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All of those little extras are adding up in the amenities game

All those extras — amenities — seem to be growing as the state’s casino resorts try to offer more reasons for guests to visit. As the options move beyond restaurants and golf courses, amenities can be a way for a resort to set itself apart from other resorts.

“Amenities are very important,” said Bob Davidge, advertising and public relations manager for Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis. “Considering Hollywood Casino Bay St. Louis is the only Coast casino resort with all amenities on-site, this is a huge differentiator for us.”

‘Abundance’

The list of amenities continues to grow at Pearl River Resorts in Neshoba County. “When guests visit Pearl River Resort, they can expect to find an abundance of amenities,” says public relations manager Ryan Griffin. “Of course, people want to come to enjoy the casinos, but what sets Pearl River Resort apart is the commitment to great guest service and the mix of amenities. Guests can find plenty of activities to participate in over a two or three day visit.”

He refers to the resort’s two nationally renowned golf courses, 23-acre water park, full-service spa and salon, 16 different dining options, more than 40,000 square feet of meeting space and more than 1,100 hotel rooms. The newest addition is the Hilton Garden Inn Choctaw. Located at the Dancing Rabbit Golf Club site, it offers 140 additional guest rooms, swimming pool and golf packages.

The Sheraton Casino in Tunica recently opened a new steakhouse to add to its group of amenities. “It is a great, comfortable steakhouse where guests can let their hair down and enjoy some seriously good food,” said Bill Wright, general manager of the Grand, Horseshoe and Sheraton casinos.

Wright said the Grand Casino is undergoing a $45-million renovation to the casino floor and hotel rooms. He is also excited about the upcoming grand opening of Harrah’s Casino Tunica and the new, first-ever Paula Deen’s Buffet in May.

Changing expectations

Consumers are expecting more in the way of amenities, says Lance Hopkins, former casino marketing director who now teaches in the casino management program at Tulane University’s Biloxi campus.

“When deciding which properties to visit, consumers look at Web sites and call to find out what the resorts offer. They want to know if they get free use of the spa or what types of restaurants are on site.” he said. “New properties have to be competitive, and existing properties have to constantly upgrade. It used to be that just having a hotel and a buffet was enough, but that’s not true anymore. The restaurants are becoming more specialized, and many properties now have restaurants bearing the names of celebrity chefs.”

He points out that even a small casino, such as Treasure Bay in Biloxi, has a buffet, 24-hour grill and a fine dining restaurant to serve guests at all levels. Once considered loss leaders, restaurants are often profit centers now even though they remain key marketing tools.

“Having retail shops — more than just the typical gift shop — is also a growing trend among casino resorts, and consumers want that amenity,” Hopkins added. “A scenic view can be considered an amenity, too, and hotels charge more for rooms with a view.”

Margaritaville Casino and Resort is under construction in Biloxi as a venture between Harrah’s Entertainment, Jimmy Buffet and the Simon Property Group, a retail developer. It will feature approximately 100,000 square feet of gaming space and 250,000 square feet of retail space.

Something different

Hoping to open in Biloxi in 2010, Bacaran Bay Casino Resort plans to differentiate itself from the existing competition with a long list of amenities. Those amenities will include the Coast’s first all-suite hotel, condominiums and a few, such as a wedding chapel, pet hotel and bowling center, that are not presently available in the state, according to Jeana Tribble, vice president of marketing.

Gaming analyst and consultant Scott R. King adds his voice to the drive for more and better amenities as part of the game for old and new casino resorts. “New developments are diligent and do their homework to open with great amenities that ultimately raise the bar for everyone,” he said. “The quality will increase, and the properties will continue to re-invest in their amenities to gain market share.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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