From San Diego to Sonoma County, Palm Springs to the Sierra Nevada foothills and across the California border into Las Vegas, Reno and Scottsdale, Arizona, gaming destinations abound. In California alone, there are 69 Indian casinos, 13 with hotels and other resort amenities. These destinations and properties off er a boon to planners in terms of both accessible amenities and aff ordability. Think free parking, multiple dining and entertainment options under one roof, accomplished catering and technical crews, and often room rates that beat what you’d get at a standard convention hotel.
Here’s a look at some top prospects for your next meeting or conference.
Pechanga Resort & Casino
Talk about a truly breathtaking gaming destination: Measuring 200,000 square feet, Pechanga Resort & Casino’s gaming floor is larger than any in California, and is one of the largest in the U.S. As if those statistics weren’t enough, in 2015 Pechanga embarked on a $285 million expansion and renovation to become the largest resort on the West Coast when completed. Unveiling by the end of 2017, the expansion includes a new 568-room hotel wing, a two-story, full-service spa with 17 treatment rooms, hydrotherapy pools, stateof-the-art fitness center and a pool complex with outdoor event space for up to 3,000 people, two new restaurants, and 70,000 square feet of additional meeting and event space, which will bring the grand total of event space to 274,500 square feet.
“Our advantage is our sheer size,” says Scott Wilson, director of hotel sales. “A 40,000-square-foot ballroom is practically unheard of, particularly a high-end one like ours with beautiful 30-foot-tall ceilings.” The ballroom accommodates groups of up to 3,700 that can utilize new seating that pulls out directly from the walls for a theater-inthe-round experience, or up to 4,300 people for a standing reception. The AAA Four Diamond resort also offers a smaller ballroom atop the 13-story hotel tower with sweeping views of both the mountains and the Temecula Valley. In addition, the Pechanga Theater offers stadium seating for groups of up to 1,200. Because the theater attracts A-list entertainers and theatrical performances, “it already has state-of-the-art technology built into it,” adds Wilson. “There’s above-andbeyond A/V and lighting.”
But perhaps Pechanga’s biggest attraction is its location. “Within minutes of the resort is Temecula’s wine country, Old Town Temecula’s creative shopping, and hot air balloon rides,” says Wilson. “The destination offers a totally different experience than the casino.” Pechanga is one of six resort casinos in the San Diego region, complementing the Viejas Casino & Resort, Barona Resort & Casino, Harrah’s Resort Southern California, Valley View Casino & Hotel, and Pala Casino Spa & Resort, featured below.
Pala Casino Spa & Resort
“We tailor our corporate packages to whatever our clients want,” says Roy Hillis, vice president of food and beverage for Pala Casino Spa & Resort. “It’s not cookie cutter. Clients pick the venues, and we can do anything in those spaces—both indoors and out.” That includes everything from hosting wine tastings and cook-offs in the CAVE, a restaurant and lounge with the only underground wine cave in southern California, to gatherings at Pala’s Infinity Showroom, a versatile event space with top-of-the-line lighting and sound systems and 17 video screens. The Infinity Showroom provides concert seating for 900 people or can fully cater sitdown meals for groups of 150-450. Other spaces include a flexible 20,000-square-foot event center for up to 2,000 guests; 15 fully equipped meeting rooms, including eight rooms with patios overlooking the garden and pool; an Executive Boardroom; the 2,251-seat outdoor Starlight Theater, and the Event Lawn, which can accommodate up to 1,000 guests for a seated dinner.
In addition to standard receptions and dinners, the Event Lawn also provides a lovely venue for team-building activities. “Usually at corporate retreats you’re stuck indoors all day so our goal is to get people outside,” says Hillis. Pala’s commitment to full service explains why the AAA Four Diamond resort cultivates many repeat clients, including pharmaceutical, insurance and San Diego-based restaurant groups. Other amenities include Pala’s 10,000-square-foot award-winning spa, six entertainment venues, and of course, gaming slots and tables. Pala offers a new 100-parking site RV resort, and for groups interested in offsite entertainment, Pala can help coordinate a day trip to the Temecula wine country.
Morongo Casino Resort & Spa
Not everyone in your group into gambling? Morongo Casino Resort & Spa and the three other Palm Springs area resort casinos— including Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, and Spa Resort Casino—have you covered. In addition to boasting a 148,000-square-foot gaming floor, the AAA Four Diamond Morongo Casino Resort & Spa features a resort water park, luxury spa, 36 holes of world-class golfing, 24-lane bowling alley, and an outlet mall with over 170-plus upscale retail stores right next door. Morongo’s 15,000-square-foot conference center includes a 12,000-square-foot ballroom that can seat up to 900 guests or be divided into seven breakout rooms, as well as a 3,000-square-foot foyer/prefunction area and an executive boardroom. Want even more options? Check out Morongo’s additional 80,000 square feet of unique function space: the former nightclub VIBE showcases three stories of circular space with a stage and private suites, and the newly renovated The Drum Room bar and lounge oozes iconic style with its rich dark woods and soft leather furniture.
