How East Coast Gaming Resorts Put the Fun in Full-Service
Mohegan Sun Arena: Credit: Mohegan Sun.
Several years ago, East Coast gaming resorts began expanding entertainment, culinary and other non-gaming options to reduce vulnerability to gaming market fluctuations and to enhance their overall destination appeal.
These investments continue to produce outsize returns. Last year, even as Omicron interrupted the rebound party, leisure offerings were instrumental in getting groups and guests back in-house.
I can speak from first-hand experience. Last November, I spent an action-packed weekend at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. The excitement included top collegiate teams competing in the 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena.
After hosting a marine supply industry B2B trade show, the 175,000 square-foot Earth Expo & Convention Center was speedily turned over for the youth and high school Junior Hoop Hall Tip-Off Classic. The restaurants—45 outlets and counting—were packed, including signature event-capable choices TAO Asian Bistro & Lounge and Ballo Italian Kitchen & Bar. For entertainment, it was ’80s pop star Sheena Easton in the Wolf Den, and the Lipstick, Lashes & Lies drag show in Comix Comedy Club.
Two weeks later, I was at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City for dinner at the new Sandpiper restaurant and high-energy Earth, Wind & Fire show at the versatile 7,000-capacity Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena.
Returning to Atlantic City this April, I overnighted at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa’s non-gaming, 800-room, meetings-capable sibling Water Club, after dining at Borgata’s American Bar & Grille and catching British Invasion legends The Zombies at Borgata’s intimate Music Box venue.
Safe to say, when it comes to good times, East Coast gaming destinations have got the goods. As Meet AC President and CEO Larry Sieg shared with Meetings Today in December, entertainment alone “has been an important economic driver and an added boost to bringing visitors back.”
With planner sentiment fully geared to in-person events, any season is the time for full-service fun on the East Coast.
Building on strong group and gaming momentum, ever-resilient Atlantic City’s current reinvestment wave, complementing an already prodigious portfolio of concert venues, restaurants and other resources, bodes well for the future.
Groups are surging back. Last year, meeting, convention and event bookings produced nearly 196,000 room nights, which along with delegate spending are projected to grow substantially in 2022.
Led by Hard Rock and Ocean Casino Resort, Atlantic City’s nine casinos earned $766.8 million in 2021, surpassing the nearly $594 million collected in pre-pandemic 2019. Ahead of its 20th anniversary next year, Borgata continued its dominance with a market-leading operating profit of $174 million, up a whopping 267 times over 2020.
“This should help operators as they seek to make up significant reductions in gross operating profit from 2020 and finance the major capital improvement projects currently underway at properties throughout the city,” stated Jane Bokunewicz, director of Atlantic City-based Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality, and Tourism, in a recent news report.
Caesars Entertainment is investing $400 million into its trio of Atlantic City resorts by 2023, including $170 million in room and suite enhancements across Caesars Atlantic City, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City and Tropicana Atlantic City.
The 2,400-room Tropicana starts its fifth decade this year with eight new culinary and entertainment concepts. Spring 2022 arrivals include BBQ-driven Wild Honey Smokehouse and Tavern at The Quarter, Tropicana’s 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex. Slated for Memorial Day, Ossu introduces a modern Japanese tavern experience. Summer and fall additions include Gin Rickey’s, a sing-along bar with dueling pianos in the Quarter; beer hall-style Royce Social Hall; and new beachfront location for long-time mainstay Il Verdi.
Scheduled for later this year, NOBU Atlantic City and Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen add celebrity sizzle to Caesars Atlantic City. Vegas-based entertainment sensation Spiegelworld’s resurrection of the nearby landmark 1929 Warner Theatre is slated for 2023.
Bally’s Atlantic City’s return to its former glory, courtesy of a sweeping $100 million makeover, includes ongoing room renovations and new entertainment venues. Both scheduled for Memorial Day, the new retractable-roof, indoor-outdoor beer garden-style The Yard takes over the former Harry’s Oyster Bar space, while the new 24-seat rotating Carousel Bar pays homage to historic Atlantic City amusement rides. New event-capable restaurants include Jerry Longo’s Meatballs & Martinis.
Named the nation’s top-ranked casino restaurant by USA Today’s 10Best, Capriccio, Resorts Casino Hotel bolstered its fine-dining appeal last year with Dougherty’s Steakhouse and Raw Bar. The latest venture from the famed local restaurant family features a classic steakhouse, raw bar and live entertainment. Slated for early this summer, renovation of the rooftop pool and sun deck includes a new retractable glass roof.
A major expansion will further steel Wind Creek Bethlehem’s place as Pennsylvania’s premier integrated resort this year. The multimillion-dollar project includes a second hotel tower with 276 luxurious rooms, doubling key count to 550.
