For a Full House, Casino Resorts are a Good Bet
Casino resorts offer planners convenient and cost-effective meeting and convention destinations that can boost attendance with a winning combination of business and pleasure.
By Kath Usitalo | Pictured: French Lick Resort
Casino resorts offer planners convenient and cost-effective meeting and convention destinations that can boost attendance with a winning combination of business and pleasure. While function space and support services are important, it’s the extras, from unique venues and social events to ideas for team-building exercises, that enhance conference programs. Updated and amenity-filled hotel rooms, topnotch golf courses, posh spas, and a variety of entertainment, dining and gaming options entice attendees — who often tack on an extra day to enjoy them.
“The biggest advantage of booking an event at a casino resort hotel is that all of these services and amenities are available and guests don’t have to leave the building,” says MGM Grand Detroit Executive Director of Sales Lisa Williams.
From that urban high rise to nationally recognized historic hotels, here’s a look at a handful of casino resorts — and one especially family-friendly spot without gaming — across the Midwest.
The “Miracle Waters” that made French Lick and West Baden destinations in the mid-1800s still flow in the historic resort area, where the opulent luxury of yesterday meets the amenities of today. French Lick Resort encompasses the 443-room French Lick Springs Hotel and 243-room West Baden Springs Hotel, both more than a century old — and the 71-room Valley Tower, which opened in 2019.
Director of Sales Adina Cloud says French Lick is special: “You can’t buy history. There’s a difference between an old hotel and historic hotels that have gone through the renovations that we have.”
French Lick and West Baden are one mile apart and connected by train and trolley, making it convenient to attend events and enjoy the amenities of both. “We have groups with a split block between the hotels, either because of the size of the groups, or some attendees would like to experience one hotel over the other. A group may want the executive board housed at one property and the attendees at the other,” says Cloud.
The 169,000 square feet of function space includes meeting rooms and ballrooms, ornate reception areas, plus outdoor pavilions and formal gardens. West Baden Atrium, once called the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” hosts 3,000 for a reception, and the Event Center’s 32,000-square- foot Exhibition Hall accommodates trade shows.
Golfers hit the top-rated Pete Dye and Donald Ross courses and nine-hole Valley Links course, and spa-goers bathe in mineral waters. There are a dozen team activities, including sporting clay shoot- ing, chuck wagon dinners and hayrides.
“We get very involved with our groups to create a memorable experience,” says Cloud. “We want them to say, ‘that’s
the best conference I’ve ever attended, and we want to go back to French Lick Resorts.’”
In 1990, Bob and Ruth Kehl landed the first riverboat gaming operator’s license in Iowa. Today, the Kehl family has majority interest in Elite Casino Resorts, owner and operator of River- side, which opened in 2006, followed by Grand Falls and Rhythm City Casino resorts with two additional properties opening in Illinois and Nebraska in the near future.
Riverside is celebrating its 15th anniver- sary with extensive remodeling of its 12,000-plus-square-foot Event Center. “We’ll be the shiny new penny,” says Senior Event Services Manager Brianne Stone of the flexible space that accommodates a board meeting for 10, 500 for dinner or 1,200 in a theater setting.
Groups can arrange private events at the fine dining Ruthie’s Steak & Seafood restaurant, casual Robert’s Buffet or a lunch by the pool, says Stone. “Because Riverside is a casino, it’s a fun place to be. We try to add activities that make it more like a retreat.”
In addition to slots and table games, Riverside entertains with live performances in the Show Lounge, Draft Day sports lounge and an indoor/outdoor pool. The full-service Aveda spa and salon features an indoor hot tub and infrared sauna.
Golfers head to the Rees Jones-designed Blue Top Ridge, rated one of the top courses in Iowa by Golfweek. Groups enter into friendly competition at the indoor Topgolf Swing Suite, where sim- ulators challenge players of any level.
“Clients are surprised, blown away about what they can do on property,” says Stone, adding that the resort works with planners to maximize their group experience. “If they’ve got a vision or really crazy idea, we’ve got a great team that will work with them to make it happen.”
The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation owns and operates the first full-service casino in Kansas on tribal land about 20 miles north of Topeka. Prairie Band Casino & Resort is also home to Fire- keeper Golf Course, the top public course in Kansas, according to Golfweek. Firekeeper, which opened in 2011, was designed by Native American and four-time PGA tour winner Notah Begay III, in partnership with Jeff Brauer, a leader in the environmen- tal preservation of modern courses.
“The golf course is our number one attraction. It’s pristine,” says Prairie Band Sales Manager Chele Kuhn. In addition to golf groups, the resort caters to associations and conventions in the immediate region, and is a destination for board retreats. With 297 guest rooms, the average meeting size is 75-125, but Prairie Band can accommodate up to 400-plus for meals and 900 theater-style.
The casino, bingo hall and live shows are popular entertain- ment. Dining ranges from the high-end Three Fires Steakhouse featuring Midwest beef to the casual Embers Bar & Grille and Kapi Coffee Bar. The handsome lobby bar pours Prairie Band Imperial Lager, and Knob Creek and Crown Royal single barrel batches exclusive to the resort.
Kuhn says that because Prairie Band is an all-in-one destination, attendees come early and stay late, and make it a vacation. One recent client credited the resort for the best attendance they’d ever experienced.
“Another factor is our service,” says Kuhn. “Customer service
is the key.” Due to the longevity and excellent reputation of the sales staff, Prairie Band has developed strong relationships with clients who bring repeat business and make referrals. “That’s a real part of our success.”
The familiar golden lion outside of the sleek, 17-story casino hotel is the first clue that the MGM Grand Detroit is about to offer a taste of Las Vegas in the heart of the Motor City. When opened in 2007, the $800-million property was hailed as the first such resort-style casino built in a major metropolitan area.
“We offer the Vegas-style gaming experience, the same as at Bellagio or any of our Vegas properties,” says Lisa Williams, executive director of sales. The hotel earns four-star status in the Forbes Travel Guide and a AAA Four Diamond award for its 400 rooms and suites and 20,000-square-foot, full-service Immerse Spa and fitness center with an indoor saltwater pool.
Dining options include casual spots and D.PRIME Steakhouse, starring open flame, oak-grilled beef. Entertainment starts in the 100,000-square-foot casino with nearly 3,500 slots and video poker games, almost 150 table games and a deluxe poker room. “Our high limit lounge is phenomenal,” says Williams.
At the BetMGM Sports Lounge, fans catch matches from comfy chairs with refreshments nearby. Local bands perform in the AXIS Lounge, and the Topgolf Swing Suite “is not limited to golf. You can play hockey, football and my favorite, Zombie Dodge- ball,” laughs Williams.
The 30,000 square feet of function space easily accommodates a meeting of 18, banquet for 900 or theater seating for 1,200. Mid- size associations, incentive trips, sales meetings and corporate retreats are a good fit, and groups that buyout the hotel at 250 to 300 guest rooms gain exclusive access to all venues.
With Detroit a major Delta hub, Williams says it’s a value loca- tion. “Not the least expensive by far, but still a great value.”
Located in the shadows of Lambeau Field’s frozen tundra, convention planners will find an entertainment complex that includes both gaming and ample square footage for their next conference. Oneida Casino and Radisson Hotel & Conference Center are connected, allowing guests to travel between the two properties without needing as much as a jacket. And with their proximity to Austin Straubel Airport (just across the street), convenience is a key factor for those choosing this property. On the gaming floor, guests will find a variety of options, ranging from bingo and slots to blackjack and poker. A number of dining options run the gamut, from casual to fine dining. For groups, the Radisson offers 30,000 square feet of flexible space.
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