Detroit is already the nation's fifth largest gambling market, according to 2006 statistics from the American Gaming Association. Now the city is hoping to position itself as a true gambling-based destination for tourists. The city's three casinos — Greektown, MotorCity, and the MGM Grand Detroit — are spending $1.5 billion to build sleek new hotels, expand their facilities, and inject some glitz into the gritty Motown landscape.
Until now, the casinos have mostly attracted day-trippers and coach tours from Ontario, outstate Michigan and neighboring states. The new hotels, with 1,200 luxury rooms and thousands of square feet of convention space, will enable them to market to well-heeled gamers willing to spend several days gambling and being entertained, said Frank Fantini, publisher of the electronic Gaming Morning Report.
"The casinos will have no problems filling up their rooms," Fantini said.
But "the fact they're only building 400 hotel rooms each is some indication of their assessment of the size of the drive-in tourist market," said Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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 have signed on to open restaurants in the new facility. You can gamble there now; 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.
Casino Windsor is spending another $380 million ($400 million Canadian) to construct a 22-story hotel and remake itself as Caesars Windsor.
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. Television ads in the Cleveland market include images of gambling, including one that calls Detroit "a real city."
Casino analyst Jake Miklojcik, president of Michigan Consultants, said the new facilities will help the city better compete for the gambling dollar in other states and within Michigan, which also has 18 Indian casinos. Between 20 percent and 30 percent of people with Players Club cards in Detroit hail from out of state, he said.
Casino officials also are working to lure convention business to their spacious new digs. "Not so much the gigantic conventions, but the Michigan-based associations — the optometrists, the gravediggers, whatever," Miklojcik said. "Those used to go to Detroit 25 to 30 years ago. Now they typically don't."
Tourism officials say they hope the casinos will help persuade leisure travelers to check the city out — people like Don Lucy, a Lee, Mass., resident who visited Detroit for the first time to watch the Boston Red Sox play the Tigers at Comerica Park. The retired teacher said he planned to return to Greektown later to hit the slots.
Friends balked when he told them he was visiting Detroit, and he worried as he drove past smokestacks and grimy industrial landscapes. "Once you get in the city central, it's beautiful, very nice," Lucy said. "I'd like to come back out here again. I like Detroit. I never thought I'd say that."