely, says a bureau spokeswoman.
Beverly Gianna, vice president of public affairs for the NOMCVB, says that four corporate events scheduled between September 11 and November 3 cancelled. She adds that efforts are under way to get those events to reschedule. Several other meetings were postponed, including a Sears event for 1,200 that had been set for September 12; it was rescheduled for early spring 2002. “To date, the impact of the attacks on our meeting business doesn't seem to be as bad as was expected,” Gianna says.
Since last year, more than 1,000 hotel rooms have been added to the New Orleans market with the opening of five hotels. Another 2,000 rooms will be added next year as seven properties — including the 515-room Astor Hotel/Crowne Plaza and the 700-room Westin Piazza d'Italia — open.
New Orleans Metropolitan CVB
Contact: Nikki Nicholson, vice president of convention sales
Phone: (504) 566-5011
Fax: (504) 566-5046
Total guest rooms: 34,000
Total gaming venues: 4
Mississippi Gulf Coast
As is the case at many airports across the country 5, National Guard members are assisting security officers at Gulfport/Biloxi International Airport.
Of the about 18,000 hotel guest rooms in the area market, more than 8,500 are in Biloxi, which is home to nine of the destination's 12 gaming venues.
The area boasts 26 miles of sand beaches and more than 20 golf courses.
Mississippi-Gulf Coast CVB
Contact: Donna Tarasavage, director of conventions
Phone: (228) 896-6699
Fax: (228) 896-6796
Total guest rooms: 18,000
Total gaming venues: 12
Bill Canter, director of sales for the Tunica CVB, says the Mississippi gaming destination lost only two small meetings — of about 30 attendees each — to cancellation.
“Five other meetings postponed, one a FedEx meeting that was moved to next year,” Canter says. “The rest went ahead with their scheduled meetings. We had a brief dip in occupancies for three days after September 11, but we're back up in the high 80 percent occupancy range as of early October.”
In other news:
A major expansion of Tunica County Airport is under way. Phase 1 will increase the runway to 5,500 feet, with completion expected in 2003. Phase 2, to be completed in 2005, will increase the runway length to 7,000 feet — long enough to accommodate Boeing 727 passenger jets.
The $20 million, 1-year-old Tunica Arena & Exposition Center offers 48,000 feet of exhibition space and seats 6,000, and up to 2,500 for banquets.
Contact: Bill Canter, director of sales
Phone: (662) 363-3800
Fax: (662) 363-1493
Total guest rooms: 6,420
Total gaming venues: 10
Kansas City, Mo.
In late September, officials announced that because of construction on the three-year Kansas City International Airport Improvement Project and heightened security measures, curbside parking no longer would be allowed. Entrances into the three parking garages have been reduced from two to one, and security officers are at each entrance. At press time, airport officials were reviewing the effect of new security measures on the improvement project.
The Fairmont at the Plaza completed a $10 million refurbishment of all guest rooms, restaurants, and the lobby lounge earlier this year.
The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum reopened in March after being closed for four months for the first phase of the museum's $22.5 million restoration project.
A multimillion-dollar renovation of the Hotel Phillips, which is a block from the Kansas City Convention Center, is complete. The hotel's 240 guest rooms were reduced to 170 suites.
CVB of Greater Kansas City
Contact: Denise DeJulio, director of sales
Phone: (816) 221-5242
Fax: (816) 691-3855
Total guest rooms: 22,650
Total gaming venues: 4
The Renaissance Grand Hotel St. Louis & Renaissance St. Louis Suites are in the works as the city's newest convention hotel. In addition, a full-service Sheraton property opened in July, and a Westin debuted in March. These are among several hotel properties in downtown St. Louis that are renovations to or expansions of historic buildings.
A merger of Harrah's Casino and Hotel and Players Island Casinos has resulted in Harrah's St. Louis Casino and Hotel. The venue offers two island casinos — Grand Cayman Casino and Catamaran Casino — and two Mardi Gras casinos.
AmeriStar Casino St. Charles, on the Missouri River, completed a $4 million renovation.
St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission
Contact: Bill Bohde, vice president, convention and trade show sales
Phone: (314) 421-1023
Fax: (314) 621-7729
Total guest rooms: 29,500
Total gaming venues: 5
The resurgence of riverboat gaming started in 1991 with the arrival of the historic President Casino on the shores of Davenport, Iowa. Since then, the market has added the Isle of Capri Hotel in Bettendorf, Iowa, and Jumer's Casino Rock Island across the river in Illinois.
This past spring, a new riverboat casino, Rhythm City, replaced the former gaming venue. Rhythm City has three gaming decks and cruises spring through October.
Quad Cities CVB
Contact: Cheryl Ealy, vice president of sales
Phone: (309) 788-7800
Fax: (309) 322-6066
Total guest rooms: 5,500
Total gaming venues: 3
Construction of a new terminal complex at Detroit Metropolitan Airport is scheduled to be complete in January. Northwest Airlines will be the primary tenant of the terminal, and Westin Hotels & Resorts will build an $80 million, 404-room hotel as part of the complex. Completion of the Westin is scheduled for January 2003.
The Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center completed renovations to its fifth-floor meeting rooms and 312 guest rooms. This ends the first of a three-phase, $120 million renovation project, to be completed by the end of 2002.
Ford Field, the Detroit Lions' new $300 million domed football stadium, is under construction downtown, adjacent to Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. Ford Field is slated to open in time for the 2002 National Football League season, and will be the site of the Super Bowl in 2006. City officials say the side-by-side stadiums will serve as anchors to a sports/entertainment district around the city's theater district.
Detroit Metro CVB
Contact: Janis Schmees, director of sales
Phone: (313) 202-1800
Fax: (313) 202-1832
Total guest rooms: 11,100
Total gaming venues: 3
Native American — Owned Casinos
Foxwoods — This resort, in Ledyard, Conn., is operated by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe and features three resort hotels totaling nearly 1,500 guest rooms. The resort includes 55,000 square feet of meeting space, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, 25 conference and breakout rooms, and a fully equipped business center — not to mention five casinos. Phone: (800) PLAY BIG. www.pequotcasino.com.
Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort — In Mount Pleasant, Mich., the Soaring Eagle includes more than 26,000 square feet of meeting and function space, a board room, and climate-controlled meeting and banquet rooms. Phone: (888) 7 EAGLE 7. www.sagchip.com.