Like every facet of the hospitality industry in the post-September 11 era, gaming destinations across the U.S. have worked hard to return to a semblance of normalcy. After the initial flood of meeting cancellations and postponements in September and October, business has picked up and hotel occupancy is on the rise in Las Vegas and other gaming venues, where a sophisticated meeting infrastructure — coupled with excitement and diversion — offer conference attendees an escape from life's all-too-harsh realities. Our annual update on the nation's gaming destinations includes commentary on how some are faring in the wake of September 11, as well as what's new in each market.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

Even the highest roller among America's gaming destinations experienced a substantial drop-off in meeting business in October and November. However, by early February the rebound was in full swing, says Erika Brandvik, spokesperson for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Things are looking up all around in terms of meetings. Even with the slowdown in the fall, our latest figures show that the numbers of meeting and convention attendees were up more than 4 percent over the year 2000, and revenue generated by those conventions was up 11 percent for the same period [January 2001 to January 2002].”

It's likely that the meetings business in Las Vegas will continue to grow, given the fact that work was completed in January on the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In early February, eight events were held there in nine days, Brandvik says — something that wouldn't have been possible before the expansion. The $170 million project added 1.3 million square feet to the facility, bringing its total to 3.2 million square feet. The new South Hall has 918,000 square feet of exhibit space and 90,000 square feet of meeting space, including 51 meeting rooms, a 600-seat restaurant, and eight concession stands. The new hall also features a 110,000-square-foot grand lobby/registration area. In total, there are now two million square feet of exhibition space, 380,000 square feet of meeting space, and 144 meeting rooms with seating capacities ranging from 20 to 7,500 people.

The city's hotel occupancy figures are also bouncing back, Brandvik says. Citywide, occupancy rates were in the mid-80 percent range by the end of 2001. Those will likely be nudged still higher when Japan Airlines resumes flights into McCarran International Airport in April after having shut them down totally following the terrorists attacks.

In other news:

  • The Palms, a $265 million hotel/casino property with 447 guest rooms and suites and 9,000 square feet of meeting space, opened in December. Minutes from the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Palms features a 1,200-seat entertainment venue and 95,000 square feet of casino space.

  • The Green Valley Ranch, a Station Casinos Resort and Spa, opened in mid-December. Located five minutes from McCarran International Airport, the 256-room luxury property will have11,000 square feet of conference space, an outdoor amphitheater, an 80,000-square-foot casino, seven restaurants, a 10,000-square-foot European-style day spa and workout facility, and a 10-screen movie theater.

  • Construction has begun on the $170 million Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas resort and spa, scheduled to open in November in the community of Monte-Lago Village on the north shore of Lake Las Vegas (17 miles north of the Las Vegas Strip). The 350-room deluxe resort will have 25,200 square feet of meeting space, including a 12,000-square-foot main ballroom, a 4,700-square-foot junior ballroom, 11 meeting rooms, and extensive outdoor function space. There will also be a 30,000-square-foot spa and fitness center. The Falls Golf Club, designed by Tom Weiskopf, will be nearby.

  • Mandalay Resort Group announced that a temporary halt in construction of the 1.8 million-square-foot Mandalay Bay convention center will delay the opening of the new facility until January 2003.



Las Vegas CVA

Contact: Nancy Murphy, director of sales
Phone: (702) 892-0711
Fax: (702) 892-2824
www.lasvegas24hours.com
Total guest rooms: 125,700
Total gaming venues: 154




ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY

One of Atlantic City's main selling points as a gaming destination is its claim to being within a day's driving time of one-third of the nation's population. This convenient geography, says Neil Mullanaphy, director of sales for the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, is proving beneficial to maintaining a steady stream of meeting business.

“People are taking to the roads more now, what with cutbacks in air travel either because of the economy or a reluctance to fly,” says Mullanaphy. We've always been recognized as an accessible meeting destination in terms of driving time, and that's been a big help in maintaining our group business.”

Mullanaphy says that in early February, the number of conference and convention attendees was at about the same level as in February 2001. Likewise, Atlantic City hotel occupancies were maintaining levels on par with early 2001.

