Casino Design 2008 Issue

Ancient & Honorable

By Marjorie Preston   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

More and more, casinos heed age-old principles of feng shui

Feng shui. Taken from the original Cantonese, the words literally mean "wind" and "water"; together they refer to the traditional Chinese art of arranging environments to foster maximum prosperity and health.

The principles are thousands of years old, but feng shui did not become well known in the West until the mid-1980s, when its emphasis on harmonious living, the occasional use of crystals and incantations, and references to yin and yang (male and female energies also known as "chi") attracted the New Age crowd.

Though it is sometimes dismissed in the mainstream as superstition, pseudoscience or pseudo-mysticism, and has even been debunked (along with Ouija boards and alien abductions) by magician-skeptics Penn and Teller, feng shui as a design tool may be the victim of a mass cultural misunderstanding.

"As soon as we attach an Asian influence, all of it sounds foreign," says design consultant Terry Dougall, founder of Dougall Design Associates of Pasadena. "But you can find a mirror image of feng shui practice (in Western design). And if you change the word 'energy' to 'comfort,' all of a sudden everything falls into place."

A Feng Shui Primer
With a career that spans more than three decades and a client list that includes Boyd Gaming, Mirage Resorts, Mandalay Bay and the Venetian, Dougall has witnessed the increasing application of feng shui in architectural and interior design, particularly at casinos.

"Since the 1990s," he says, "everybody has understood the necessity of having a feng shui expert review the facilities they're doing."

At its core, feng shui is about proper placement for maximum utility, and it's hard to argue with its basic tenets. Who would dispute the appropriateness of positioning a home for maximum sunlight? That's feng shui. Who would scorn the advantages, psychological and practical, of living near a water source? That, too, is feng shui.

Though the channeling of luck and "chi" (or, in the Japanese, "qi") may sound preposterous to practical Westerners, few would quarrel with the benefits of open, airy spaces without a "boxed-in" feeling. That's Feng Shui 101, and it's become the standard in new construction, from casinos to restaurants to retail to home living areas.

Feng shui, says Dougall, is also about etiquette. For example: "When you walk into any casino, someone should be facing you, ready to greet you. For the same reason, when you're doing a high-limit table game area, you try to face them all to the front door so the dealers don't have their backs to the patrons.

"When you think about it," he says, "it's a sweet thing. Why wouldn't I want to be nice and polite and make my guests comfortable? We spend 80 percent of the time talking about the idiosyncrasies of feng shui-the focus on bad luck, and having running water run the right way-but it really comes down to courtesy and politeness."

In that way, feng shui, like etiquette, is about as American as Emily Post.

In the Vanguard
Not surprisingly, the movement to consciously incorporate feng shui precepts in casino design grew as the Asian client base grew. Casino titan Steve Wynn was among the first to acknowledge the importance of the practice at his resorts. He recruited feng shui masters to vet the construction and design of the Mirage and Wynn Las Vegas. (Like most newer facilities in Las Vegas, the Wynn does not have floors 40 through 49 because the number four in Chinese sounds like the word for death.)

Donald Trump had a feng shui expert sign off on at least one of his properties. Back in 1995, Master Pin Yun blessed the non-casino Trump International Tower and Hotel in Manhattan after builders heeded several recommendations: that the main entrance face onto Central Park (the better to draw in good chi), that the color of the building be changed from gold to bronze (to better reflect passing clouds, also a sign of positive natural energy), and that a large hammered metal globe be placed in front of the tower (to deflect the negative chi from surrounding traffic).

It bears noting that the building's first prospective tenants included overseas investors from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. If feng shui was nothing more than a marketing ploy, it served its purpose for Trump, who said at the time, "It's important to adhere to the principles of a large group of people who truly believe in these principles.... If they believe them, that's good enough for me."

Trump has remained mum about the use of feng shui at his Atlantic City casinos, but the Asian gaming pit at Trump Plaza reads like a feng shui textbook, with plenty of mirrors to reflect and boost the fortune of the players, opulent stone-and-wood-inlaid columns to introduce the energy of nature, and a wall of gaming tables that look out onto the floor, so no dealer will ever have his or her back to a guest.

