Caesars' $125 Million Atlantic City Gamble

With the new Waterfront Conference Center, Caesars is betting big

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Photo: Michael Massari leads a tour of the Waterfront Conference Center at Harrah's Resort

When potential clients for the new $125.8 million Waterfront Conference Center at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City contacted Michael Massari, senior vice president of national meetings and events, Caesars Entertainment, and his team about seeing the new state-of-the-art facility, what did Caesars do? Took the potential clients to Las Vegas.

The 51,000-square-foot, pillarless Octavius and Forum Ballrooms at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas are similar to the Waterfront Conference Center's pillarless Avalon and Wildwood Ballrooms, each providing more than 49,000 square feet of highly configurable space. The massive, flexible meeting space can easily be reconfigured into as many as 63 individual meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 5,000 guests. Outdoor terrace space and balconies feature breathtaking views overlooking Absecon Inlet.

"Every client we have taken to Las Vegas has signed," says Wendy Blaney, director of sales, in-market east, Caesars Entertainment. "No other Vegas competitor can do an East-West rotation like we can now do."

The hope is that Caesars' new Atlantic City center will be a game changer, attracting some of the Northeast's $16 billion meetings market -- only 1 percent of which Atlantic City currently captures. Advanced bookings have exceeded expectations, says Massari. There are now 60 groups booked, 70 percent of which are new business to the region.

There has been hesitation to overcome. "First, Atlantic City has never been in their consideration before," says Massari. "We have to put it on their radar. Add to that, Atlantic City and Caesars having its share of struggles. It has been heavy lifting to get around these obstacles."

The lack of air service to Atlantic City International Airport has been another challenge, but in some cases, Caesars is shuttling in attendees from Philadelphia International Airport, which is about an hour away.  

"We ask our potential customers what is important to them and create incentives that makes the most sense," adds Blaney.

The center is attached to Harrah's, which has 2,590 guestrooms and suites in Atlantic City's Marina District, away from the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk. Massari points out that the new conference center will have the largest and most flexible space from Baltimore to Boston.

The first group to the meet at the center will have 2,000 attendees and rolls in on Sept. 6.

"There is pent up demand in this area. Our hope is we have done so well that our competitors duplicate this," Massari concludes.