Located on the 26th floor of Morongo’s hotel tower, “The Drum Room has floor-toceiling windows, with stunning views on both sides of the San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountains,” says Tom Ruggiero, director of hotel operations. “It’s an incredibly flexible space. We can keep it as a bar and lounge, or bring in rounds, have a dance floor with a DJ booth, or do a conference-style arrangement. We recently hosted a VIP event in The Drum Room where we brought in a local leather smith to hand carve one-of-akind leather wallets for our high-end guests.” Additional venues include Morongo’s Cielo—a fine dining restaurant perched 27 stories up on the tower’s top floor—and the clubhouse for Morongo’s Tukwet Canyon PGA golf course, which is nestled in the heart of the valley.
Thunder Valley Casino Resort
Lincoln Placer Valley
From its Vegas-style pool (think cabanas, daybeds, cushy lounge chairs, bar service) to its full-service spa, 14 bars and restaurants, and 5,000-seat summer concert venue, Thunder Valley, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Placer County, stands alone in the region when it comes to destination resorts. The AAA Four Diamond property draws primarily from a 50-mile radius, although conventions can pull from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. “It’s a premier destination midway between Sacramento and Reno, with lots of choices,” says Director of Hotel Operations Lisa Wilson.
And it’s about to have even more: The resort is in the process of building out three guest room floors left unfinished in the 12-story structure when the economy hit a rough patch during the recession. The project will add 111 rooms, bringing the total to 408, Wilson says, noting that an exterior face-lift is also underway, as well as a complete renovation of the existing 297 rooms.
With 20,000 square feet of flexible meeting space (the largest room, Pano Hall, can accommodate about 900 banquet-style), Thunder Valley, owned by the United Auburn Indian Community, hosts “everything from singleday meetings and weddings to trade shows and corporate events,” says Wilson. “Corporate loves us because of all the things we can offer for attendees and their significant others, if they’re coming. They can hop on a shuttle that will take them to downtown Sacramento, to Whitney Oaks Golf Club or shopping, or they can shop in our boutique and gift shop.”
As for catering, she adds, “we can do everything from the really basic to elaborate décor.” Restaurant choices at Thunder Valley include the High Steaks, the only AAA Four Diamond steakhouse in the region, offering the finest cuts of prime dry-aged steaks with seating spilling onto an outdoor patio, as well as Red Lantern, considered one of the best Asian restaurants in the region, and a food court with five casual dining outlets.
Graton Resort & Casino
Rohnert Park Sonoma County
This three-year-old property, roughly 50 miles north of San Francisco, elevated itself to resort status in November with the opening of a $175-million, six-story, 200-room hotel addition. With that expansion came a host of other amenities, including two new bars and lounges, a fitness center, a luxury spa, a new Asian restaurant and 20,000 square feet of convention and meeting space opening onto a resort-style pool area.
Graton brings much-needed convention space to this portion of Sonoma County, notes Lori Nelson, vice president of corporate communications at Station Casinos, which manages the property for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. “It’s one of the finest hotel products available in the area, and also central to the surrounding wine country,” Nelson says. “Its location north of San Francisco allows for incredible excursions to some of the finest wineries in the region.”
Décor is reflective of Sonoma wine country throughout. Rooms and suites range from a generous 500 square feet to a palatial 2,600 square feet. The resort’s flexible meeting space can be set up as a ballroom seating 800 for catered events and 1,700 for live entertainment, or it can be partitioned into as many as seven smaller spaces.
To combat traffic challenges and enhance its portfolio of customerservice offerings, the resort can provide bus service for corporate groups and shuttle service from many locations in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. It also partners with several Sonoma County wineries to offer preferred rates to meeting groups.
Dining options at Graton include a steakhouse, an Asian eatery, a grill, an Italian restaurant, a food court-style marketplace with seven outlets, plus two bars and a VIP lounge.
Talking Stick Resort
For groups looking to venture outside California and take advantage of neighboring Arizona, the Phoenix/Scottsdale area has five resort casino options, including the outdoorfriendly Talking Stick Resort. “All our meeting and event spaces were designed to capture open-air experiences,” says Michael Maggart, the property’s director of sales. The Grand Ballroom has a terrace right off the main entrance with walls that “fully disappear” so fresh air can come in, as well as six breakout rooms with same open-air capability.”