Westar Architects, which created the space, used lots of the color red, which "gives energy and enthusiasm," says architect Paul Heretakis.

For the Chinese, red is also symbolic of love and happiness, while blue and black denote money and protection.

Growing Influence
Perhaps the most notable feng shui faux pas-and a sterling example of the magnitude of these principles-was the original entrance to the MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip, where guests entered the casino through the roaring "mouth" of the famous MGM lion.

Because Chinese patrons consider it unlucky to walk through the mouth of an animal (even the representation of an animal), they came in through a different entrance or shunned the casino altogether. As soon as their reluctance was noted, the entryway was torn down and reconfigured, with Leo the Lion recast as an enormous bronze statue, standing guard at the doorway.

Another feng shui snafu: Luxor, the massive Egyptian pyramid in Las Vegas, built by Mandalay Bay. In some traditions, the pyramid is a fortunate silhouette, but at the Luxor, with its sphinx-and-mummy motif, Asian patrons saw nothing but a giant tomb.

In 2007, new owner MGM Mirage announced a $300 million renovation that did away with much of the resort's heavy Egyptian theming, including Club Ra. Though the renovation was more of a de-theming than a feng shui repair job, it's doubtful that a casino operator today would ignore the importance of feng shui to at least part of its customer base.

"Clearly, these are important customers," Dougall says. "It's important to honor their beliefs and culture."

The attention to Asian players and the drive to accommodate their needs grows apace. In Atlantic City, Harrah's has invested considerable revenue and countless man-hours in the proper presentation of the Asian gaming spaces and dining areas at its four properties: Harrah's, Caesars, Bally's and Showboat. In fact, Dan Nita, senior vice president and general manager of Harrah's Atlantic City, has become quite fluent in the tenets and terminology of the ancient Chinese art.

In creating an Asian casino space, says Nita, "We spent a significant amount of time with our designers, who have done tremendous research with various Asian philosophies-feng shui, I Ching, yin and yang, Pakua-it has absolutely influenced the design of our Asian table games and also our noodle bars."

The Kwi Restaurant and Noodle Bar at Caesars, for example, features a stained glass column with a color pattern resembling fire, royal blue tiles that represent water, and earth-toned terrazzo flooring. A Korean-inspired mural includes 150,000 chopsticks (representing wood) painted to look like the sun, the moon and flowing water.

The entire bar has a "yin and yang-inspired shape," says Nita. Overarching the entire space is a painted boat with a golden sail on the ceiling to
suggest good fortune ("sailing before the wind").

Seating in the Asian table games area is embedded with symbols, "a version of Morse code" that enables patrons to chart the most fortunate location in the room by the date and place of their birth, Nita says.

The importance of Asian players is also reflected in the outreach of global operators and others to Asian countries. Nevada has opened a tourism office in Beijing, and the University of Nevada Las Vegas has opened a satellite campus in Singapore. Over the last decade, MGM Mirage, the Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts have all spent billions on hotel-casinos in the Chinese territory of Macau.

Vanishing Act
Ironically, feng shui may be least employed where it would seem most at home.

"In Macau itself, which surprised me, only the Sands Casino, the Pinnacle, just two or three of the major casinos utilize it," says interior designer Floss Barber of Philadelphia, whose clients include the Hilton, Harrah's and Revel Atlantic City.

Barber says the dearth of feng shui in its homeland resulted from "a cleansing of the folk arts and cultural arts" when the People's Republic of China was established in the mid-20th century. The practice was officially deemed "feudalistic superstition" and a "social evil" according to communist ideology.

"We are in China 10 years, and we know more about it than the locals-actually, it shocked me," Barber says. "People in their 40s or younger know only that their grandmother or parents knew it and practiced it."

Taiwanese feng shui master Meihwha Lin is not surprised at the seeming disappearance of feng shui in China. "The communists oppose it," she says, "because it is really very empowering."

Barber says a feng shui expert might have come in handy at the Venetian Macao when the main gaming floor was laid out, because in her opinion, the creators of the $2.4 billion resort got it all wrong.

