Published on Thursday, August 16, 2007

Motown betting billions in bid to be Vegas east

Las Vegas tourist numbers keep going up but the Detroit area is gambling billions that it can become a rival gaming-entertainment Mecca.

Detroit’s three major casinos alone are spending $1.5 billion to build new hotels, expand their facilities, and inject some glitz into the gritty Motown landscape. They are Greektown, MotorCity and the MGM Grand Detroit.

“Until now, the casinos have mostly attracted day-trippers and coach tours from Ontario, upstate Michigan and neighboring states,” says the AP.

With new luxury rooms and thousands of square feet of convention space, Detroit is starting to market to better-heeled gamers that, Vegas-like, are willing to spend money on gambling and entertainment.

"The casinos will have no problems filling up their rooms," said Frank Fantini, publisher of Gaming Morning Report.

All three Detroit casinos opened in temporary facilities in 1999 and 2000. Casino Windsor across the river in Ontario, Canada, opened an interim facility in 1994 and settled into its current building in 1998.

MGM Grand's new $765 million complex includes a full-service resort spa and a 17-story hotel with electronic concierges in each room. Celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and Michael Mina are opening restaurants in the new facility. Visitors can gamble there now and the hotel is scheduled to open this fall.

Greektown Casino is spending $475 million to expand its existing facility, located in an ethnic district of the same name. A 20-story hotel opens next year.

Out on downtown's fringes, MotorCity Casino is spending $275 million on a 17-story hotel, opening this fall, with amenities such as marble bathrooms with separate soaking tubs and climate-customized rooms for repeat guests. It opened the first phase of its gaming floor expansion in June.

Officials with Travel Michigan and the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau say they're using the casinos and hotels as part of a bigger effort to market the city.

Detroit is currently the nation's fifth largest gambling market, according to 2006 statistics from the American Gaming Association.

Vegas, meanwhile, had a 4% increase in visitors for June of this year.

Nearly 3.3 million people visited the city, pushing the visitation total for the year to more than 19.6 million, an increase of 1.3% from the pace set in 2006, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Tourism officials attributed it to consumers growing more accustomed to high gasoline prices.

"There has been sort of an adjustment in the mind-set of what gas prices are," said Kevin Bagger, director of research for the Las Vegas authority.

Report by David Wilkening

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