On a Roll: Trends Reshaping the East Coast Gaming Scene

April 22, 2019

From Massachusetts to Maryland, runaway expansion in the East Coast gaming market continues. Billions have been invested in some 25 new properties over the last decade-plus.

American Gaming Association figures published in 2018 shows heavyweight returns from the Northeast’s and Mid-Atlantic’s nine gaming states. 

The region’s nearly 70 casinos generated $28.3 billion in total economic impact for 2017, or 11 percent of the $261 billion national total.

[On the Scene: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City Electrifies Groups]

On the corporate front, ownership changes, merger talks, competitive maneuvers and more are reshuffling the deck.

Amid this volatility, meeting and events remain key house advantages. The following feedback reveals compelling trends and accompanying strategies for staying ahead.

Riding a Four-Year Wave, Atlantic City Continues Its Upswing

Conventions and meetings sales increased for the fourth consecutive year in 2018, according to Meet AC CEO Jim Wood. The 238 conventions booked last year are expected to generate 371,996 hotel rooms and $400 million in local impact through 2022. 

The business development focus for 2019 includes tradeshows, corporate meetings and sporting events. 

Redevelopments include the Orange Loop. This evolving rejuvenation of three Boardwalk beach blocks includes new group venues such as New Orleans-style pub Bourre and Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall.

Group trends run the gamut at other leading local Atlantic City operators. Here is an overview from some key players.

Mark Vanderwielen, VP of Hotel & Property Operations,
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa

  • Increasing client demand for unique venues and outdoor spaces has allowed us to hold more events in alternative spaces such as The Water Club and Borgata’s outdoor pools, Immersion Spa and Premier Nightclub.
  • Demand is also up for custom password-protected group Wi-Fi, offering branding opportunities with sponsor-generated revenue.
  • Clients value our state-of-the-art technology. Examples include LED pin spot lighting and lighting capabilities overall to display sponsor logos and corporate colors in our Event Center.
  • Borgata, which launched sports betting in New Jersey last year, is investing $11 million in a new integrated bar and sports book, slated for this summer. 

Borgata Chihuly Artwork
Borgata Chihuly Artwork 

Steve van der Molen, VP of Meetings Operations,
Atlantic City Region, Caesars Entertainment  

  • Face-to-face meetings remain important to our clients. Plus, customizable configurations; the latest technology features; and meeting space, F&B, entertainment and more under one roof.
  • The $125 million Waterfront Conference Center at Harrah’s Atlantic City has exceeded expectations since opening in 2015. Reaching our third-year forecast in year one, the center continues to perform beyond our initial sales goals. 
  • Over $250 million in Atlantic City investments in the last four years include Harrah’s revamped Pool After Dark nightclub and the region’s first Gordon Ramsay Steak. The current $56 million renovation of Harrah’s Coastal Tower includes over 507 guest rooms and suite upgrades.

Jim Ziereis, VP of Hotel Sales,
Tropicana Casino and Resort, Atlantic City

  • Booking lead time is increasingly shortening. This includes small last-minute corporate groups, plus association, labor and government events generating 200 or so room nights.
  • Behind more than $200 million in recent property-wide upgrades, groups embrace our emphasis on value. Delegates often return with family and friends as leisure guests. 
  • With planners prioritizing engagement, experience and unique venues, our wide-ranging resources include four Escape Rooms and the new Chelsea Tower’s nationally recognized Cabana Five Bar & Pool Deck.
  • Tropicana Casino and Resort, Atlantic City partnered with William Hill on a new 180-seat integrated sports book, unveiled in March 2019.

William Jackson, Director of Sales and Marketing
at Mohegan Sun-owned Resorts Casino Hotel

  • More corporate clients than ever are utilizing our All-Inclusive Meeting Package (AMP). No budget-killing surprises, with one to two billing pages max.  
  • More planners are requesting healthier, trendier food, with a greater emphasis on vegan options.
  • Millennials are increasingly demanding better meetings technology, requiring hotels to up the bandwidth at no additional cost. 
  • Resorts’ new DraftKings Sportsbook features a full bar and VIP area.

New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland All Forward     

While Atlantic City maintains its state monopoly after voters rejected a referendum on adding casinos in northern New Jersey, gaming keeps growing in the surrounding states.

New York, with 29 casinos state-wide, shares the Northeast gaming-driven economic impact crown with New Jersey at $6.5 billion. Award-winning Turning Stone Resort Casino, east of Syracuse, wows diverse groups with wide-ranging amenities and activities under one roof.