"The head of the Venetian came from a meeting- space background, favoring spaces that are very northeast-southwest- oriented, very straightforward, no meandering," Barber says. That mindset created trouble when the doors opened and patrons flooded on to a gaming floor where the "chi," or energy, apparently led them straight through and out again, without spending a lot of money to play.

"The space was so large that people were daunted by the length of it," says Barber. "Nothing pulled them in. They saw too much, too soon, too fast. You have to create some meandering to keep them there."

"If there is any kind of a straight pathway, people will come and go fast," agrees Meihwha Lin, who has consulted with Barber on projects including the upcoming SugarHouse Casino on the Philadelphia riverfront. "A serpentine path, like a curving road, is a much more friendly way of making people feel relaxed and comfortable."

Nooks and niches invite patrons to explore; when they feel comfortable lingering, they tend to play. It is subtle aesthetics that can have real influence on the profitability of a property, claims Meihwa Lin, and it has little to do with mysticism.

"There are two components. One is the visible: the form, the design, the lighting, the décor. But there is also an invisible component, the universal energy that we cannot see but we can all feel. If you think of animals, fish, birds, they respond very well to the energy of the earth. It is the earth's magnetic energy that leads the birds to migrate thousands of miles; they can feel the magnetic energy and read the stars.

"Aren't we like that too? We can all feel a place where the energy is good-beyond the form, beyond the aesthetics."

The Basics
A request for feng shui information on Google results in at least 23 million responses for the definition alone, and that's just the beginning. With its different "schools," different techniques and a history that predates Christ by at least 1,500 years, a student of feng shui would need years of rigorous study to fully understand the nuances of the practice, which is not one practice but many, not one culture (Asian) but many (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian). Eight Mansions feng shui is not the same as Black Sect, which differs from Flying Star and Shen Dao.

So how do casino designers apply the appropriate principles to please their guests, and hopefully harness the good energies of wealth and prosperity? There are some immutable basics, like the value of natural elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water).

"We try to have each of the five basic materials in every project, a modern use of very expensive and very beautiful materials-onyx, stones, woods," says Heretakis. "Water can be used literally, in a water feature, or in an abstract manner (images of water, for example). We travel to Chinatowns throughout the country to buy artwork that implies good fortune, good luck and long life."

In addition to knowing the color wheel, it is also important for casino operators to understand the cultural connotations of certain shapes, and how they affect the fortunes of players. When Floss Barber wanted to "enhance the fire energy" of a casino space, she used a red carpet with a triangular or flame motif. The fiery glass chandeliers by sculptor Dale Chihouly at Atlantic City's Borgata add energy as well as deluxe dazzle to that property.

But that same symbolism in another context might be perceived as destructive, Barber adds. "We are working on a casino now where the designer had two curves coming together to create a sharp point at the garage entrance of the casino. That's the last thing you want; that's a poison arrow." Poison arrows, as the name suggests, create disharmony for those who utilize the space.

Though she knows some see feng shui as nothing more than "hocus pocus," Barber insists that the principles used poorly can actually do harm.

"This is not something you dabble in," she warns.

A Good Foundation
Luckily, faulty feng shui does not typically require a major structural overhaul. Destructive fire energy, for example, can be quenched or neutralized by the introduction of water, or water symbols. And though Meihwa Lin claims that the energy of the universe shifts on February 4 of each year, that doesn't mean businesses must realign their environments on an annual basis.

"You can fine-tune an area to activate more prosperity, and areas with negative energy can be controlled and adjusted," she says. "But whenever you build a space at the casino, the energy blueprint will last until a major renovation takes place."

And that, for casino operators, is very good chi.

Designing the Small Casino

By Bob Kelly   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

In today's competitive casino environment, every owner is tasked to provide guests with a more dynamic, distinctive experience. This is particularly true when the time comes to renovate or expand a facility.

In these situations, the most important standard is to develop an innovative and quality product that fulfills patron expectations and market demand. And for those whose "box" is smaller than the neighbors', there's the added pressure to maximize every inch of the limited square footage available.

