Atlantic City, NJ Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority Contact: Bill Blasik, vice president of convention development Phone: (609) 449-7100 Fax: (609) 345-3685 Web: www.atlanticcitynj.com Number of guest rooms: 16,000 Number of gaming venues: 14

The big news for the city is the May 1997 opening of the $254 million Atlantic City Convention Center, with 500,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space in five halls, 45 meeting rooms, and state-of-the-art technology. The center is connected to a new headquarters hotel, the $79 million, 502-room Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel, the first and only noncasino meetings and business hotel in the city. The site is designed for a future 500-room expansion. Plans for the existing Convention Hall on the Boardwalk call for a $50 million conversion to a special-events arena.

To complement the new center, a total of 9,000 additional hotel rooms have been added or are in the works: Last summer, the Atlantic City Hilton Resort added 300 guest rooms and Harrah's Casino Hotel Atlantic City added 416 rooms. Caesar's Atlantic City Casino recently debuted a new 620-room tower, and Resorts Casino Hotel will begin construction next year on a 1,400-room expansion; Sands Casino has announced plans for a 500-room expansion.

Numerous new and expanded casinos are also in the works, beginning with Bally's Park Place-A Hilton Resort, which opened its Wild West Casino in July 1997. A 4,000-room Mirage/Circus Circus casino hotel complex is planned to open January 1, 1999, while Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and Trump Marina have both announced a rooms and casino expansion. Proposals include a 1,000-room Stardust-Atlantic City Casino Resort, a 2,500-room casino resort from MGM Grand, and a 2,000-room casino resort from Sun International Hotels, Ltd.

Getting into and around town has also become easier: Last year the city completed an $88 million redesign of the expressway entrance into the resort; a new bus terminal opened; and a new jitney service became an option for group transportation.

Las Vegas, NV Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority Contact: Rossi Ralenkotter, vice president, marketing Phone: (702) 892-0711 Fax: (702) 892-2824 Web: www.lasvegas24hours.com Number of guest rooms: 104,000 Number of gaming venues: 141

The Las Vegas Convention Center is undergoing a $46 million expansion, slated for completion later this year, which will add 279,000 square feet of exhibit space and 42,000 square feet of meeting space to the present 1.3 million square feet.

The city continues its building boom. Last year's highlights included the January opening of New York-New York, the tallest casino hotel in the city with 47 stories (2,035 guest rooms); a new 29-story tower at Caesar's Palace, to include 100,000 square feet of meeting space and 1,200 guest rooms; the debut of Star Trek: The Experience, a 40,000-square-foot entertainment facility in the Las Vegas Hilton; a $200 million renovation and expansion of the Desert Inn Hotel Casino completed in October, which added a club house and spa; a renovation and expansion at Harrah's, also completed in October, that added a 35-story, 1,000-room tower, bringing its total guest room count to 2,699; and the opening of the newly remodeled 10,000-square-foot Key Largo Casino at the Quality Inn.

Also new as of spring 1996 is the Stratosphere, a 1,500-room hotel, casino, and entertainment complex topped by the tallest freestanding observation tower in the country. The tower has three 1,000-square-foot function rooms located 809 feet above the Strip, as well as a roller coaster ride at its top.

The largest project currently in the works is the Venetian, a $2 billion, multiple-venue resort complex with 6,000 rooms and the country's largest private convention center, at 1.6 million square feet. Completion is slated for spring 1999. Another major project is the $900 million expansion and theme transformation of the 114-acre MGM Grand Hotel to "The City of Entertainment," which will add 2,000 guest rooms (a 1,500-room Marriott Marquis and a 500-room Ritz-Carlton hotel), the Mansion at MGM Grand (featuring 30 private suites and villas) by late 1998, and a 380,000-square-foot conference center by this spring.

Circus Circus Enterprises, Inc., parent company of several casinos on one mile of the Las Vegas Strip, is developing a 4,000-room, South Seas-themed mega-resort called Project Paradise by fall 1998 and a nongaming, 400-room Four Seasons hotel.

