Del Lago Resort & Casino is a $440 million casino, 205-room hotel and spa in Waterloo, N.Y., that opened last February and unveiled a hotel and spa in July. 

The mission behind del Lago Resort & Casino has been to act as a gateway to the Finger Lakes region, leveraging the natural beauty and unique offerings while enhancing tourism, according to press materials. Savor NY—MacKenzie-Childs at del Lago is a unique retail outlet where local vendors bring the Finger Lakes region directly to del Lago patrons with MacKenzie-Childs and Jay Strongwater products and a wide variety of local fruits, cheeses, baked goods, wines and beers and other area specialties. The property even developed its own summer IPA beer in partnership with local ale maker CB Craft Brewers.

Del Lago Resort & Casino also features 1,980 slot machines and 99 gaming tables, including 14 poker tables; Portico by Fabio Viviani, a restaurant serving lunch and dinner with a sophisticated take on Old World Italian-inspired foods and spirits; The Vine, a 2,400-person entertainment center, bar and restaurant; Farmers Market Buffet, featuring locally sourced comfort foods; Centrifico, a bar/lounge area in the center of the gaming floor; The Sociale Café & Bar, serving “gastro spa” cuisine and beverages; and a 4,200-square-foot food court.

Jeff Babinski is executive vice president and general manager for del Lago, and he recently took some time to answer questions from Casino Journal Editor Paul Doocey regarding the current state of the property, its marketing plans and goals for the future.

How did del Lago Resort & Casino come about? What were some of the challenges faced and overcome during the development of the property?

Babinski: The Wilmot Family and its Rochester, N.Y.-based leading commercial real estate development and management company, Wilmorite Inc., had been trying to open a casino in New York State for more than 15 years. We were thankful to Gov. Cuomo for his leadership in bringing a referendum to New York state voters that allowed del Lago Resort & Casino to be proposed and built.

Del Lago Resort & Casino is a partnership between Wilmorite and Peninsula Pacific. Peninsula Pacific comprises the former leadership team from Peninsula Gaming, which has a combined 50 years of experience developing and managing regional casinos in five states. JNB Gaming manages the hotel and casino as JNB and its principals are widely recognized throughout the country as premier casino developers and operators.

As with all development, while this project did face some opposition, proponents agreed that del Lago would be an economic boost to the rural area (halfway between Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y.), creating 1,500 permanent jobs, making del Lago the largest employer in the county. We are incredibly proud of what we have built and the business operation that we are running.

Del Lago officially opened the doors to its casino in February of this year. How has the casino been preforming?

Babinski: From many aspects, del Lago Resort & Casino has been a wonderful success story in less than nine months. We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars every month buying local produce, wine, beer, cheeses, meats and other supplies and services, and we are helping local businesses grow and watching new businesses being built. We are confident that we are moving in the right direction. Our hotel just opened in July and has been extraordinarily well-received. We are filling rooms with tourists who are visiting the attractions and businesses throughout the Finger Lakes, which has been the goal of our property from the start.

How has del Lago promoted and marketed itself since the opening? How successful have these efforts been?

Babinski: We are thrilled with the very warm welcome our property has received since opening in February. We hit the ground running with our marketing efforts to ensure that we let our guests know that we built del Lago Resort & Casino with them in mind. We have positioned ourselves as a community steward and a proud supporter of local Finger Lakes businesses. From the very start, we have promoted our mission which is to act as a gateway to the Finger Lakes region, leveraging the natural beauty and unique offerings to enhance tourism across the area.

This mission has been successfully woven throughout the development of del Lago through amenities like Savor New York, which acts as a showcase of local wineries, breweries, spirits, cheesemakers, artisans and more. In addition to serving local wine and beer, we pride ourselves on sourcing locally—all of our restaurants use Finger Lakes ingredients, such as meats, cheeses, produce and fruits. Our chefs often visit local farmers markets to source fresh ingredients. We recently purchased 3,000 bottles of wine (250 cases) from Thirsty Owl Wine Company on Cayuga Lake and 3,000 bottles of wine (250 cases) from Glenora Wine Cellars on Seneca Lake. The purchases are the largest single sales that the Finger Lakes wineries have received. The wine was gifted to del Lago Resort & Casino’s top guests during the month of September.

As del Lago grows our business and attracts new tourists, we will continue to look for new partnerships. There are so many great products produced in the Finger Lakes region and we look forward to continuing our mission to support local businesses.

How does del Lago set its casino itself apart from other properties?

