Quietly, Non-Gaming Resorts are Gaining Ground in Vegas

Larry Brown is the guy every other general manager in Las Vegas envies. No matter how busy the major resorts that line Las Vegas Boulevard get, nobody can beat his business.

"When a convention is in town, this place rocks," said Brown, general manager of the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel. "I could use twice as many rooms, double the meeting space and a half-dozen more restaurants. We're so busy that nobody even thinks to ask if we have a casino."

Which is good, because there isn't one.

At 548 rooms, the Renaissance is the largest non-gaming hotel in Nevada. And with the 3.2-million square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center as his next-door neighbor, he may handle more conventioneers than any other property in the city, including Mandalay Bay and Venetian, which have their own convention centers to generate traffic.

Said Jim Germaine, president of USA Hosts Las Vegas. "You don't have the casino revenue, but the proximity of the convention center gives you tremendous advantages on the food-and-beverage side."

It's not clear that planners give up much by booking groups into a non-gaming property. Banking, insurance, finance, and other conservative industries are more receptive to a non-gaming property, Germaine said, especially when it offers all of the expected business and entertainment amenities.

"Non-gaming properties are thriving on business and corporate groups," agreed Craig Bullock, general manager of PGI Las Vegas. "That's a growing piece of Las Vegas' business."

It's no surprise, then, that while the Renaissance has been open less than a year, occupancy is only about 5 percent behind competing Strip resorts. The gap is typical for an off-Strip property, Brown said, and he expects occupancy to trend higher into 2006, based on advance bookings.

A Longtime, Quiet Presence

Non-gaming properties have been a quiet part of Las Vegas for decades. The Alexis Park, Four Seasons, St. Tropez, Embassy Suites, and other properties have done well without casinos.

"There has always been a segment that does not want to stay at a hotel with a casino," Bullock noted. "The reality is that even if you stay at a non-gaming property, there's a pretty good chance you will walk through a casino."

More non-gaming properties are in the works. InterContinental is planning two Holiday Inn Express properties for Las Vegas and a new Holiday Inn to go with five existing properties. None of the eight will have a casino. In addition, Conrad is planning a non-gaming resort complex for the north end of the Strip.

"Two years ago, the most rundown part of the Strip was around the Frontier," said Bruce Spotleson, publisher of Vegas.com, a consumer-oriented website. "Today, that corner is the hottest part of the Strip, in no small part thanks to Donald Trump, who is building a hotel-condo with no casino. A casino has become one more amenity option, like spa, shopping and dining."

Added Larry Brown, "People who have been to Las Vegas before are starting to look for alternatives. They don't miss the noise of a casino at all."

Contact Fred Gebhart at fgebhart @pobox.com.