Slots a draw, but Twin River all-in on service

All in: Kim Ward, Twin River director of public and community affairs, in the VIP Lounge, one of several meeting areas at the facility. /
All in: Kim Ward, Twin River director of public and community affairs, in the VIP Lounge, one of several meeting areas at the facility. /

Slot machines and virtual blackjack tables as far as the eye can see can be an asset to attracting competitive meeting and convention dollars.
While Twin River’s Kim Ward says gaming is a draw for some businesses and organizations to the Lincoln facility, she’s quick to point out the practical side of Twin River.
“Easy on and off access to the highway, free parking, onsite catering, full (audio and visual) services … and our ability to accommodate a wide range of audiences of various sizes has a lot to do with it too,” said the director of public and community affairs.
Ward said since Twin River’s 26,000-square-foot event center opened in 2007 – part of a well-publicized $225 million renovation to the facility – the onetime dog track has built a strong reputation in the region for offering high-end space and strong customer service.
While lacking a hotel limits the pool of potential event customers, Ward said Twin River has become a strong player for groups typically within a 45-minute drive. In 2010, Twin River had 270 external bookings for meetings and events, with an additional 90 events happening.
Ward said Twin River’s large- capacity rooms immediately made it a competitor in a state where the number of large venues can be counted on one hand. The event center can hold as many as 3,000 people for a standing-room-only event and 2,400 for a seated dinner.
That area can also be divided into thirds for convenience and include a pre-function room.
Other venues for smaller functions include Fred & Steve’s Steakhouse, Catch a Rising Star Comedy Club, the VIP Lounge and the Wicked Good Bar & Grille. Those spaces can accommodate from 16 to 200 people.
While size matters, Ward is most proud of Twin River’s ability to keep organizations coming year after year. She said the company has a “re-booking” rate of 95 percent to 98 percent.
Ward said the facility draws customers through word of mouth, grassroots marketing, social media and chambers of commerce involvement, among other outlets.
Twin River does not use gaming discounts as an incentive to attract meetings. She said many casinos give chips, slot vouchers and accommodations to attract this type of business.
That doesn’t mean meetings don’t help gambling revenue.
“Yes, the gaming room does see an uptick when events empty,” she explained. “Most meeting [participants] elsewhere would be stuck in a cream-colored break room. Here they can walk the gaming floor, play virtual blackjack or play the slot machines,” she said. There are also gaming alternatives at The Lighthouse Bar, which offers live entertainment.
Ward said gambling is sometimes a detriment to attracting meeting business.
“The gambling stigma is an issue. Sometimes [organizers] will have to go to their board of directors and they might have a personal conflict with the idea,” she said. Ward said often all it takes is a visit to the event center to dispel fears. It helps that the event center has its own entrance, so attendees do not have to walk through a casino.
Twin River’s client list for meetings and events is more evidence that organizations are open-minded to the venue, she said. Twin River hosts events of the Special Olympics of Rhode Island, Providence College, Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation and the St. Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island’s annual Bishop’s Ball, to name a few.
The Bishop’s Ball is the signature fundraising event for St. Joseph Health Services, an affiliate of CharterCARE Health Partners and corporate parent of Our Lady of Fatima Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital for Specialty Care. The 35-year-old gala will be hosted by Twin River for the fourth straight year this coming fall.
Paula Iacono, development officer for CharterCARE, said the idea of holding the event at a facility known for gaming was something that needed to be considered.
“Bishop [Thomas J.] Tobin and our guests were unfamiliar with the venue other than it being a casino,” she said. “They did not realize that there is a separate entrance and parking. You do not have to go through the casino to get to the event center.
“Once they attended the event, they were impressed with the service and the facility; most indicated it didn’t feel like they were in a casino at all,” she added.
Iacono said the reality is that very few facilities in Rhode Island can handle more than 500 guests for a sit-down dinner and still have room for a dance floor. Twin River also offers a layout that can accommodate the fundraiser’s elaborate silent auction program.
The bottom line though when it comes to successful high-end events is service and that’s why Iacono’s organization keeps coming back, she said.
“I have been doing events for 20 years and probably have been at every venue in the state. [Twin River] has been by far the most accommodating,” she added. •

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