By Betty W. Stark
Call them integrated resorts, one-stop destinations or amenity-rich settings, casino properties have solidly moved to the forefront as appealing environments for meetings of all shapes and most sizes.
From a meeting planner’s perspective the pluses of a casino-based program are considerable: a dedicated planning staff; state-of-the-art meeting and event space; top-of-the-line lodging with a fine-tuned emphasis on hospitality; comprehensive food service; onsite restaurants from casual to upscale; after-hours entertainment (no shuttles required); and not to be underestimated, free parking for hundreds to thousands of vehicles.
With 28 casino locations owned and managed by 11 federally-recognized Native American tribes, Wisconsin is richly endowed with options for groups and events ranging in size from small board meetings to sprawling trade shows, nonprofit galas, annual conferences and more.
Radisson Hotel and Conference Center and the Oneida Casino, Green Bay
The Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Green Bay wins the meeting-friendly jackpot on several levels. It’s located right across the street from Austin Straubel International Airport and it’s attached to a casino.
The 354-room hotel is also seamlessly connected to 30,000 square feet of flexible function space in the newly-renovated Great Lakes meeting complex, Three Clans Ballroom and lavish pre-function area. Teleconference capabilities, state-of-the-art AV, free WiFi with increased bandwidth and seating for 2,000 rounds out the offerings.
Located beyond the conference center and under the same roof, the Oneida Casino underwent a $28 million facelift in 2014 that added three new restaurants, including the Vince Lombardi Sports Bar and Grill replete with the NFL legend’s memorabilia, more gaming and expanded smoke-free areas. By pre-arrangement, groups can secure dedicated space at gaming tables.
According to Mary Shaw, director of sales and catering, hotel rooms have been refreshed too. “We’ve added new TVs and refrigerators, and the Sleep Number Beds are out, replaced by new comfort beds.”
The hotel itself offers intimate function space like the President’s Club and Plaza Board rooms. The Fireplace Lobby Bar, showcasing Oneida tribal history, is available for receptions, hospitality functions and lunch groups.
Shaw points out that planners can infuse tribal culture into meetings.
“Tribal members are available to share insight into their history and rich traditions. The nearby Oneida American Market (June to September) is a big attraction for groups, displaying various food options and traditions.”
Menominee Casino Resort, Keshena
In 1987, Wisconsin’s first “Las Vegas-style” casino opened in northeast Wisconsin at Keshena, near Shawano. Today, the casino resort’s 13,000-square-foot convention center, 103-room AAA-rated hotel and 33,000-square-foot casino offer planners a full-service destination for groups in a sublime Northwoods setting near the Nicolet National Forest.
Resort meeting team member Richard Oshkeshequoam points out that the convention center’s Five Clans Ballroom can be subdivided, and five adjacent breakout rooms accommodate smaller groups up to 50. Attendees will find robust WiFi throughout and other meeting room equipment is available.
“In addition to full-service banquet and group events, in-house staff works with planners to streamline all aspects of lodging, meeting and after-hours events,” he says.
“The Forest Island Restaurant located in the casino is popular with groups. And about nine miles from the resort, our stand-alone casual restaurant, The Thunderbird, has inside and outside dining areas that can be reserved exclusively by groups of about 35 in each setting. We can also arrange group transportation to the ’T-Bird.’ There’s also a small gaming facility onsite.”
The resort’s 33,000-square-foot main casino features regularly scheduled entertainment Friday and Saturday evenings. Meeting groups are free to hire outside entertainment exclusively for their events. Popular offproperty group activities include area golf outings, rafting on the Wolf River, exploring local Menominee tribe history and culture, and boating on nearby Legend Lake.
Ho-Chunk Casino Hotel and Convention Center, Wisconsin Dells
The Ho-Chunk gaming, hotel and convention complex near Wisconsin Dells recently had a facelift, according to Dave Abangan, senior manager, public relations, and it’s “better than ever.” Attracting business well beyond casino visitors, The Grand Ballroom seats up to 1,200 and there are several meeting room configurations on both the upper and lower levels, including break-out and board room configurations.
“Meetings and conferences are very important to us,” Abangan adds. We work closely with planners to achieve their group objectives, asking them, “What are your goals? We have all these resources at your disposal.
“We have staff to assist with meetings (up to 1,000), outdoor functions, special events like an executive dinner meeting at our elegant open-grill Copper Oak Restaurant, hospitality suites with portable bars. We can book talent—local musicians, area magicians—and we can block seats for a group when we offer national entertainment, everything from celebrity chefs to country western superstars and top musical groups. We can even arrange a private artist meet-and-greet, with advance planning.
“We have 30,000 square feet of exhibit space accommodating 90 trade show booths, and multiple meeting rooms on two levels—WiFi throughout, and AV, projection screens and all the meeting amenities. Within the hotel, we offer a VIP Wing and VIP Lounge Area, and our Executive Suites with fireplaces can also serve as hospitality suites.”
No surprise, Ho-Chunk business meeting attendees often bring their families with them. The hotel offers passes to nearby waterparks, and group outings at reduced rates can be arranged to offsite attractions in the Dells, with transportation included.
Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, Milwaukee
Already one of the largest entertainment destinations in the Midwest, the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino is slated to become even grander. Pending Milwaukee County approval, a hotel tower addition scheduled to open in spring 2019 will boost room count by 119 rooms/suites and add expanded meeting and function space, and a full-service spa.
For sheer size, amenities and sophistication, Potawatomi—a Gold LEED Certified Hotel—is a standout among state casino offerings. From a planner’s perspective, the Event Center—defined as a “blank slate”— can adapt to the specific needs of groups from 10 to 3,000 for trade shows, receptions, banquets, galas and more.
“We are doing more trade shows for the business sector, and especially IT,” says Hotel Director Hassan Abdel-Moneim, “It’s about relationship-building. We offer a big draw to our meeting clients, because we are more fun than a standard hotel setting and their customers want to be involved. After hours, we can offer private group tables in the casino, with gaming demonstrations and instruction. It’s all under one roof.”
Groups do go off-property for special outings, according to Ryan Amundson, external communications manager. “We opened the 2017 Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism with a reception at the nearby Harley-Davison Museum—it was a great way to open, with the Harley history in Wisconsin.
“Ball games at Miller Park are popular too, along with craft beer tours throughout the Menomonee Valley.”
A Planner’s Perspective
Dawn Zanoni, Wisconsin Department of Tourism meeting planner for the 2017 Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism, gives glowing reviews to Potawatomi Resort and Casino.
“It is a breathtakingly beautiful property, all-inclusive with lodging, meeting, dining, trade show and entertainment under one roof. The service level is higher than most stand-alone hotels. Food quality and service are excellent too—it’s high-end dining.
“The staff is timely and conscientious— they did a great job for us. We designed the program to fit the property, rather than the property bending to our needs. We had 1,000 attendees this year—a large group.
“Potawatomi has built-in elegance, so we too were more ’elegant’ than at past conferences. The facility, especially the ballroom décor, lends itself to that. It’s the first time we did black tie optional.”