The answer lies in solutions that are guest-centric, operating parameters that are sound and deliberate, and homework completed up front. To make sure you are prioritizing the right concerns from the outset of your project, considerthe following recommendations.

Think Casino Design 101.
Complete a general assessment of the existing scope, design and layout of your facility. What works? Is the floor plan convenient and accessible? Are signage and way-finding logical throughout? Are primary functions and signature features well profiled internally and easy to find? Do you have the right mix of F&B offerings? Is parking convenient, and how does it compare to the competition?

If the answer to any of these questions falls short of expectations, put the consequential improvements at the top of your to-do list.

While taking inventory is helpful for any gaming property, it can certainly be argued that these points weigh more heavily at smaller facilities with fewer amenities and less square footage to capture attention and make a lasting impression.

One of the greatest potential advantages for a small casino is the opportunity to provide a more intimate guest experience. The key is to be perceived as comfortable, convenient and easily navigated. When "small" becomes equated with overcrowding or stagnant offerings, this is the tipping point for owners to invest in significant improvements. Keep it interesting, dynamic and flexible, and your guests will come back for more.

Think Current, and Think Bottom Line.
Translated, this means that owners and their design and construction teams must work to avoid outdated patterns from the casinos of yesteryear. The most efficient and effective small casinos orient their programs and floor plans toward today's technology and market trends, and prioritize spaces that generate revenue and provide for multiple uses.

Let's talk money, for example. Cage areas are a critical component of any gaming floor, and innovations such as ticket in/ticket out (TITO) technologies are evolving cage-related requirements (the trend is toward improved program efficiencies). Modern casinos implementing such tools as magnetic strip cards and cash redemption kiosks simultaneously improve guest access and responsiveness; they also benefit from reduced area, labor and access demands. The end result is freed-up space that can be utilized for improved customer service functions and revenue generators. Cage, count, security and related back of house areas are still required, but the overall square footage dedicated for these spaces can be downsized and repurposed for such other operational considerations. The owner, management team and guest all benefit-as does the bottom line.

A corollary to the TITO system is a progression of the reward redemption center. To accommodate the growing number of players who prefer automated feedback over merchandise from bonus points, the same TITO system utilized for cash redemption can also streamline tracking and rewards. The server automatically monitors and credits play, inherently reducing a portion of the space requirements for the rewards counter, showroom and related back of house areas. As with the cash cage, the rewards headquarters is still a must, but the overall square footage commitment is condensed.

Think 'Round The Clock.
This is a must for operators reinventing their small space. Consider how the parts of the whole work together, particularly for those with 24/7 operations. Managers need to think about their existing (and potentially expanded or renovated) casino property in terms of both floor and time segments to create opportunities that take advantage of downtime in various spaces.

The most successful small casino managers strategize different ways to use the same space for a variety of functions through the day and night, as well as to rotate centers of activity and interest throughout the property.

There is no better way to generate these ideas than to get out on the floor and talk to your guests. Listen to their feedback and work with your internal creative and design and construction teams to explore opportunities for cross-implementation. Be open-minded and resourceful. The smaller the "box," the more imaginative your team will need to be.

Inherently, F&B and entertainment venues that are not constantly utilized offer some of the greatest potential for multi-functioning. Imagine a one hundred seat venue that serves as the morning coffee shop for sit-down, continental or grab-and-go breakfast alternatives. Throughout the day, the same space can transition to a more traditional buffet for lunch, then to a sports bar in late afternoon (close the drapes, turn on the TV screens, and change over a few menu items). Finally, via a portable stage for karaoke or local music, the same space turns into a late night entertainment hub.

One space. Four functions. All using the same core infrastructure. Obviously, these operational considerations must be planned well in advance of a renovation or expansion, but if done effectively, the same space can be accessed multiple times throughout an eight- to 10- hour day, providing a variety of options well beyond what a guest would expect to find in a small casino. Limited space-big ongoing return.