The investment also more than doubles meeting and event capacity, adding 35,000 square feet of versatile space for a total of 60,000 square feet. Highlights include three luxurious ballrooms, a high-end lobby bar, rooftop indoor pool with large sundeck, luxurious spa and custom art installations.
With scheduled 2022 headliners including Reba McEntire, Chris Rock and Frankie Valli, the 20,000-plus-square-foot Wind Creek Event Center has great sightlines—the farthest seat from the stage is 137 feet away—and multi-purpose use including seven private luxury suites and 12,000 square feet of flexible function and exhibition space.
Ranked 13th nationally for gaming revenue, Pennsylvania’s picturesque Pocono Mountains are home to perennial planner favorite Mount Airy Casino Resort, with 284 rooms, 20,000 square feet of multi-functional space and plenty of off-agenda fun.
“More than offering a space to hold an event or meeting, we help groups create an experience by providing a variety of dining, amenity and entertainment options at their fingertips,” said Glenn Cademartori, vice president of marketing for the AAA Four Diamond resort.
Signature dining options include Guy Fieri’s Mt. Pocono Kitchen, with private dining available at award-winning Bistecca by Il Mulino and modern Pan-Asian concept Lucky 8 Noodle + Sushi Bar.
Playing either the 1,200-seat Event Center or 2,000-plus capacity Outdoor Concert Pavilion, big-name acts energize the resort’s annual music series. Headliners this summer and fall include Little River Band, Kool & The Gang and War.
Amenities include an 18-hole championship golf course, luxurious spa and newly upgraded four-season indoor-outdoor pool.
Billed as “Project Starlight,” capital improvements at Mohegan Sun Pocono this year include the new event-capable outdoor Embers Terrace, scheduled for this spring, followed by the new Hive Taphouse, featuring a live music stage and Topgolf Swing Suite. The complete renovation of all 238 guest rooms is slated for year’s end.
Offering 442 luxurious rooms in two towers and 100,000-plus square feet of versatile space just west of Philadelphia, Valley Forge Casino Resort has rounded out its full-service culinary playbook with Copper Whisk. Joining upscale Revolution Chop House and the more casual Valley Tavern, the new 70-capacity eatery’s focus on approachable, chef-driven breakfast and lunch offerings gives attendees added dining flexibility earlier in the day.
By adaptively leveraging key internal resources such as the Mohegan Tribal Health Department to institute uncompromised safety protocols in concert with astute operational adjustments, 1,600-plus-room Mohegan Sun safely hosted a remarkable 250-plus events in 2021.
Highlights included the 100th anniversary of Miss America in December. Streamed nationwide on the Peacock network, the eight-day competition attracted some 4,500 attendees and generated 3,000-plus room nights. Crowning Mohegan Sun’s 25th anniversary year, the event was part of a milestone 2021 for Mohegan Sun Arena.
Joining heavyweights like NYC’s Madison Square Garden, L.A.’s Staples Center and MGM Grand Garden in Vegas, the multi-purpose venue was ranked the top indoor arena in the world for its size based on ticket sales; the 10th venue overall in the U.S.; and 11th globally regardless of size.
The property is investing $15 million in various projects this year, including a new 6,500-square-foot VIP Lounge and Bar in the Casino of the Earth; upgrades to the nearby group-capable Mohegan Sun Golf Club; and new restaurants.
In 1992, Foxwoods Resort Casino became the East Coast’s first non-Atlantic City casino when the Mashantucket Pequot Nation transitioned from bingo hall to full-service casino. Standout spaces include the 47,533-square-foot Premier Ballroom, largest in the Northeast, and entertainment venues that include the Premier Theater and Great Cedar Showroom. New investments marking Foxwoods’ 30th anniversary include the scheduled spring 2022 opening of the new 2,200-seat High Stakes Bingo Hall, featuring 30,000-plus square feet of event space.
Maryland and Massachusetts
Led by MGM National Harbor, which features headline entertainment at the 3,000-seat Theater and diverse dining including Voltaggio Brothers Steak House and Asia-spanning Ginger, the Baltimore-D.C. market ranked fourth nationally for gaming revenue in 2021.
This March, MGM Springfield in Western Massachusetts had its third-best gaming revenue month ever, while Encore Boston Harbor recorded an all-time monthly high of $102 million in gaming revenue. The 671-room resort, which integrates 50,000 square feet of indoor space and 21,000 square feet of outdoor event lawns with 15 dining outlets and luxurious amenities, has just announced a multi-year partnership as the “Official Resort and Casino” of 17-time NBA champions the Boston Celtics.