Released in March 2018, a 2017 global study commissioned by MGM Resorts International (MGM) reveals the critical relationship between live entertainment and human wellness and identity.

In the “Truth About Entertainment,” 93 percent of American respondents consider entertainment “essential to health and happiness.” Just as many see it as “a fundamental human need,” with 69 percent agreeing “that the world would be a better place if people went to live entertainment.”

Long savvy to the science of fun, MGM is leveraging its entertainment and hospitality DNA like never before. Declaring “Mankind was not born to be bored” in its new “Welcome to the Show” campaign, the company is going all out to “wow the world.”

The world wants to be wowed. Half of all U.S. respondents feel “under-stimulated by their environment” and 44 percent “rarely ever feel entertained.” And contrary to perception, digital entertainment only makes humans “crave” the real thing.

“One of the things we discovered, which frankly surprised us, is that the growth of digital content is not replacing people’s desire for live entertainment and is unexpectedly spurring more of a desire for a balanced diet of live and online entertainment experiences,” said Lilian Tomovich, MGM’s chief experience and marketing officer.

MGM is answering the call by upping its entertainment offerings portfolio-wide, including Eastern beachheads Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, MGM National Harbor in Maryland and MGM Springfield in Massachusetts, slated to open fall 2018.

So too are the East Coast’s other major players, as they wine, dine and wow groups in this ever-expanding regional market.

Rock and Roll

In 1922, the National City Publicity Company published a book promoting Atlantic City as “The Playground of the World.” Featuring colorful hand-sketched images of the destination’s “many attractions and charms,” the volume recognized the “pioneer builders” who “built for ‘the future’ but provided for ‘the present.’”

Behind a redevelopment wave that includes the $126 million Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center, celebrity chef-led restaurants and this summer’s highly anticipated $500 million Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, a comparable spirit animates the destination’s return to prominence.

“Atlantic City’s elevated entertainment and culinary scene presents an attractive showcase of the destination’s versatility for current and prospective group clients,” said Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC. “As we continuously say, it’s all about the experience, and from dazzling entertainment at historic Boardwalk Hall to local, celebrity-driven and other dining options, those experiences only keep growing.”

Wood noted that signature events like the BeachFest Concert Series play a powerful role in “The Atlantic City Experience,” the bureau’s new virtual reality-driven marketing campaign.

“And we are thrilled to have Hard Rock and their superstar entertainment,” Wood said. “They will add exciting weekday acts to our traditional weekend base, significantly expanding after-hours entertainment experiences for delegates. Plus, their additional group space will allow our sales team to book even more business in Atlantic City.”

Dining and entertainment have always been important during meetings, according to Steve van der Molen, vice president of meeting operations, Atlantic City for Caesars Entertainment.

“Attracting the field’s top chefs, we are fortunate to have so much talent in our restaurants and our restaurant-quality catering and banqueting services,” he said.

Caesars’ special venue program allows planners to organize dinners and receptions at all three Caesars’ Atlantic City properties under one contract and one F&B minimum. For example, groups convening at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center (where the domed Pool After Dark is a top event option) can dine onsite at the new Gordon Ramsay Steak or Martorano’s, and then experience choices like Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Atlantic City and Wild Wild West at Bally’s on following nights.

“Ensuring that conferees have a full experience in our facilities reflects the same customer-first approach we take in Las Vegas,” van der Molen said. “Our food and beverage quality has contributed to the conference center’s unexpected success.”

Tropicana Atlantic City also keeps rolling out the good times for customers.

“Embracing the importance of dining and entertainment for today’s group agenda, we have had great success with meeting planners seeking all-encompassing experiences,” said Jim Zieries, vice president, hotel sales at the property.

These include three dynamic new concepts from star chef Jose Garces, boosting the resort’s dining collection to 24 venues, in addition to 18 nightlife concepts and 25 retail outlets, the advanced AtlantiCare Fitness Center, the city’s only IMAX Theatre and the preeminent Tropicana Showroom.

“With escape rooms increasingly popular among meeting planners, we introduced Escape AC, offering four classic Atlantic City-themed rooms,” Zieries said. “Focusing on engaging attendee experiences sets us apart.”

Following $200 million in property-wide enhancements since 2013, including 100,000-plus square feet of renovated meeting space, Tropicana’s expansion continues with the recently acquired adjacent Chelsea Hotel. Linked by an enclosed skybridge, the 330-room boutique becomes Tropicana’s fifth tower, adding 5,600 square feet of conference space and lifting total room inventory to just under 2,400.

At Mohegan Gaming Advisors-managed Resorts Casino Hotel, F&B figures prominently in the All-inclusive Meeting Plan (AMP). Covering everything from audiovisual to Wi-Fi, this exclusive package makes all the difference for planners and groups, as William Jackson, the property’s director, sales and marketing explained.