On a larger scale, the same concept plays out in a multi-purpose flex space that provides such alternatives as bingo, conventions and meetings, receptions and entertainment. Owners should also consider such areas for temporary housing of gaming components if a renovation or expansion directly impacts the casino floor. It is a productive and necessary way to provide for unavoidable gaming improvements while maintaining operations and minimizing impact to the bottom line.

Think Like Marketing.
Throughout a planned expansion or renovation, always consider the response of your guest. From the outset, verify that your project is appropriate to market demand and guest expectations. Once the intent is solidified, work throughout the process of design and construction to make sure you keep your patrons informed about how your plans will improve their long-term experience.

It's possible to maintain or even increase revenues during an expansion or renovation project at a small casino. We've seen it best achieved by owner and management teams who embraced the idea that an improvement project is one of the largest and highest profile marketing opportunities a property will ever have, and opted to invest in communication, promotions and media accordingly.

Think Right Now.
It goes without saying that the most cost-effective way to increase your revenue is to operate what you already have more effectively. Significant construction can bring long-term return on investment, but you should also implement minor operational improvements that provide immediate impact.

If your F&B operations are always in the red, even with a little assistance on paper from the marketing budget, re-working the dining room and tearing down and replacing the kitchen is not always the best answer. Look first at your operations. What can you do about cost of goods? When was the last time you shopped vendors? Is your menu tailored to the goods available to you locally? Would something as simple as a larger walk-in cooler help you purchase larger volumes and obtain better pricing?

There are always cheap fixes that minor renovations and improvements can support.Explore all of your options and plan wisely.

A properly operated small facility can return at a higher rate than a poorly operated larger one. It isn't just the size of the box. It's also what you put in it, how you shape it, and how you make sure it can hold a lot of different things at different times. Don't fill it with excess "packing." Rather, be flexible and provide the goods and services that are current and desirable for your best clients.

And of course, remember to communicate these goals with your internal team and design and construction professionals so they understand the priorities and intentions for your small space.

Together, you can incorporate the right program, provide flexible operational alternatives, and exceed the expectations of your guests.

The Brave New World of Design and Construction: An Industry Roundtable

By Julie Brinkerhoff Jacobs   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

We asked them key questions about design trends for today's casinos, about the uses and drawbacks of new technologies, about the growth of green initiatives, and about the problems of building and operating in a challenging economy. Then we sat back and let them talk.

Nineteen design and construction experts shared their perspectives. Most agree that "clean, edgy, contemporary" design is dominant today; they are adamant about the importance of good design principles, high quality materials and proper programming. To succeed, they agree, one must understand the customer profile, adhere to the client's budget and facilitate the client's vision.

In the words of a roundtable participant, "We must dazzle the eye and soothe the senses."

Everyone acknowledges that "green is grand" and here to stay. Environmental initiatives are responsible, marketable, appropriate and sustainable. Palazzo, a Sands property on the Las Vegas Strip, is an example of a casino that's won applause for its use of green technology. It's the largest green building in the world to date, and a recent recipient of the U.S Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver Certification. LEED certification is viewed as a benchmark of achievement in healthful environment and responsible use of resources.

Our experts also agree that technology has revolutionized the way we communicate. Transmission of information over web-based and other technologies greatly improves accuracy and speed of delivery; it also makes it easier to dialogue with multiple disciplines domestically and around the world. Technology has increased efficiencies and cut costs. It is also ever-evolving, so stay tuned for new and exciting programs.

The capital market, the cost of raw materials and labor challenges are of great concern to the majority of our experts, as is the disappearance of skilled vendors and craftsmen.

Here's what they told us. 


Please identify the most significant design trend today and why it's at the top of your list.

BRINKERHOFF: As in the past, a "trend" is determined by the owner's vision. Many owners are now going "South Beach," others are more minimalist in their preference and some remain convinced that traditional "theming" is still valid.

DOUGALL: Design trends have changed worldwide, and Las Vegas is now playing catch-up. Hip boutique hotels and restaurants with celebrity chefs have been the impetus for this change. Youth is being promoted more than ever before. But the baby boomers don't want to be left out; they'll hang on to every last bit of their youth, including staying in hotels designed for guests ranging from 24 to 63!

