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Gaming Destinations Regaining Ground Lost to Pandemic
CAESARS FORUM. Courtesy Caesars Entertainment.
According to the American Gaming Association, gaming revenue hit an all-time high $13.6 billion in Q2 2021, which puts the industry on course to surpass 2019’s total of $43.6 billion for the highest-grossing year ever.
While adjusting for the Delta variant has caused some short-term decline, the accelerating return of large scale in-person meetings and events to the bellwether Las Vegas market is another harbinger of post-pandemic recovery.
Buyer demand is strong. Caesars Entertainment recorded $600 million worth of new contracts during the pandemic, representing an all-time 12-month record for the company. MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and The Venetian Las Vegas also report bullish bookings.
Throughout the pandemic, destinations stayed focused on the future. Here’s a round-up of the openings, investments, strategic acquisitions and other developments in America’s leading gaming markets.
Las Vegas Leads the Way
In May, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO/President Steve Hill expressed confidence in a robust return to in-person conventions and events in line with governing health and safety protocols. Such has been the story as venues around town are successfully welcoming back sizeable attendance through their doors.
In June, World of Concrete 2021 inaugurated the $980 million West Hall expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC). According to the official post-show report, the 46th edition of this signature international event for the concrete and masonry industry attracted tens of thousands of attendees and 650-plus exhibitors across nearly 300,000 net square feet of exhibit space.
LVCC bookings have been buoyant ever since, with familiar shows like the International Pizza Expo coming back hot from the oven.
After its scheduled March 2020 opening was delayed by the pandemic, CAESARS FORUM, featuring the world’s two largest pillarless ballrooms, has been on its own hot streak. In September, the venue co-hosted in-person attendees of the hybrid 2021 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition along with the newly expanded convention space at Wynn Las Vegas and the former Sands Expo, now The Venetian Expo.
The name change follows Las Vegas Sands Corp’s $6.25 billion sale of its Vegas holdings to NYC-based partners Vici Properties and Apollo Global Management last March. The Venetian Congress Center is now The Venetian Convention Center. In related news, NYC-based investment firm Blackstone, which acquired the ARIA and Vdara resorts from MGM Resorts International for $3.89 billion in a leaseback deal this July, put the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on the market this September. With an asking price of more than $5 billion, potential bidders reportedly include MGM and Apollo.
Meanwhile, the $1.8 billion MSG Sphere at the Venetian continues to take shape. Slated for 2023, the revolutionary 17,500-seat performance venue is set to redefine the live concert and event experience.
As returning conventions boost midweek visitation, Allegiant Stadium is shining an enticing national spotlight on Las Vegas that is helping to drive vital leisure and transient demand along with room rates. Summer sellouts of the $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat venue included a Garth Brooks concert and the Concacaf Gold Cup Final. There’s Raiders football this fall, The Rolling Stones in November, and for planners, a year-round playbook of rental options.
The $150 million transformation of 1,615-room SAHARA Las Vegas continues with the Labor Day debut of Azilo Ultra Pool. Available for private events, the 35,000-square-foot pool deck features Moroccan decor and a 10,000-plus-square-foot wraparound LED wall.
Opened in June, Resorts World Las Vegas integrates 3,500 rooms across three premium Hilton brands with 250,000 square feet of flexible space and 40-plus F&B concepts. The 5,000-capacity Theatre at Resorts World Las Vegas concert and entertainment venue is scheduled to open this November.
Atlantic City Comes Up Aces
Millions in capital improvement dollars are also creating a rosy outlook for Atlantic City.
Caesars Entertainment is committing $400 million to upgrade its three properties. Slated for completion by 2023, the master plan kicked off this summer with the $170 million renovation of 600 rooms and suites at Caesars’ Centurion and Ocean Towers, and Harrah's Atrium Tower. Enhancements to Tropicana Atlantic City, which turned 40 this summer, will follow.
Hard Rock Atlantic City is investing $20 million in improvements, including renovating 66 Celebrity and 25 Roxy suites; meeting and convention space upgrades; and F&B concepts such as the new Sandpiper Bar & Grill.
Slated for a mid-September 2021 start, the state-approved $100 million makeover of Bally’s Atlantic City, which houses 80,000 square feet of under-utilized convention space, is poised to return the 1979 property to its former glory.
Scheduled for the next three years, the phased investment reportedly includes $35 million in hotel room improvements. These include renovating 750 rooms and adding 16 penthouse suites in the Bally’s Tower, which just had its famed rose-colored glass exterior fully restored.
Some $4 million will go into upgrading the property’s meeting and banquet spaces. Along with holdover Guy Fieri’s Chophouse, new group-capable F&B concepts on the Dining on The Sixth level include Jerry Longo’s Meatball & Martinis, a classic Italian-American eatery that originated in Federal Hill, Providence, Rhode Island’s Little Italy.
Hailing from South Philadelphia, Longo, a former casino executive turned restaurateur, was close to late The Sopranos actor James Gandolfini. Cast photos decorate the walls of the spacious restaurant, which features blackjack tables at the entrance and panoramic views of Atlantic City. Groups can also order from Water Dog, a Jersey favorite for Jewish deli-style fare, and new Pacific Asian restaurant Red Bowl 88.
Also on the Dining on The Sixth level, the oceanfront VIP lounge will be available for private rentals.
Other highlights include a dynamic new destination lobby bar; half-million-dollar upgrade of Bally’s beach bar; and $9 million spa and fitness center.
Ocean Casino Resort is putting $15 million into various gaming and non-gaming renovations. Transformation of the non-gaming Showboat Hotel includes Lucky Snake, New Jersey’s largest arcade venue. Further announced projects including a $100 million indoor waterpark, domed concert hall and outdoor beer garden.
Expanding options in the off-Boardwalk Orange Loop neighborhood include the proposed Cardinal Restaurant & Hotel. Announced in September, this $5 million boutique hotel would offer a 300-seat ground-floor restaurant and rooftop dining.
Following are some updates from other major group-focused casino-resorts.
- Approaching its 20th anniversary in 2022, Pechanga Resort & Casino, in Temecula, California, is one of the largest resort-casinos in the U.S. Offering 274,500 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor space in scenic Temecula Valley Wine Country, the property renovated 525 rooms in the original building prior to reopening in May 2021.
Enhancements with delegates and business travelers in mind include USB and electrical outlets; high-speed Wi-Fi; and large TVs wired for screen casting. Adding 15 new keys, Pechanga now has 1,100 rooms and suites, the most of any Southern California casino property.
- It’s 25 candles this year for Connecticut-based Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment. Offering 1,600 rooms and 275,000-plus square feet of versatile indoor space, the company’s flagship Mohegan Sun resort has been an industry leader in safely bringing back in-person meetings. Year-end highlights include the scheduled opening of the Mohegan Sun FanDuel Sportsbook and hosting of the 100th anniversary Miss America competition.
- One of North America’s largest integrated casino-resorts, nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino, offering 2,230 rooms and 150,000 square feet of flexible space, turns 30 next year.