“They find AMP easy to implement and budget since it includes all costs associated with their event and no surprise hidden charges,” Jackson said. “The variety of associated unique dining options makes it unlike any other all-inclusive meeting package.”

Rather than repetitive daily ballroom buffets and banquets, AMP options include dinner overlooking the ocean at award-winning Capriccio Italian Restaurant or Gallagher’s Steakhouse. Popular too, are Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafe and Landshark Bar & Grill. The latter, Atlantic City’s only year-round full-service beach restaurant, accommodates buyouts and 500-person events.

Entertainment venues include the renowned Superstar Theater, while across the Boardwalk, groups have the new Wheel at Steel Pier. Rising 227 feet, the nation’s third tallest observation wheel has 40 climate-controlled gondolas and expansive reception area at the base.

Having invested $200-plus million in redevelopment since 2012, MGM-owned Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the region’s market-leading resort destination, offers 106,000 square feet of group space in combination with luxe sibling The Water Club.

As reaffirmed by Michael Dominguez, chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International, the property reflects the company’s “intentional focus on creating destination venues driven by top-line shows, chefs and other entertainment.”

Culinary centerpieces include Wolfgang Puck American Grille and new Italian-inspired Angeline from Michael Symon. Outdoor hot spots include the Borgata Beer Garden, with indoor venues such as the intimate Music Box, the 30,000-square-foot Event Center, Gypsy Bar and the Vegas-style Premier Nightclub.

Casino Constitutionals

Bringing global visibility to Connecticut and the wider region, Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun are entertainment showcases.

In 1986, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation opened a bingo hall on their land in southeastern Connecticut. Today, Foxwoods Resort Casino is one of the world’s largest resort casinos.

“Unparalleled dining and entertainment offerings are a staple of the Foxwoods experience,” said Jason Guyot, senior vice president of resort operations. “Through our strategic master planning process, we are focused on evolving the property and reimagining what it means to be a fully integrated resort destination.  Whether you are here for business or pleasure, gaming or a show, Foxwoods will always deliver a unique and unforgettable stay.”

Allowing Foxwoods to reach a broader consumer demographic—meeting planners included—the resort’s diverse dinner and entertainment options are ready made for groups, with something for everyone to enjoy.

Foxwood’s 35-plus restaurants include group-ready venues such as VUE 24, Caputo Trattoria and Guy Fieri’s Foxwoods Kitchen + Bar. Performance spaces include the 4,000-seat Grand Theater and the 1,400-seat Fox Theater.

Evolution and innovation are also part of the master plan at North America’s largest resort casino, which offers 2,230 luxurious rooms and suites in four hotels and 150,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. With unique new attractions including the Foxwoods Thrill Tower and Highflyer Zipline experience, the property will soon introduce On Track Karting. Craft beer fans will also have the new Stony Creek Brewery at Foxwoods.

First to experience Mohegan Sun’s new 125,000-square-foot Exposition Center this summer will be the anticipated 70,000-plus people attending the resort’s third consecutive Northeast Barrett-Jackson car auction. The resort’s entertainment and dining offerings are also guaranteed engine-starters.

“At all Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment properties, which in the East include Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, we understand that corporate groups and event-goers aren’t solely on-property for business,” said John Washko, vice president of exhibitions and convention sales for the company. “Nor should they be. Once business is concluded, many folks like to unwind. Whether that’s dinner and a show or relaxing in a lounge or outdoor terrace, Mohegan has it covered.”

Entertainment venues at the Connecticut flagship include the world-ranked 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena, hosting A-listers such as Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake, and Wombi Rock’s event-capable Vista Lounge. Most offering private and semi-private rooms, and full or partial buyouts, restaurants include Italian-driven Ballo and Mexican-driven SolToro. Mohegan Sun Pocono features live music at Breakers, comedy at Wisecrackers and concerts at the convertible 16,000-square-foot Keystone Grand Ballroom.

“As centerpieces of our messaging, our unique restaurants and entertainment venues speak to our ability to provide memorable upscale experiences to our groups,” Washko said. 

Forging Friendships

As the Philadelphia region’s only full-amenity gaming resort, conveniently located Valley Forge Casino Resort reinforces its competitive standing with a broad set of enticing off-agenda group options.

“Understanding that leisure time is just as critical as business time for conferees, we offer multiple dining options to suit all palates, entertainment seven days a week and other options all under one roof,” said Lani Baird, executive director of sales at the property. “Whether unwinding at our Valley Beach Poolside Club, dining at upscale Revolution Chop House, catching live entertainment at the Venue or trying their luck on the casino floor, there is something for everyone.”