DOUGLAS: The most significant trend is the continuing segmentation of the marketplace, and tailoring experiences to individuals. Why? Because guest expectations are higher. They expect more that's directly relevant to their particular interests. It will be our charge to translate this objective into viable casino destinations.

EWING: The proportion, scale and environmental comfort of a gaming space are so important to the psyche of today's customer. Lighting is also critical to the success of a well-designed casino.

FRIEDMUTTER: The newer, younger gaming customer is well traveled with more sophisticated and modern expectations. This customer routinely combines work and play, and we're able to offer this convergence by bringing technology, leisure, business and entertainment into one mixed-use facility.
GARDNER: Environmental consciousness is the most important issue the design industry will address in years to come. We've barely scratched the surface in the gaming industry, but the shift toward sustainable design is gaining momentum-especially on the West Coast (United States).

HARMAN: Larger and larger projects are being built on smaller, more limited sites. There's an ongoing trend to upgrade the exterior aesthetics of the highly visible parking garages, because they are a prominent part of a project's overall appearance.

HOSKENS: Casino resorts are becoming complete retail entertainment mega-centers. They are creating their own unique urban fabric and they must be sustainable both in design and throughout their operation.

LANGEMADE: Many designers are now incorporating the desk, credenza, mini-bar, coffee service, television and storage drawers into one piece of furniture. Bathroom vanities are purchased inclusive of plumbing fixtures, stone tops, mirrors, bowls, etc.-as one piece. This trend requires detailed planning on how to build the furniture to economize shipping and installation. The biggest challenge is making sure we can fit this set-in-place furniture into the elevator, through the guest-
room doors and into the contractor's finished opening!

A definitive emphasis is being placed on "timeless" design-forward statements for both buildings and spaces. As the hospitality industry embraces the "entertainment" aspects of shopping, dining and gaming, we're seeing more adventurous solutions aimed at a younger, more sophisticated patron. Also essential: quality materials that integrate luxe with technology.

PRIFTI: Theming is still "in"-it just doesn't mean what it used to mean. Successful design today is an aspirational design, defined by the tastes of the wealthy and applied to a mass-market audience. We characterize this as a simpler yet sophisticated approach, exemplified by high-end modernism.

SPARER: The most significant design direction today is the concept of sustainability. I would not classify this "green awareness" as a trend, as that implies a short-lived awareness. Rather, I see the whole concept as a paradigm shift in how architects will design buildings for generations to come. Also I believe that a new, sophisticated architecture is on the horizon, such as CityCenter and Echelon. It's a reflection of the more universal, educated world traveler who has developed a deep appreciation for refined design.

UDELL: Utilizing interactive lighting, video, LED and computer-based programs to accommodate for the changeability the casino industry demands. This allows the casino operator to create different types of environments, instantly, whether it's for the change of seasons, a special event or to create a very special environmental niche.

VANCE: Beyond the non-thematic approach is the dynamic targeting of the customer. Properties need to not only provide comprehensive and diverse services, but make environmental changes quickly and freely as demands change, keeping the property perpetually fresh and exciting. For example, restaurants and clubs that are not doing well will be walled up, replaced, and renamed. With respect to gaming, we'll see more virtual table games, and the ability of slot floors to change their mix overnight to meet the current demographics of the day. The slot machine will be a box with software serving as the agent of instant change.

WALLS: In the past 10 to 15 years in Las Vegas we have seen an increase in the high-profile retail venue and celebrity chef restaurant. Customers must now be entertained by the architecture of these interior spaces as part of the product, providing them with an immersive experience.


Are you building green or specifying more green products for the casinos you design or construct?

BRINKERHOFF: Yes. We're seriously considering all options that save water and minimize waste while still maintaining a viable resort environment. Our projects have standard water-saving features such as drip irrigation systems as well as drought-tolerant and desert-sensitive plant materials. We encourage natural light for interior-scapes whenever possible.

DOUGALL: Every current project we have is using LEED criteria, which affect every single thing we specify from carpets, paints, wall covering and furnishings, just to name a few.