Additional large-scale projects in the city include Bellagio, a 3,000-room resort and casino (completion expected later this year); Paris Casino Resort, a 33-story casino resort with 2,900 guest rooms (1999); a 526-room Ritz-Carlton hotel and casino with golf course (1999); and a 3,000-room Planet Hollywood casino hotel, with a 12,000-square-foot convention area (construction begins this year).

Reno/Lake Tahoe Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority Contact: Gloria Brown, national sales manager Phone: (702) 827-7600, (800) 443-1482 Fax: (702) 827-7666 Web: www.playreno.com Number of guest rooms: 34,000 Number of gaming venues:60

North Lake Tahoe Resort Association Contact: Paige Nebeker, director of conference and group sales Phone: (916) 581-8709, (800) 462-5196 Fax: (916) 581-8779 Web: www.tahoe4u.com

The Reno-Sparks Convention Center recently got a $1 million facelift, including new carpeting in North Hall meeting rooms, rest room remodeling, and a paint job. At Reno's Silver Legacy, a theme resort with a 120-foot-high automated mining machine, an additional 7,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space was completed last July, augmenting the resort's existing 30,000-square-foot convention center.

The Silver Legacy is connected to the Eldorado Hotel Casino, which added a $9 million, 580-seat showroom in May 1997 and plans a new health spa and beauty salon for this year; and to Circus Circus Hotel Casino, which has a new look following a $50 million renovation that redecorated each of its 1,520 guest rooms to reflect the European circus period at the turn of the century.

Big changes are also in the works for the tropically themed Atlantis Casino Resort, across the street from the convention center. A proposed $120 million expansion would add more than 920 guest rooms, a 40,000-square-foot convention and special events plaza, three additional restaurants, another 25,000 square feet of casino space, and a skyway to the convention center.

In Sparks, John Ascuaga's Nugget added meeting space last spring--an additional 30,000 square feet for a total of 110,000 square feet. And in December, the hotel added a second tower, bringing the total number of hotel rooms to 1,600.

Connecticut Connecticut allows gaming on Indian reservations. In the southeastern part of the state, Foxwoods Resort Casino, owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, bills itself as "the largest casino in the entire world" and has steadily expanded since its opening in 1992. Last July, the resort debuted a new casino with 50,000 square feet of gaming in a posh hotel and conference center, slated to open in phases through the middle of this year. The project will add more than 800 guest rooms, a ballroom that can accommodate 1,200, and 40,000 additional square feet of meeting space.

Also in southeastern Connecticut, the Mohegan Sun casino opened in October 1996, with 600,000 square feet of gaming space.

Louisiana New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. Contact: Sallee Pavlovich, associate director of sales Phone: (504) 566-5095 Fax: (504) 566-5046 Web: www.neworleanscvb.com Number of guest rooms in New Orleans: 26,000 Number of gaming venues: 4

In addition to a growing hotel inventory, the third phase of construction at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is on target for completion in early 1999. Key ingredients include extending exhibit space from 700,000 square feet to 1.1 million square feet, the addition of 57 meeting rooms for a total of 140, and a new state-of-the-art, 4,000-seat conference center/auditorium.

Harrah's New Orleans Casino, which closed the doors of its temporary facility just over two years ago, is still in a holding pattern, waiting to see if it will receive permission from bankruptcy court to finish the project under its original agreement with the state. Of the city's four other riverboat casinos, the Flamingo Casino New Orleans closed October 1.

Other Louisiana gaming sites include two riverboat facilities (each with two casino boats) in Lake Charles, two riverboat casinos in Baton Rouge, and four riverboat casinos in Shreveport/ Bossier City. A new riverboat casino will be built in Shreveport as part of the Harrah's complex. It is expected to open in late 1998 or early 1999.

There are also three Indian reservations with gaming (Grand Casino Avoyelle, near Alexandria; Grand Casino Coushatta in Kinder; and Cypress Bayou Casino in Charenton).

