Electronic Excitement

The technology at gaming destinations' special-event venues not only mesmerizes the general public, but meeting groups too. In fact, gaming destinations have become known almost as much for the quality of their entertainment shows as for their casino action. And today's state-of-the-art technology not only helps the nationally-known acts that come through each of these places, but also helps meeting planners looking to wow delegates at their own events.

Mississippi

Planners not expecting a high-tech experience on a par with Las Vegas will be pleasantly surprised by the sophisticated entertainment technology available at properties like the Grand Casino Tunica and the Beau Rivage.

Chris Chesnut, convention services manager at the Beau Rivage, which can handle meetings of up to 1,800, says the hotel was built in 1999 to be on the cutting edge of technology. The 17,000- square-foot Magnolia Ballroom can be subdivided into eight smaller rooms, each with T1 access to the Internet. Chesnut says that with cabling all along the perimeter, acoustically disguised speakers built into the walls, and lighting drops in each ballroom, it's simple to use computers to control the recessed Barco projectors in the ceiling, the moving lights, and the 11' x 14' roll-down screen.

A key entertainment asset is the BeauRivage Theatre, a facility with over a million dollars of lighting technology that Chesnut calls "the jewel of the South." Available for rental, it includes three 10.5' x 14' screens, and a rear-projection cyclorama that covers nearly the entire back wall of the stage, creating panoramic images via a powerful 10,000-lumen Chrystie data projector.

"For a Honda Marine, we did a 40' by 20' water curtain on stage," says Chesnut. "We lit it with studio spotlights and strobes, and colored it with filters. When our forklift driver pushed the marine outboard engine through the wall of water, it was the hit of the meeting."

The Beau Rivage also has sophisticated on-site video production and Avid editing facilities. "More planners are using our on-site video for awards, highlights, and candid party shots," Chesnut says. "Recently, the CEO of General Motors needed last-minute editing for an entrance segment to get the crowd excited. We shot it all on broadcast-quality cameras, gave them a quick turnaround, and blew everybody away." He adds that "if a client wants an Olympic theme or whatever else, we can help them. Our biggest challenge is to convince people we're not just an AV company, but actually an entertainment company."

One planner who seems convinced is Diana Brash, of Minnesota-based Plato Learning, which held its 650-person an-nual customer conference at the Beau Rivage in September. "We had a margarita party with a Jimmy Buffett-style band. So we worked with the venue's production department to project images of parrots, sandy beaches, fish, margarita cocktails, and big balloons. We used special lighting to project images on the walls; on the large screens in the ballroom, we had images and words from Buffett's songs, sunsets, beach scenes, and boats. The hotel had a lot of images in inventory," Brash says.

But like any meeting, it wasn't all fun and games. "We broke out into twelve sessions at once, with a data projector and our software applications running on the Internet in every room." Plato also had the governor of Mississippi and an astronaut as presenters, and the Beau Rivage captured their presentations on video for Brash to reuse. "From a planner's perspective, the property offers a Vegas-style venue for 20 percent less, and the delegates were thrilled."

Atlantic City

Atlantic City is growing in its ability to support technically sophisticated business-related functions. Bally's and other Caesars properties offer Vegas-style glitz and glamour, while the brand-new $1.1 billion Borgata takes technology to extremes, including microchips in every employee's uniform to monitor the uniform's life span. The property also has over 100 plasma displays for signage and directions, and 400 miles of wire for connecting to power, to the Internet, and for entertainment and communications. Each of its 2,000 rooms offers high-speed Internet access, while meeting spaces offer wireless Internet and wired broadband access.

At the Borgata event center, the same entertainment technology that showcases top acts like David Bowie is available for meetings as well. The venue includes 30-foot ceilings and a 2,000-square-foot stage that can disappear automatically, as well as an advanced sound and projection system along with broadcast-ready video. Borgata also has 20 meeting rooms that in total will accommodate up to 3,700 delegates, including a 12,000-square-foot venue that accommodates 1,900. Each ballroom and meeting room includes built-in computer-controlled lighting, projection, video, and sound.

Connecticut

Philip Abraham, director of catering for Foxwoods, says the casino and hotel has the facilities and the entertainment equipment on property to support a 3,500- person meeting. For example, the complex's main venue, the Fox Theatre, seats about 1,400, and is available for rental.