EWING: Casinos are complicated, integrated spaces; you have to approach green design in pieces. We pay particular attention to the introduction of natural light into our casino design while at the same time employing passive solar techniques in order to control heat gain.

FRIEDMUTTER: Our clients are requesting more green design strategies and products. For example, Sheik Mohamed of Dubai has introduced an edict that all projects in the jurisdiction are to be designed to a minimum of Silver LEED certification. Our projects in Dubai reflect this. Clients are looking for ways to be as green as possible without sacrificing customer expectations.

FO: In the design of our projects worldwide, we consider solar heating, lighting occupancy sensors, waste recycling, moisture and AC controls, recycled building materials, low-emitting interior materials and finishes, water conservation strategies such as low-flow water in showers, and rapidly renewable materials.

GARDNER: We think energy and water-efficient strategies, indoor air quality, sustainable management practices and sustainable development initiatives have the most direct long-term environmental impact in the gaming industry.

MARMAN: Structural concrete and structural steel are already green! Hard to believe? Structural steel used in the United States is manufactured with more than 85 percent recycled content (on average). Concrete is primarily limestone, which is the most abundant mineral on earth. It can also be made with fly ash, slag cement and silica fume, all waste byproducts from power plants, steel mills and other manufacturing facilities.

HOSKENS: All of our projects follow a "project green card" approach whereby the project team, along with our clients, continuously evaluate design decisions based on economic, environmental, social and cultural aspects.

LANGEMADE: We are fully engaged in incorporating green products and practices into all of our projects. We buy from more local factories, use emission free products, ask manufacturers to reduce packaging and use recycled or recyclable materials. We are also asking certain vendors to pick up and recycle their products at the end of their useful life on a casino property.

RIZZO: We are involved with MGM's Project CityCenter, which is reported to be the largest LEED-certified building program ever attempted.

THALDEN: Sustainable architecture is here to stay. Flagrant wastes of water, energy and other precious resources will no longer be acceptable. Our firm is very much involved in the green building movement as sustainability fast becomes the industry standard.

VANCE: Remarkably nearly all of our clients are asking for green approaches to their projects. They see themselves as responsible stewards of our environment and consequently are asking for recycled products as well as energy efficient electrical and mechanical energy systems throughout their projects.


What design trends are now passé?

FO: Trying to be everything to everybody.

FRIEDMUTTER: "Theming" has been used to describe transporting customers to a different time and place through the built resort environment. We still transport people, but through lifestyles. These lifestyle trends are usually aspirational, making people feel richer, younger, sexier, stylish, famous, beautiful and fun.

HEDGE: Drawings prepared by hand are now passé. We have software that allows a freehand drawing to be generated electronically. The folks I tutored under showed me the good old ways, and many of those techniques are still useful now; we just tend to let the machine do more of the thinking.

HERETAKIS: Modern luxury. As strong as Red Rock is in its design and detail, and as an example of money well-spent for the "wow" factor, it's been diluted as a style by poorly done knock-offs!

O'CONNOR: Good design should never be passé. But popular taste is fickle. The construction field experienced an entire missing generation of stonemasons because granite and marble fell out of favor in the '70s and '80s. Now that we've rediscovered the desirability of stonework, a new generation of craftsmen has to be trained! Now they can't tool the work fast enough.

PRIFTI: There are lots of different trends, just as there are lots of different tastes. What's passé? Perhaps it's the use of overt historic or geographic pastiche as theme. We do benchmark older properties, evaluating each for core competency. This informs our current work, which typically appears in the marketplace three to four years after a project starts.

SPARER: The concept of themed architecture has finally run its course here in Las Vegas. This is not to say that some of the most successful examples of this genre are not well done, such as Paris Las Vegas, but the approach seems to be at the end of its lifecycle.

UDELL: The buffet seems to be giving way to upscale optional food. We are not designing for the 50-to-70-year-old group, but to a much younger group of patrons. Also, the heavily fantasized space of the stage theater is disappearing as new theaters based on modern technology are emerging.