In other news:

  • Harrah's Hotel & Casino is adding 500 rooms, which will bring its room inventory to 1,500 by the end of the summer.

  • Resorts International is expanding to 1,000 guest rooms with the addition of a 400-room tower.

  • The Tropicana will boast a total of 2,000 guest rooms when a 502-room tower, to be called The Quarter and featuring retail and dining facilities, is complete. Construction on the $45 million project begins in May.

  • The 2,000-room Borgata Hotel & Casino will open in July 2003.



Atlantic City CVA

Contact: Joe Di Girolamo, vice president, convention development
Phone: (609) 449-7110
Fax: (609) 345-3685
wwwatlanticcitynj.com
Total guest rooms: 16,500
Total gaming venues: 12




RENO, NEVADA

Revised marketing efforts focused on attracting more drive-in traffic have helped Reno maintain its group business, says Gloria Brown, national sales manager for the Reno-Sparks CVA. After a $105 million expansion due to be completed in October, the Reno-Sparks Convention Center will offer 500,000 square feet of space. Among the new features are dedicated T-1 lines to the show floor, satellite links, personalized meeting space, and an updated food court and exhibit hall concession space.

In other news:

  • The Robert A. Ring Convention Center at Harrah's Reno has completed a $500,000 remodeling. The center now features enhanced sound and lighting systems and state-of-the-art electronic reader boards.

  • The Siena Hotel Spa Casino, a $70 million, 214-room property on the banks of the Truckee River, opened for business last summer. The Siena features a 23,000-square-foot casino.

  • A new $5 million conference facility at the Circus Hotel & Casino in Reno due to open this spring will add more than 15,000 square feet of meeting space to the property, including an 8,500-square-foot-ballroom and six breakout rooms.



Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority

Contact: Gloria Brown, national sales manager
Phone: (775) 827-7600
Fax: (775) 827-7666
www.renolaketahoe.com
Total guest rooms: 20,000
Total gaming venues: 72




NORTH LAKE TAHOE (CALIFORNIA AND NEVADA)

The grand opening of a new village in Squaw Valley and plans for another new village in the Martis Valley top the list of development projects slated for North Lake Tahoe. The opening of the first phase of the Village at Squaw Valley USA brings into the market new condominiums, shops, restaurants, and underground parking spaces. It's the first part of a 13-acre pedestrian village, to be built in four phases by Intrawest Corp., representing a total investment of approximately $250 million. Phase II of the project is scheduled for completion in 2003. At full build-out, the European-style village will include 640 lodging units and 80 boutique shops, restaurants, and galleries.

In other news:

  • Northstar-at-Tahoe Ski Resort, in partnership with developer East West Partners, will break ground on a new base village next year that will ultimately bring 2,000 new lodging rooms, conference space, and shops to the year-round resort.

  • The Squaw Valley Lodge has remodeled its on-site meeting rooms, which can now accommodate up to 80 people each.



North Lake Tahoe Resort Association

Contact: Paige Nebeker, director of conference and group sales
Phone: (530) 581-8709
Fax: (530) 581-8779
www.tahoefun.org
Total guest rooms: 6,800
Total gaming venues: 4




SOUTH LAKE TAHOE (CALIFORNIA AND NEVADA)

As part of a $1 billion redevelopment effort, construction of the Marriott Grand Residence Club and Phase I 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
www.virtualtahoe.com
Total guest rooms: 11,000
Total gaming venues: 6




NEW ORLEANS

The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, renamed in August 2001, now has nonstop and direct flights to more than 80 destinations. Jet Blue and Delta recently began direct flights from Kennedy in New York, and Frontier now flies non-stop from Denver.

Plans for Phase IV of the expansion of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, a separate building across the street from the existing convention center, are under way. Phase III, which brought the total amount of exhibition and meeting space to 1.5 million square feet, was completed two years ago.

Since 2000, more than 1,000 hotel rooms have been added to New Orleans with the opening of five hotels, and more than 12 additional hotels are tentatively scheduled to begin construction.

In other news:

  • The 114-room Astors French Quarter Hotel will open in April 2002.

  • The 192-room Alexis Hotel opened in March 2002.

