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by Leo Jakobson | July 21, 2016
The Tropicana's Sky Beach Club is an addition by new owner Penn National Gaming, which is contemplating more additions
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It's said that the only real change would be for Las Vegas to stand still, but even by those standards, the transformation Sin City is undergoing in the next few years will be momentous. That is, in large part, because the changes are not just taking the form of new casinos, but what the Las Vegas experience is for visitors.

For a long time, non-resident Las Vegas was The Strip -- which catered to the group and leisure market -- and the flashy Fremont Street downtown, which was largely for leisure visitors. There wasn't a "getting to know the real city" experience of the type available in most leisure destinations. The dining, the nightlife, the entertainment, and even the culture was inside the casino-resorts' walls. Now the casinos are turning their eyes (and leisure experiences) outward. Downtown Las Vegas is in the process of becoming a real downtown -- not just a smaller, older version of the entertainment giants that line Las Vegas Boulevard.

Things are changing on The Strip as well. In June, the old Riviera, one of the last holdouts of the classic Las Vegas of mobsters and the Rat Pack -- and featured in the original Frank Sinatra version of Ocean's Eleven -- was imploded to make way for a half-million-square-foot expansion onto The Strip for the Las Vegas Convention Center and its surrounding Global Business District.

Of the other two properties with names that go that far back, the Flamingo has been rebuilt from the ground up, and the much-expanded Tropicana embraced a South Beach aesthetic in a top-to-bottom renovation completed in 2013 and most recently in the new Sky Beach Club LV, a major new daytime venue with bottle service, live performances and a "secluded hot tub" for those who are "feeling extra daring."


The Other Las Vegas
Downtown Las Vegas is an area that has long been overlooked by incentive planners, but lately it's worth checking out. "Downtown is really exciting," says Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales for the Los Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). "A lot of leaders down there are committed to the idea that downtown is a destination in and of itself. There has been a major investment in properties, a lot of new businesses opening, and a much younger vibe."

Spots like the Downtown Container Park, a shopping and dining venue, are adding to great spots like the Neon Museum and underused Mob Museum, which might be better off using its full name -- The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement -- which better conveys just how informative and educational the experience is, although "Mob Museum" better conveys the fun. Located in the courthouse where flamboyant former Mayor Oscar Goodman defended mobsters ranging from Meyer Lansky to Anthony Spilotro (the mobster who inspired Joe Pesci's character in Casino), it has a variety of venues, including a 100-seat restored courtroom.

"A lot of groups want unique, different activities, and if you go off The Strip, you do get that," says Amy Riley, senior director of business sales at the LVCVA. "You can go skiing 40 minutes away, visit the Valley of Fire State Park or Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, visit the historic El Dorado Canyon Mine Tours. We have two exotic racing venues -- the new SpeedVegas 10 minutes south of The Strip and the Richard Petty Driving Experience on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We have Dig This, where you can run [massive] excavators and bulldozers."

Further off The Strip, you'll find the AAA Four Diamond Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, with 796 rooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting space. It put its best foot forward in June when it played host to the Incentive Research Foundation's 23rd Annual Education and Incentive Invitational. Eight minutes from the magnificent Red Rock Canyon and less than 20 minutes from the airport, the resort was purpose-built 10 years ago with meetings in mind, says Bob Jensch, corporate vice president of Hotel Operations at Station Casinos, which owns Red Rock, its nearby sister property Green Valley Ranch, and in May purchased The Palms Casino Resort right off The Strip. Red Rock's amenities include a three-acre outdoor pool that can easily be partitioned for events, large rooms with incredible views, a 25,000-square-foot spa and wellness sanctuary, and a number of excellent dining venues, notably T-Bones Chophouse.