Offering 48,000-plus square feet of customizable space, Resorts World Catskills is attracting attendees to New York’s historic vacationland. 

“Welcoming multi-day groups of 10 to 200 from around the wider region, our volumes have increased month over month,” said Marcio Azevedo, vice president of resort operations at the property.

Resort World Catskils
Resort World Catskills

As Pennsylvania’s $6.3 billion gaming market expands, Valley Forge Casino Resort, now part of Boyd Gaming, continues to lead with customer service. 

“We work hard to provide an experience, not just a meeting place, for our guests,” said Lori Glennon, executive director of sales at the resort.

[Related Content: East Coast Gaming Growth Gives Planners Options]

Examples include accommodating gluten-free, diabetic and other dietary requirements for attendees. Technology is another, with in-house audiovisual support throughout the planning process. 

The resort offers 100,000 square feet of flexible space, with dining and entertainment options on-property and at the nearby King of Prussia mall. After recently renovating the 54,000-square-foot Event Center, the property added a new sports book in March 2019.

In July 2018, the $200 million Live! Casino & Hotel joined market leader MGM National Harbor in Maryland’s $3 billion gaming market.  

Increasing Competition Is Upping the Ante in New England  

Mohegan Sun’s new $80 million, 250,000-square-foot Earth Expo & Convention Center has made strong strides since opening in May 2018. 

“Every group using the venue so far is looking to return in the near future,” said John Washko, vice president of exhibitions and conventions sales at the property. “Trend-wise, we are seeing short-term bookings, especially with corporate meetings, along with a rising emphasis on both face-to-face meetings and health and wellness options.”  

In 2018, USA Today readers voted Connecticut’s other major player, Foxwoods Resort Casino, the best U.S. casino outside of Las Vegas. Aiming to become a full-service resort destination, Foxwoods has invested in group-ready experiences such as Topgolf and the high-adrenaline Thrill Tower and Highflyer Zipline.   

 In neighboring Massachusetts, MGM Springfield has attracted nearly 400 groups since opening in August 2018.

“These range from corporate outings to social networking events,” said Kimberly Altobelli, national sales manager at the property. “Group market response has been solid.” 

This is where it gets complicated. With MGM Resorts International proposing a harborfront resort-casino in Bridgeport, Conn., Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods have formed a joint venture, MMCT, to build a satellite casino in East Windsor, Conn. 

[East Coast Dining: 5 Indulgent East Coast Gaming Group Dining Options]

Their concerns, which include defending their exclusive state gaming rights, have reached the governor’s office and state legislature. 

According to the Connecticut Post, Connecticut lawmakers have introduced a bill to create a “competitive bidding process for a resort-casino that would allow the state to choose a development with the most economic impact to the state.”

The East Coast gaming market, needless to say, is one to watch.  

A Roundup of Developments at East Coast Gaming Resorts

In 2007, Poconos icon Mount Airy Lodge relaunched as Mount Airy Casino Resort, becoming Pennsylvania’s first AAA Four Diamond-rated casino. In 2017, the resort invested $5 million in redeveloping its 11,000-square-foot pool and entertainment complex, adding the 2,000-plus capacity Outdoor Concert Pavilion in May 2018.

The latest multimillion-dollar enhancement, opening in May 2019, raises the key count to 288 with 100 new upscale guest rooms. The new 16,000-square-foot ballroom and events center, designed by the world-renowned Friedmutter Group, gives Mount Airy 20,000 square feet of multifunctional space. Projected for later this year, Mount Airy Pittsburgh will offer casino action and multiple eateries. Future plans include a resort hotel and convention center.

In March 2018, Wind Creek Hospitality, an affiliate of Alabama’s Poarch Band of Creek Indians, bid $1.3 billion for Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Key assets include the luxurious 282-room Sands Hotel, 12,000 square feet of meeting space, and 14,000 square feet of tradeshow space. In January 2019, Wind Creek has announced plans to invest $190 million in a second 300-room hotel and possible indoor waterpark.

The Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark opened in April 2019. The Benchmark Resorts & Hotels’ development on the Resorts World Catskills campus in Monticello, New York, includes 324 luxurious suites and 11,000 square feet of space.  

Encore Boston Harbor is now taking reservations for June 2019.

At press time, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission was determining Wynn Resorts’ suitability to operate the $2.6 billion casino-resort.

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About the author
Jeff Heilman | Senior Contributor

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based independent journalist Jeff Heilman has been a Meetings Today contributor since 2004, including writing our annual Texas and Las Vegas supplements since inception. Jeff is also an accomplished ghostwriter specializing in legal, business and Diversity & Inclusion content.