Treated like family, many groups are repeat customers. The friendliness includes affordability.

“We can make an organization’s conference budget go far without sacrificing their event’s ‘wow’ factor,” Baird said.

Wowing Poconos groups since 2007, 188-room Mount Airy Casino Resort is Pennsylvania’s first AAA Four Diamond-rated casino. Offering 7,000-plus square feet of flexible space for 30 to 200 attendees, resort amenities include group-capable Wet Nightclub; nine-plus restaurants, including NYC’s famed Bistecca by Il Mulino; a 16,000-square-foot spa, salon and exercise facility; and lakefront golf.

Entertainment venues include Gypsies Nightclub and the outdoor summer stage, where legends Earth, Wind & Fire play in June 2018.

The resort will open a 27,000-square-foot outdoor concert pavilion this month, and it has partnered with architectural firm Friedmutter Group to design a multimillion-dollar expansion that will introduce 100 new guest rooms and a 16,000-square-foot ballroom and events center in spring 2019.

LATEST + GREATEST: EAST COAST GAMING UPDATES

Featuring the centerpiece 125,000-square-foot Mohegan Sun Expo Center, Mohegan Sun’s 225,000-square-foot meeting and convention space expansion is on schedule for a late June 2019 opening.

The $80 million project provides more board rooms, an outdoor area with a wrap-around terrace and 20,000 square feet of space earmarked for an entertainment and/or dining venue.

Wind Creek Hospitality, an affiliate of Alabama’s Poarch Band of Creek Indians, purchased Sands Bethlehem casino resort for $1.3 billion. The integrated resort includes the AAA Four Diamond, 282-room Sands Hotel, 12,000 square feet of meeting space and 14,000 square feet of tradeshow space.

Subject to regulatory approval and other closing conditions, the property joins Wind Creek Hospitality’s nine casinos and racetracks, most in the South and the Caribbean.

Expected to open this summer, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City is the $500 million total makeover of Taj Mahal, exterior included.

Renovation highlights include 1,971 guest rooms, with hospitality suites for special events; 119,000 square feet of meeting space; a 7,000-capacity performance venue; a reimagined Hard Rock Cafe; dining and bar experiences throughout; and a seasonal beach bar.

Slated to open this spring, the new 310-room Live! Hotel adds 350,000 square feet of space to adjacent Live! Casino, Maryland’s largest gaming facility. The $200 million investment includes the Grand Event Center, with a 1,500-seat concert venue; pre-function and meeting space; an executive boardroom; and banquet capability for 800 people. The hotel also features the region’s first outdoor gaming area.

Phase two calls for 4,000-person concert seating and doubling the banquet space.

Targeting a third-quarter 2018 opening, MGM Springfield is the first full-scale casino resort licensed by Massachusetts. The $950 million integrated development in downtown Springfield will feature a 250-room boutique hotel and some 40,000 square feet of flexible space. MGM will also bring entertainment to the nearby 100,000-square-foot MassMutual Center’s 8,000-seat arena.

Unveiled in February, the $1.2 billion Resorts World Catskills in Monticello, N.Y., features an 18-story hotel with 332 luxury suites; a 2,500-seat event venue; and multiple F&B concepts, including celebrity chef Scott Conant’s high-end Italian steakhouse, Cellaio.

An indoor waterpark and golf course are slated for 2019.

Scheduled to open in June 2019, the $2.4 billion Wynn Boston Harbor in suburban Everett reportedly includes a 671-room tower and 50,000 square feet of meeting space. At press time, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission was still investigating sexual misconduct allegations against Stephen Wynn, with revocation of the project’s gaming license being one potential outcome.

5 EAST COAST GAMING STANDOUTS FOR PERFORMANCES AND PLAY

  1. Ideal for large group programs, the 2,000-seat Broadway-style Tropicana Showroom is an Atlantic City star. Scheduled 2018 shows include The Commodores, Stephen Stills & Judy Collins, and Jefferson Starship.
  2. With a 2018 summer lineup including Reba McEntire, Steve Miller and Peter Frampton, and comedian Trevor Noah, Foxwoods’ 4,000-seat Grand Theater lives up to its name.
  3. Valley Forge Casino Resort’s 20,000-square-foot Valley Beach Poolside Club offers pure “wow” factor for private events, including a sandy beach, open-air bar private cabanas and live entertainment.
  4. Flexibly seating up to 3,330, the 14,000-square-foot Sands Bethlehem Event Center features A-list entertainment and includes seven private suites and the Vision Bar nightlife experience.
  5. Mount Airy Casino Resort’s new event-capable Wet Nightclub features an 11,000-square-foot pool and a scenic outdoor deck with fire pits.

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