Babinski: We are setting ourselves apart from others in the region as del Lago is a true world-class destination. From our amazing dining options, serving menu items from local farmers and purveyors, to our 94,000-square-foot casino floor, our entertainment venue (which books top national acts) called The Vine to our 205-room hotel and Spa del Lago, we offer something for everyone. Our Players Club Reward program is quite unique as players may redeem points earned at del Lago not only on property but also at local participating retailers, wineries and restaurants. Our reward program encourages our guests to explore the region and other destinations the area offers. We also focus on providing excellent customer service. From the time our guests enter the property to the time they leave, we want to ensure they receive unprecedented service. 

Del Lago has a rather eclectic mix of bar and restaurant offerings. Could you explain the property’s strategy when it comes to providing non-gaming amenities?

Babinski: When we built the property, we wanted to ensure that there was something for everyone to enjoy while also embracing all the Finger Lakes has to offer. This mission has been woven throughout the development of del Lago through amenities like Savor New York—MacKenzie-Childs at del Lago, a 2,000-square-foot store featuring MacKenzie-Childs and Jay Strongwater products, as well as other local products. Each weekend, we feature two vendors, sampling and selling their local products, from wine to beer, maple syrup, honey, wing and BBQ sauces and mustard. These opportunities help our vendors reach a completely different audience than they normally would—which has increased their foot traffic and online sales.

As for our restaurants, we offer our guests many dining options featuring locally sourced ingredients. Our food court even features three locally owned restaurants, including Smashburger and Moe’s Southwest Grill and Finger Lakes-based Ciccino’s Pizzeria & Paninoteca. Our culinary team uses the bountiful agriculture, meats, cheese, wine and beer from the region to develop our menus, focusing on seasonal farm-to-table ingredients. Even our spa celebrates the region, as Spa del Lago draws regional natural healing properties including herbs, plants, minerals and the abundant grapes with its signature Vinotherapy spa products.

Del Lago just opened its hotel. Please describe the hotel and what you are doing to set it apart?

Babinski: The six-story hotel features 205 luxurious rooms. Each room is equipped with an Intelity iPad hotel directory system, making it the first hotel in upstate New York to offer the feature. Guests can use the iPad to order room service, request valet service, ask housekeeping for an extra pillow or schedule a treatment at Spa del Lago. Rooms feature a personal device charging station and custom bathrooms with detailed stonework, marble counters and rain showers. All rooms come with additional standard amenities as well as complimentary WiFi. Our rooms feature a wine refrigerator, as we encourage our guests to experience the many wineries our region has to offer. All furniture is custom made, blending the Old-World charm of Italy with a Las Vegas feel. The property offers 24-hour room service from one of its many on-site dining options and features a business center, 24-hour fitness center, and wellness classes complete with yoga and cycling classes.

I understand the hotel also offers a spa. Why did the property opt for a spa? What does the spa consist of? How is it different from nearby spas?

Babinski: The addition of our spa complements our hotel, banquet facility, The Sociale Café & Bar and casino, reinforcing that our property is a true world-class destination in the region. The 14,000-square-foot European-style Spa del Lago offers massages, body treatments and facials, plus a full-service salon. The salon features 10 stations, including luxurious pedicure, manicure, hair and make-up areas. The spa has three relaxation areas—men’s, women’s and coed—private eucalyptus infused steam rooms, private cedar wood saunas and 17 treatment stations, including couple suites with private oversized hot tubs. Spa del Lago Boutique offers guests an opportunity to purchase skin care, body and hair products, signature del Lago bath products, gifts and wearables, including spa robes and yoga and active wear.

Derived from the Italian phrase “of the lake,” del Lago’s luxury spa begins with the healing tradition of water, steam and relaxation to cleanse and rejuvenate the body, mind and soul. Nestled in the Finger Lakes and flourishing vineyards, Spa del Lago draws upon the natural healing properties of region’s herbs, plants, minerals and fruit. Therefore, it’s only natural that grape seeds are a part of several signature and specialty spa treatments. Our outstanding service, relaxing atmosphere and Finger Lakes-inspired treatments truly set Spa del Lago apart from all others.

What else is in the works for del Lago? What is the ultimate goal for the property?

Babinski: We certainly have achieved success so far as we have worked to build wonderful relationships with our guests, community partners and businesses throughout the region. We want guests to come to del Lago to enjoy our many amenities, and during their stay we encourage them to also spend some time traveling throughout our beautiful Finger Lakes region—it has so much to offer, from wineries and breweries to great restaurants and shops. We have already heard from many local wineries, breweries, stores and restaurants that they have seen an uptick in guests specifically coming from del Lago. We are well on our way to ensure del Lago Resort & Casino is a world-class destination—welcoming visitors to our beautiful Finger Lakes region.