Casino Design – The Last Frontier
by Mark Birtha

Casino Design – The Last Frontier
by Mark Birtha

Much has been written lately regarding the surge in non-gaming revenues and the emerging focus on the redesign of food and beverage, retail, and entertainment venues in today’s hotel casino property. The rise of celebrity chefs, retail flagships, Cirque du Soleil masterpieces, dream Spa getaways, and iconic hotel exteriors and interiors have contributed favorably to the appeal and demand of the overall gaming hospitality experience. But with the need to continually raise the bar in terms of design, amenities, and services offered in competing properties and jurisdictions, and with the emphasis of late centered on these complimentary products, the question must be asked…”What about the Casino Gaming Floor?”

The casino floor itself often acts as the hub of all activity in these mega-resort and regional destinations. And even though gaming revenue is continuing to represent less and less of the overall property top line, it is still by far one of the most critical components programmed into the master recipe. So why have we not seem more change in the way the gaming floor looks, where it is located, and the types of products it offers. Why does the floor look very similar in Las Vegas as it does in Atlantic City, Macau, California and countless other jurisdictions? Is there even a need to discuss the tried and true philosophy of casino design at all?

In this piece we indulge ourselves a bit by looking inward and speaking with design experts about their thoughts on the magic formula for gaming floors and where they anticipate it headed in the future. Yes, there is change on the horizon.

Trends and Challenges
Three very prominent influences are affecting the casino experience today and are laying the foundation for an entirely new gaming experience in the future. The first change has had a profound impact on current design and will continue to be implemented in properties around the world in the future—the “importing of non-gaming outlets”. We are beginning to see a common integration of dining, retail, clubs, and entertainment seamlessly interwoven into the casino space. Whether it is hip and energetic dining spaces spilling out into the casino, center bar lounges perched up above the table game pits, high end retail stores adjacent to VIP gaming, and entertainment offerings “theming” casino landscapes, non-gaming venues are no longer separated. There is a powerful synergy in putting products with common customers together to create critical mass and heighten the experience and amenities available to distinct customer segments. The energy of the casino floor blends nicely with the excitement of the nightclub, and customers frequenting each often spend time back and forth enjoying them mutually.

The opposing trend to “importing” is the concept of “exporting the casino experience” into non-gaming venues. Pool landscaping includes a lush oasis of lagoons, palm trees, lounge chairs, and now more and more you see table games offered as both a customer service amenity and a strong revenue generator. Premium salons are being built on and off casino spaces that provide walk up bars, live music, dining and a number of high limit tables and slots. The club experience has been heightened exponentially with the infusion of table games to blend the high energy dance beat with the equally compelling gaming action. You don’t need to leave the nightclub; instead, you have gaming in an entirely new environment. The Palms’ Hotel Casino executed this vision with their Playboy Club. This world renowned entertainment brand captured the lifestyle and exclusivity elements nightclubs are famous for and incorporated the casino as a further extension of the experience—beautiful bunnies dealing cards to hard core and novice players alike enjoying cocktails and the “scenery”. All in a restricted access, admission charging gaming club venue, a first in Las Vegas that is not a designated VIP private gaming room.

Finally, the last overwhelming trend that continues to redefine the casino experience is the advent of new technology. Ticket In Ticket Out, Server based gaming, large communal slot carousels, electronic table games, and mobile gaming devices (PDA’s) are all being introduced to the casino landscape. The positive effect on operations, customer service, payroll, and the all important financials are indisputable—and further solidify the value in continuing to invest in multiple technological innovations and advancements. These changes have another cause and affect to the casino floor: Less space is consumed with the deletion of change booths and service carousels, aisles may get a bit tighter without change carts or added floor personnel behind machines, larger spaces are carved out for circular interactive slot stations, less games may be needed due to possible increased PDA usage, and games and related signage and overall aesthetics can change instantaneously from a server room located off the casino floor. Just the tip of the iceberg of things to think about for the future.

Expert Opinion
In order to truly gauge where the casino of the future is headed, it is always important to look back at the evolution of the casino property and the influences that have changed the gaming experience over time. One needs to look no further than the experts in the gaming design world.

Nory Hazaveh is a Partner with SOSH Architects, a firm focused on design solutions which reflect the evolving mix of activities for the ultimate patron experience. He has worked extensively on projects throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, for customers such as Harrahs’/Caesars, Trump Entertainment, Isle of Capri, Hilton, Sands and Aztar. Hazaveh takes an historical approach to how casino design has been influenced. “When gaming halls were more concentrated on table games and slot machines, the patrons were identified with the type of games and where they preferred to play on the floor. As the patron’s sophistication increased, so did the gaming floors. Initially this evolution was influenced by activities within the floor such as lounges and the cabaret style shows. With concentration on an active floor and “maze” like circulation they intentionally extended the time one might spend on the casino floor. This period was short lasted as hotel rooms and amenities such as spas and other leisure factors were added in to form the mega-casino, especially Las Vegas style destination resorts.

This new customer experience led the designers and developers to think of additional leisure activities to incorporate into the gaming venue. The retail element is one of the oldest forms of human and product interface in an exhibition fashion, such as a bazaar, and it became an addition to the gaming floor. Parallel with the development of retail, the restaurant and food and beverage venues joined the evolution. To continue to increase the diversity of gaming resorts, live entertainment has reached a new level of performance. As theatres became less profitable to operate individually in the cities, they have shown great strength and success within mega casino resorts projects. This cultural evolution has given us, the designers, a palette of opportunities to create fascinating spaces to be occupied, used and enjoyed by a variety of people whose orientation may not be solely gaming but rather leisure and entertainment. It seems we have pushed and removed the gaming hall perimeter walls to replace it with leisure and entertainment design products to seamlessly interact with other venues such as hotels, restaurants, entertainment, retail and at times even museums.”

So this leads us to the present and to the question of what does the casino gaming floor look like tomorrow. And who better to ask than one of the most innovative and sought after hotel casino designers in the business today, internati

Date Posted: 23-Oct-2007

Mark Birtha has been in the Las Vegas gaming market for over 13 years and is currently Vice President Development Las Vegas for Marriott International Lodging Development. Birtha is also Project Manager for the 3,000 room Marriott Las Vegas Hotel Casino Convention Center property currently in development. Prior to joining Marriott, Birtha was VP Development and Operations for the Edge Group’s W Las Vegas Hotel Casino and Residences. His responsibilities included overseeing planning for the casino, food and beverage, retail, spa, convention and entertainment, in addition to overseeing business and strategic planning, administration, and operating areas including HR, IT, Residential Operations, and Hotel Sales. Prior to joining Edge, he was an executive with the Venetian for 6 years where he managed casino marketing and served in management positions including corporate development/Macau and conference management. He opened the Bellagio Hotel in 1998 as Director of Beverage and started his career at the Mirage in food and beverage operations. He can be reached at 702-496-1116, mark.birtha@marriott.com or at markbirtha@msn.com.

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