Mississippi Gulf Coast Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau Contact:Donna Haynes Williams, director of convention development Phone: (601) 896-6699, ext. 214 (888) 467-4853 Fax: (601) 896-6796 Web: www.gulfcoast.org Number of guest rooms: 10,000 Number of gaming venues: 12

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is booming, with a number of projects recently completed and many more in development. Last fall, in conjunction with its 20th anniversary celebration, the Mississippi Coast Convention Center completed an 80,000-square-foot addition for a total of 180,000 square feet.

By the end of 1998, the area's 10,000 hotel rooms are projected to grow to more than 15,000; by the year 2000, that number could easily reach 20,000. December 1997 saw the opening of the 30-story Imperial Palace Biloxi, with a 70,000-square-foot floating casino, a 1,088-room land-based hotel, and more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space; by late next year, the Beau Rivage Resort should open with 1,800 guest rooms, 38,000 square feet of meeting space, and 85,000 square feet of casino space. Plans on the drawing board include a Circus Circus project, slated to open in 1999 with 1,300 guest rooms, as well as proposals by Harrah's, Hilton/Casino World, Allen Paulson, and a four-casino Deer Island project that altogether could add as many as 8,000 guest units.

Many of the area's existing casinos are expanding. Casino Magic Biloxi plans to open a 375-room hotel, and this spring Treasure Bay Casino will add 600 guest rooms and Grand Casino Biloxi will open its second 500-room hotel and a new 50,000-square-foot convention center.

Later in the year, Boomtown Casino is slated to add 500 guest rooms, Grand Casino Gulfport will add 500 guest rooms for a total of 900, and the New Palace Casino will add 400 guest rooms.

Tunica, Mississippi Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau Contact: Anne Coggis, tourism sales manager Phone: (601) 363-3800; (888) 4-TUNICA Fax: (601) 363-1493 Web: www.tunicamiss.org Number of guest rooms in the Quad Cities: 5,533 Number of gaming venues: 9

The introduction of gaming in Tunica County, Miss., just five years ago started a building boom that has already put the area on the map as the fourth-largest gaming community in the country, behind Las Vegas, Reno, and Atlantic City. Just 20 miles south of Memphis, Tunica boasts nine casino hotels that are attracting meetings and conventions from all over the South and around the country.

In December 1997, Tunica's newest properties opened for business: the 1,200-room Gold Strike Casino Resort, with 16,400 square feet of meeting space, and the 150-room Sheraton Casino Tunica, with 12,000 square feet of meeting space.

Add these new names to other major players such as the 200-room Harrah's Tunica Casino Hotel, the 756-room Grand Casino Resort, and the 850-room Sam's Town Hotel & Gambling Hall, and it becomes clear that Tunica's unprecedented growth has created new opportunities for meeting and convention planners.

And more building is on the way. Two new championship golf courses are set to open this year--in March, The Grand Resort Course, and in October, The Casino Strip Course.

Illinois/Iowa Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau Contact: Charlie Whitney, director of sales and marketing Phone: (309) 788-7800, (800) 747-7800 Fax: (309) 788-7898 Web: quadcities.com/cvb Number of guest rooms in the Quad Cities: 4,800 Number of gaming venues: 3

Lady Luck Casino in Bettendorf, Iowa, broke ground last June for a $39.5 million expansion that will include a 259-room hotel, a 50-slip marina, a parking garage, and a new railroad overpass. The entire project is expected to be completed this fall.

John Deere Commons, a Mississippi riverfront project that has revitalized the downtown area of Moline, Ill., saw the addition of the 163-room Radisson on John Deere Commons, immediately adjacent to the Mark of the Quad Cities, last February.

In Illinois, there are a total of 18 riverboats with gaming; Iowa has five land-based casinos and nine riverboat casinos.

Missouri Convention & Visitors Bureau of Greater Kansas City Contact: Denise DeJulio, director of sales Phone: (816) 221-5242, (800) 767-7700 Fax: (816) 691-3805 Web: www.kansascity.com Number of guest rooms in Kansas City: 18,500 Number of gaming venues: 5

St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission Contact: Greg Deininger, vice president of sales and marketing Phone: (314) 421-1023, (800) 325-7962 Fax: (314) 621-7729 Web: www.st-louis-cvc.com Number of guest rooms in St. Louis: 20,000 Number of gaming venues: 5

In January 1997, the $150 million Station Casino opened in Kansas City with two floating gaming facilities permanently moored in a manmade moat, and a 186-room hotel. Of the city's four other gaming venues, two are expanding: At the Flamingo Casino-Kansas City, construction is under way on a 260-room hotel adjacent to the casino; and at the Argosy Riverside Casino, a 200-room hotel and a nine-hole golf course are in the planning stages.