With over 100,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space, there’s no shortage of venue options. The 25,000-squarefoot Salt River Grand Ballroom can accommodate groups of up to 2,000 and divides into eight breakout rooms. The conference center features 12 meeting rooms in flexible configurations, and the Showroom provides the perfect space for a keynote speech for up to 650 people. “The Showroom is a two-level amphitheater with state-of-the-art A/V and staging,” says Maggart. “It’s right off the Grand Ballroom, so people can attend a general session in the morning and then walk right over to the breakout rooms for meetings.”
Aside from the 24-hour gaming facilities, the Talking Stick Resort destination includes 36 holes of championship golf; a 14th-floor spa with spectacular views of the Sonoran Desert; 11 restaurants, bars, and lounges on-site; a cultural center featuring Native American pottery and jewelry; three luxurious resort pools, and multiple entertainment venues showcasing everything from DJs and rock concerts to sports teams and nationally renowned comedians. On top of all that, Butterfly Wonderland and the new OdySea Aquarium are right next door.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada
No story about gaming destinations would be complete without Las Vegas (and we’ll be taking a closer look at the city in an upcoming issue). The world’s ultimate gaming destination boasts a staggering 73 casino resorts, with 28 on the Strip alone. One standout casino resort is The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Centrally located on the bustling Strip, the Marriott-partnered luxury resort is a short walk from hundreds of gaming, dining, and entertainment options. Not that you even need to leave The Cosmopolitan—it features five acres of outdoor recreation, including tennis courts, three pools, two fitness centers, and the Sahra Spa & Hammam. And for something different, guests can take a tour of The Cosmopolitan’s contemporary art collection with Rose, an interactive chatbot that acts as both a guide and personal concierge.
The Cosmopolitan features nearly 200,000 square feet of flexible meeting and event space for groups of 10-3,000. Prime event space The Chelsea takes its artistic inspiration from an abandoned glass factory. “It’s modern rustic, but takes it to the next level with repurposed wood tones alongside industrial pipes, glass, subway tile, and a lot of artwork,” says Associate Director of Sales Brad Meyer. The split-level venue has theater seating for up to 2,500 guests and a floor space so customizable that two major shoe companies have used it to build basketball courts. Other event spaces include six ballrooms, 26 meeting rooms, and two boardrooms. Guest rooms are conveniently situated directly above the event spaces so that attendees can quickly transition from meeting to leisure time. In addition, The Cosmopolitan prides itself on creating banquet menus that are contemporary, out-of-the-box and focused on local, sustainable meats and produce. “Our chef has 30 years of experience working with small boutique luxury hotels,” says Senior Account Executive Amber Cimiotti. “His goal is to deliver the same type of service and preparation at The Cosmopolitan by translating that restaurant-style experience to groups of 2,500.”
While Reno got its start as a gambling town, its economic base is changing fast as highprofile tech firms and corporations move in, fueling an economic and cultural renaissance and bringing new needs and expectations to the meetings market. “With gaming available everywhere, Reno has had to reinvent itself,” notes Don Goodman, executive director of sales for Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus in Reno. “We’re looking at gaming as more of a concession now, rather than as a mainstay. We used to have the mindset that we’re building around the casino business. Now we’re taking the view that we’re a convention conglomerate with casinos attached.”
The tri-properties stand out among Reno’s 20-plus gaming establishments as unique in the sense that all three—Eldorado Resort Casino, Silver Legacy Resort Casino and Circus Circus Hotel Casino—are connected under one roof spanning eight downtown city blocks. Planners can utilize facilities at a single property or spread their attendees out among all three, each offering a different price point in the lodging category.
“We’ve had a lot of large conventions that used 2,500 of our 4,000 rooms in all three hotels at once,” Goodman says. “Because attendees aren’t spread out around the city, there’s no shuttling. They’re all here in one place.”
The three properties share between them over 4,000 guest rooms, 200,000 square feet of meeting space, four high-profile nightclubs and 25 restaurants, Goodman notes, adding that those built-in amenities allow planners to save substantially, essentially getting complimentary meeting space. “What we offer is more value for the end product than they’d get at almost any other destination,” says Goodman. “That’s what drives people to Reno for conventions.”
More than $50 million in facility enhancements are currently underway at the tri-properties, including complete renovation of guest rooms, new restaurant concepts, reinvigorated nightlife venues and redesigned convention space. A luxury spa at the Eldorado is planned to open in 2019.