  • The 165-suite Homeward Suites Hotel is due to open in July.

  • The Marriott Renaissance, a renovation of the historic Hurwitz-Mintz warehouse into a luxury 209-room hotel, is scheduled to open in late 2003.



New Orleans Metropolitan CVB

Contact: Nikki Nicholson, vice president of convention sales
Phone: (504) 566-5011
Fax: (504) 566-5046
www.neworleanscvb.com
Total guest rooms: 34,000
Total gaming venues: 4




MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST

The Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center is the centerpiece of meeting activities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Located directly across from the beach in Biloxi, the facility offers 180,000 square feet of newly expanded and decorated meeting and pre-function space, with all amenities. Of the roughly 18,000 guest rooms in the area, more than 8,500 are in Biloxi, which is home to nine of the destination's 12 gaming venues.

Mississippi-Gulf Coast CVB

Contact: Donna Tarasavage, director of conventions
Phone: (228) 896-6699
Fax: (228) 896-6796
www.gulfcoast.org
Total guest rooms: 18,000
Total gaming venues: 12




TUNICA, MISSISSIPPI

Tunica, located on the Mississippi River, bills itself as the nation's third-largest gaming destination. The destination has 10 casino properties and nine independent hotel properties with more than 6,000 hotel rooms and suites. In addition, 10 resort properties collectively offer 120,000 square feet of flexible meeting space for groups of up to 1,600. The $20 million Tunica Arena & Exposition Center, completed in 1999, offers 48,000 feet of exhibition space and seats 6,000, and up to 2,500 for banquets.

In other news:

  • A major expansion of Tunica County Airport is under way. Phase I will increase the runway to 5,500 feet, with completion expected next year. Phase II, to be completed in 2005, will increase the runway length to 7,000 feet-long enough to accommodate Boeing 727 passenger jets.



Tunica CVB

Contact: Bill Canter, director of sales
Phone: (662) 363-3800
Fax: (662) 363-1493
www.tunicamiss.org
Total guest rooms: 6,420
Total gaming venues: 10




KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

The Crown Center Exhibit Hall has added 54,000 square feet of exhibit space to Destination Crown Center. The new exhibit facility is adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Crown Center and is connected to the Westin Crown Center through an elevated pedestrian walkway. The Hotel Phillips, a block from the Kansas City Convention Center, has completed a multimillion-dollar renovation that reduced the former 240 guest rooms to 170 suites.

CVB of Greater Kansas City

Contact: Denise DeJulio, director of sales
Phone: (816) 221-5242
Fax: (816) 691-3855
www.visitkc.com
Total guest rooms: 22,650
Total gaming venues: 4




ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

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 last summer. These are among several hotel properties in downtown St. Louis that are renovations to or expansions of historic buildings.

In other news:

  • A merger of Harrah's Casino and Hotel and Players Island Casinos has created the new Harrah's St. Louis Casino and Hotel.

  • 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
www.explorestlouis.com
Total guest rooms: 29,500
Total gaming venues: 5




ILLINOIS/IOWA

The resurgence of riverboat gaming started in the area of Illinois and Iowa known as the Quad Cities in 1991 with the arrival of the 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. Last year a new riverboat casino, Rhythm City, replaced the former President Casino. 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
www.visitquadcities.com
Total guest rooms: 5,500
Total gaming venues: 3




MICHIGAN

Construction of a new terminal complex at Detroit Metropolitan Airport was completed in January. Northwest Airlines is 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.

In other news:

  • 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 the year.

  • Ford Field, the Detroit Lions' new $300 million domed football stadium, will open in time for the 2002 National Football League season.



Detroit Metro CVB

Contact: Janis Schmees, director of sales
Phone: (313) 202-1800
Fax: (313) 202-1832
www.visitdetroit.com
Total guest rooms: 11,100
Total gaming venues: 3




AMERICAN INDIAN-OWNED CASINOS

  • Foxwoods — This resort, which is located in Ledyard, Conn., is operated by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe and features three resort hotels totaling close to 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. (800) PLAY BIG; www.pequotcasino.com

  • Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort — Located 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. (888) 7 EAGLE 7; www.sagchip.com