Downtown is also seeing big hotel changes, including a $2.2 million renovation of the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, completed last July, and the addition of a tower with 400 guest rooms, for a total of 1,000 guest rooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. In March 1997, the former Americana Hotel reopened as the Omni Kansas City Hotel after extensive renovations. And about the same time, the St. Louis riverboat gaming scene welcomed a joint development by Harrah's and Players called Riverport Casino Center. The $272 million project includes two casinos, each with 60,000 square feet, and a land-based, 300-room Harrah's Hotel, a 10,000-square-foot special-event center, an entertainment lounge, and two restaurants.

Nothing is small in Vegas. There are no subtleties.

Come barreling down I-15, across the black-night desert from Utah, crest a rise in the road, and the city lies ahead of you like a vast glittery, electrified pancake that oozed beyond its neat border.

Or step off your airplane into McCarran International Airport, where the clang of slot machines assaults you. It is a sound that you will not escape until they close the aircraft hatch on your flight home.

Visiting Vegas for the first time, I was struck by its no-holds-barred, over-the-top spirit. It's a city that never sleeps, where sunrise and sunset have very little to do with anything. The slots, the keno, the craps and blackjack tables, the baccarat operate round-the-clock. The bars never shut down. Shows run every night.

So what are you in the mood for tonight? A giant volcano that erupts every 15 minutes? A battle on the high seas between pirates and a British frigate? You may well find it here, somewhere between the chapels of love and the Cheesecake Revue.

Along with the sound of the slot machines, the clatter of jackhammers is a constant these days in Las Vegas. Last fall, the Desert Inn Resort and Casino completed more than $200 million in renovations and expansions. Since it was purchased in May 1993 by ITT Sheraton, this hotel, which will become a member of Sheraton's Luxury Collection, has downsized the number of guest rooms from 821 to 715. By October 1997, it had completed more than 50 suites and 76 new mini-suites, and two 9,000-square-foot casas. In filling a high-end niche for Vegas, the hotel turns its back on the Strip and opens out onto a new, palm-filled pool complex leading to the resort's own 18-hole championship golf course (the only one on the Strip). The feeling is much more Boca Raton than Las Vegas, with four tennis courts, a 22,000-square-foot spa, and the award-winning Monte Carlo restaurant. The resort has 30,000 square feet of function space.

On the opposite side of the Strip, Caesars Palace seems to be in the process of reinventing itself. The landmark hotel with more than 121,000 square feet of casino space, built in 1966, now has 2,500 rooms following a $650 million project that added a 29-story, 1,200-room Palace Tower and conference facility with 110,000 square feet of meeting space (including 55 meeting rooms and two new fully staffed business centers), in addition to its pre-existing 80,000-square-foot meeting and convention area. A new 22,000-square-foot spa will have 28 separate treatment salons, a "Zen waterfall" meditation area, and a climbing wall. And September marked the opening of a 283,000-square-foot expansion to the Forum Shops at Caesars. --Barbara L. Brewer

In addition to the Caribbean's sun and surf, Puerto Rico offers some spectacular gaming venues. The 389-room, 36-suite El San Juan Hotel & Casino and the 570-room Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino, both located in San Juan, are home to the island's two largest casinos. El San Juan's European-style gaming facility is currently undergoing a $1.5 million face-lift. The 13,000-square-foot casino at El Conquistador Resort & Country Club, a 918-room property located on the northeast tip of the island, sees less local traffic than its city counterparts.

Table games at all three facilities, which are owned and operated by Williams Hospitality Group, include roulette, craps, blackjack, and baccarat. Gaming novices can get up to speed at the beginners' tables or watch gaming lessons in their guest rooms on closed circuit TV.