Gaming Attractions: Activities Off the Casino Floor

These days, gaming destinations are about much more than gaming

Las Vegas High Roller

Today, a planner hosting a group in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or another top gaming destination can pack the itinerary with activities for participants -- without them ever setting foot on a casino floor. Thanks to a variety of factors, gaming destinations across the country are focusing more heavily on attractions that have nothing to do with gaming - from restaurants and shopping outlets, to big-name entertainment and adrenaline-packed activities.

"The demographics have definitely shifted," says Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "What we keep seeing is love the entertainment, they love the dining, they love the shopping. And when it comes to the checklist of reasons to come to Las Vegas, gaming falls down to No. 7 or 8.

One major factor in the rise of non-gaming attractions is increased regional gambling opportunities across the country and around the world. Places like Cincinnati, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Singapore, and Macau all boast casinos now, which has led popular U.S. gaming destinations such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City to offer other attractions to stay ahead of the competition.

"Gaming is diverse now. So what brings you to Las Vegas?" asks Joe Shortal, co-founder of New Capital Ventures, a Las Vegas-based development firm that created the city's new VooDoo Zip Line attraction, which rockets a pair of riders more than 490 feet above the Strip between the towers of the Rio Hotel and Casino. "Entertainment and dining are definitely taking a bigger chunk out of the whole pie.

For years, the city of Las Vegas has been engaging in a "very aggressive" marketing campaign - in the words of Michael Dominguez, MGM Resorts International's vice president of sales - to tout its non-gaming attractions. Also, the China market is significant for Las Vegas, but with high-end gaming available in Macau, Shortal says, Chinese travelers are coming for other attractions such as shopping, dining, nightlife, and entertainment. Today, only 37 percent of Las Vegas' revenue comes from gaming.

"I think the city has figured out a way to be relevant and it's not gaming," Shortal says.

Meanwhile, Atlantic City has embarked on a new crusade to highlight its attractions off the casino floor - particularly its draw for groups. This comes on the heels of recent casino closures and the fact that the city has lost nearly half of its gaming revenue since 2006, dropping from $5.2 billion to $2.9 billion in 2013, according to a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Atlantic City is creating new jobs, building new attractions, and diversifying [its] economy beyond just gaming," Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian stressed in a June press conference. "We have major new, non-gaming investment in Atlantic City from private industry, and they are seeing results." Sure enough, the New York Daily News proclaimed in a June headline: "Atlantic City is luring tourists who are just as interested in gourmet food as in gambling."

Unforgettable Offerings 
Also contributing to the rise of non-gaming attractions is the growing expectation that visitors will have unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences during their trips -- especially for meeting and convention groups. 

"Each of our gaming and resort partners is looking for their brand to be an experience," explains Meyer. "And that's what people expect from visiting Las Vegas."

"You need to provide something unique, something different, something they will keep in their memory, something that attracts them to go to this meeting or that incentive," says Bruno Simões, managing director DOC DMC Macau, a destination marketing company based in the Chinese city. He asserts that while mainland Chinese visitors, who comprise the majority of Macau's tourists, come to Macau predominantly for the gaming, international visitors today expect more than just casinos (read more about Macau and Asia's gaming offerings here).

In Europe, visitors very frequently come to Monaco for more than the casinos, adds Cindy Hoddeson, director of meeting and incentive sales for the Monaco Government Tourist office. In fact, gambling accounts for less than 3 percent of Monaco's revenues.

So how have major gaming destinations upped the ante to appeal to a broader, less casino-hungry demographic?

In May, Las Vegas saw the opening of the aforementioned VooDoo Zip Line, as well as its new and only stand-alone boutique hotel, The Cromwell, which boasts Food Network star and celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis' first restaurant, Giada's, and nightlife mogul Victor Drai's 65,000-square-foot rooftop beach club and lounge. Caesars Entertainment opened its hotel-within-a-hotel innovation - the 181-room Nobu Hotel nestled within Caesars Palace - in February 2013, and earlier this year unveiled The LINQ, a $550-million open-air retail, dining, and entertainment development that boasts the Las Vegas High Roller, the world's tallest observation wheel. The much-hyped, design-driven, $415-million SLS Las Vegas Hotel is expected to woo visitors when it opens in September with chic nightlife brands operated by SBE.

Atlantic City has also been busy. In December, the newly created Arts District was anchored by the opening of the Noyes Arts Garage Stockton College, which houses 15 artist studios, galleries, retail and craft shops, a café, and a flexible classroom. In 2015, Atlantic City will welcome the 86,000-square-foot, $34-million Bass Pro Shops "Best of Bass" shop.

Macau has added a notable non-gaming attraction in the past few years: the world's highest commercial bungee jumping opportunity. In 2007, New Zealand entrepreneur Alan John "A.J." Hackett created a 765-foot bungee jump at The Macau Tower. Hackett also partnered with the company Human Rhythm to offer a corporate activity called "Sky Drumming," in which groups head out to the 765-foot-high platform and participate in an ancient drumming ritual.

Growth in non-gaming offerings is no accident. Planners have been requesting these kinds of things "for years," says Meyer. "[They say]: 'Give us some different touch points where we can show our attendees a different experience.'" 

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Read more about the expanding options available in Las Vegas beyond gaming.