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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Casino resort celebrates a decade of deals

Courtesy Belterra Casino Resort

A decade ago, the quiet southeast Indiana countryside was dealt a new hand when the state OK’d gaming, and three casino resorts popped up on the Ohio River’s banks with their casinos on the water as the state law then required.

The largest of the three, Belterra Casino Resort, near Vevay, Ind., will turn 10 in October. Although it is not the largest in terms of gaming revenues, Belterra is by far the roomiest, with 600 guest rooms and 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

For meeting planners, Belterra has proved a good bet, a casino resort that offers far more than gambling, with a championship golf course, a full-service spa, shopping and restaurants.
The Indiana Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors (IPHCC) has had its annual convention there for three years straight.

“Our goal was to find a facility that would serve several functions, including a small trade show and seminars, but at the same time also allow our group to be social,” said Brenda A. Dant, executive director. “We also wanted to offer different amenities to the folks going there.”

Simple layout aids networking
Belterra is a large hotel, but because of a simple layout, it is hard to feel lost. Guest rooms are in two 300-room towers, but everything else is spread out on a single floor. Shops and restaurants line the wide, marble-floored pavilion, with entrances to the casino and meeting areas at opposite ends. It’s easy to avoid the casino and easier still to run into peers, a big plus for groups like Dant’s that enjoy networking. “Our members really like to see each other,” she said.

The resort has the typical meeting space — a 10,625-square-foot ballroom, five breakout rooms and two boardrooms — but it also has some unexpected spaces that are popular with planners. Among them is the 12,831-square-foot CenterStage Showroom, where big-name acts entertain on weekends.

With seating removed, the space easily becomes a trade-show floor. “We had two groups use it for shows just this week,” said Heather Holt, interim director of sales.

Because of its professional stage, lighting and sound, the venue is also suited to closing events and awards dinners. IPHCC used it for its closing night, an evening that included entertainment, a silent auction and election of officers.

Another popular venue, especially for social events, is the top of the riverboat casino with its views of the river. “This is a feature that not everyone can offer you,” said Holt. “We had a large reception there last week with a live band.”

The resort also enlists nontraditional spaces when necessary. When the contractors’ trade show needed display space for some trucks at its convention one year, Belterra cordoned off part of its parking lot for the display.

Golf groups like to use the Out of Bounds bar and grill, next to the Tom Fazio-design golf course, for after-golf receptions or meals. Golf is an element of almost all meetings at Belterra, Holt said, whether it be a few executives playing a round or two, or scrambles and other tournaments that the golf course staff help plan.

Guests rave about their rooms
Unlike some casino resorts “where the guest rooms aren’t that nice because they want you out of your room and in the casino,” said Dant, guest rooms at Belterra get high marks for their size and their accoutrements.

Because of the work they do, members of Dant’s group “really notice the bathrooms,” she said. The guest room baths in the original hotel tower get high marks from the group. Those rooms are labeled deluxe, with flat-screen televisions in the bathroom and Jacuzzi tubs.

At Belterra, “you get the sense you are walking into a hotel and not a casino,” said Dant. “The minute you walk in, you don’t hit a wall of smoke.” (Belterra does allow smoking in its casino and does have designated guest rooms for smokers, according to Holt.)

Moves made to improve food
Belterra also earns high marks for its food. Holt says the resort has stepped up its food service with chefs who’ve worked for Disney and for five-star hotels. “Within the last year, we have spent a lot of time making enhancements in that area,” said Holt. Customized menus are being emphasized, along with menus that can help reiterate a meeting’s theme or are tied to a current event.

Members of the Kentucky Auto Dealers Association, which has held its summer board meeting at the resort numerous times over the past decade, noticed the difference in the food quality this year.
“We have never had any complaints about their food, but we do believe this past year was the best food we’d ever had there,” said meeting planner Sherry Stivers.

The food quality carries over to on-site restaurants. “Some of our attendees will sneak away from the reception the first night, saying that they must go have dinner at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse,” Stivers said.

Innovative programs add options
Recognizing, though, that sameness can start to bore returning guests, Belterra is adding team building and other group events to keep things fresh.

Among them are interactive and instructive culinary programs that take groups behind the scenes, a floral design program that relies on floral experts from the on-site floral shop, wine tastings and pairings, and health and wellness programs at the spa.

For some, however, familiarity is a comfort, and a trip to Belterra and its casino is something to which they look forward.

Soon, the IPHCC will meet to discuss future convention locations. When Belterra is discussed, Dant predicts some of the association’s members will be “digging in their heels, asking why should we go anywhere else?”