Abraham says Foxwoods' on-site audiovisual department can supply everything from new theatrical backdrops to analog and digital mixers from Yamaha to powerful Sanyo data projectors. Abraham says, "We work with groups on pricing -- we're much less expensive than renting from an outside provider." A simple podium and microphone is $25, a 6' x 6' screen is $20, and a Sanyo 9,000-lumen projector is $650 a day -- or $1,300 for three days.

When there's an overflow crowd watching your speaker or performer, "We'll do simulcasting from one room to another," says Abraham. "We're online with everything -- there's high-speed Internet access available from every meeting room."

At Mohegan Sun, the owner added a convention and meetings center, as well as a 10,000-seat arena, in 2001. The same professionalism that supports top acts who come through, like Reba McEntire, David Bowie, and Rod Stewart, is available to planners for their special events.

There's 100,000 feet of meeting and function space overall; the 40,000-square-foot Uncas ballroom, which can hold up to 4,700 people, can be divided into 10 smaller rooms. Jim Sullivan, director of audio-visual, says, "We have projectors up to 5,000 lumens in regular inventory, large plasma displays, and a full line of sound and computerized lighting products." He adds that the ballroom has many hang points for lights built into the ceiling, as well as a ceiling-based sound system, both of which make the rigging versatile but discreet.

The ballroom also has patches in every corner for sound, video, and Internet access. For overflow crowds, you can send video and sound feed to other rooms. In the smaller meeting rooms, electric screens and projectors slide out of the ceiling via touchpad.

Las Vegas

With a wide range of properties to choose from, some say that Vegas' higher costs (partly driven by union work rules) are offset by competition in venue and equipment rental even for the largest meetings. "Las Vegas is absolutely at the cutting edge of what's available in entertainment technology," says Garland Cunningham, director of technical services at The Mirage. Just as important, "There's a deep pool of talented technicians with the ability to run all the sophisticated equipment."

One of the most sophisticated facilities is The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, a $95-million event center created for Celine Dion's A New Day. At the Colosseum, which has one of the largest stages in the world, even the last seat in the house is only 125 feet from the stage. The room is rigged with 206 moving spotlights and overhead lighting, all controlled by computer.

At Caesars, Chris Johnson, director of audiovisual and expo services for Encore, the in-house production team, says, "Our event pavilion has no chandeliers, so sight lines are clear, with multiple hanging points for lights." A full set of Apogee speakers can be deployed to provide concert-quality sound, while Sanyo 4,000-lumen projectors are available to provide big-screen video. Plasma displays from 32" to 56" are available as directional signs or message boards, as are moving lights, wireless microphones, and more.

All the conference rooms include built-in fiber-optic cable to send video, audio, and computer data over the same line. Johnson says the cabling allows all kinds of flexibility. "If there's standing room only for a speaker like Bill Gates, you can send his image to another room, and put a camera in that room so he can see you and you can see him."

The Mirage has also been a longtime top entertainment venue. Garland Cunningham recently helped stage a Hall and Oates concert and then dinner in the event center for 3,000 WellPoint delegates. In Vegas, he says, "a lot of technologies that run each show via computer have been implemented." For example, the Mirage has high-end moving lights that can change colors, EAW Concert Series speakers, and Yamaha digital controllers, along with integrated radio frequency networks, so it's easy to check wireless microphones and switch channels if there's interference.

At the convention facility, The Mirage has a fiber-optic backbone running through it, allowing customers to build a network on site. For Internet access, The Mirage offers "load sharing," or splitting the load between two Internet service providers. Cunningham says, "We did a show for IBM where the demand was incredible -- they set up training rooms in every breakout room; they were reaching out to their home servers and running applications remotely. We had 400 computers tied into our backbone and going out to the Net."

And like Caesars, The Mirage has a cutting-edge conference room with projection and videoconferencing capability. But Cunningham stresses that working with meeting planners is about service, not just technology. For instance, a planner recently wanted to do a nighttime beach party around the pool. "We simply re-gelled the lights on the palm trees in hot reds and ambers," he says. "It looked great and didn't cost a lot, because we weren't dragging in a duplicate set of lights or bringing in more power."