VANCE: "In-your-face" gaming. In the past, when you walked into a property, the first thing you saw was a wall of slots. Now, it's anything but.  Look at the Venetian, the Wynn, the Bellagio or the Palazzo. It actually takes you a bit of time to find the gaming floor, which is refreshing for the customer. Another passé trend; literal thematic design approaches. The design trends of this industry are now echoing the evolving mainstream approach, which is "Just do good architecture."


Is technology playing an important role in design/construction? How much is web-based?

BRINKERHOFF: The use of video conferencing, CAD (in all its ever-evolving forms) and other tools have made working with multiple disciplines, domestic and internationally far more feasible.

DONNELLY: Definitely! As the landscape environments we install get more and more complicated (such as rooftops in tightly restricted areas of access), executing ambitious efforts requires sophisticated software tools for quantity surveys, and 3D modeling for pipe runs and below-surface support structures. Technology is essential in developing integrated and precise construction schedules.

DOUGLAS: Almost 100 percent is web-based using collaboration tools and programs such as Buzzsaw, Google Earth, Aconex and Generations. Being highly adept technologically also allows us the freedom to design projects worldwide while still providing hands-on service.

FRIEDMUTTER: Everything from our presentations to documentation to the way we conduct meetings has changed extensively over the last five years.  We use Revit, a building information model-based design and documentation tool to create all our projects. We utilize many graphic, 3-D animation and video technologies to assist our clients in the visualization, development and evolution of their projects. Also, our offices are connected to one main server, allowing all offices to collaborate on a project in real time. We can have face-to-face meetings with our clients around the world.

HEDGE: Technology plays a huge role in our profession. Computers are faster and the software allows us to make changes and revisions like we never imagined. The downside is that we pay hefty licensing fees for the software.

O'CONNOR: Technology is a major driver both in design and construction. For instance, construction techniques employing computer-laser technology create intricate patterns in stone and terrazzo fabrication and carpet design/manufacture. Also, construction sequence and shop drawing review applications can be time-compressed for greater cost savings.

RIZZO: The use of three-dimensional drawings to coordinate and integrate structural, electrical, mechanical, plumbing and sprinkler design is being successfully used to minimize conflict in layout.

RYDER: With the advent of new estimating software programs and tools, technology has helped us to become more efficient, has increased bid accuracy, and allows us to create various reports that detail unit costs and highlights areas of scope inclusion. These clearly illustrate to the client what they're buying and where they are spending their dollars.

THALDEN: We've been stretching the envelope on a new technology breakthrough that's changing the way architecture is done. It's called Building Information Modeling. This is the most significant change in architecture since the Renaissance in the 1500s. We are no longer drawing on two-dimensional sheets. Instead, we're virtually creating the buildings in three dimensions in the computer. Some of the advantages: better quality documents, ease on examining design options, greater ability to visualize 3-D fly-arounds or virtual walk-throughs, a constant flow of digital information during construction, just to name a few.

WALLS: Technology continues to take an increasingly crucial role in the architectural process. Document transmission is being condensed to the electronic transfer of drawings, correspondences, RFIs, submittals, etc. This new process has increased the productivity of our offices but raised a concern about proper recordkeeping, as in many cases physical paper copies do not exist unless properly processed and logged.


The increase in the cost of construction is affecting all gaming jurisdictions. How much does it affect your business?

DONNELLY: To help clients manage costs, we have dedicated our best estimating and scheduling people to form a professional pre-construction services team. This allows us to provide real-time budgeting, construction ability and scheduling analysis early in the design and development process, so fewer cost surprises pop up during construction. A successful collaboration with the landscape architect through pre-construction and beyond ensures that the owner is getting more landscape value for every dollar invested.

FO: Due to rising costs you have to plan more efficiently and you have to be more careful from the outset. The design process is an evolution so you have to monitor costs at all stages. Cost consultants now are brought on to the team from day one.

We recognize that market conditions are cyclical. The current conditions are helping to stabilize many of the construction costs, giving owners the opportunity to look ahead in order to design and implement renovation or expansion projects in anticipation of the next cycle.

The increase in construction costs has definitely impacted the gaming industry. But I think the shake-up in the residential construction and commercial/residential (mixed use) lending market has had a greater impact on our business. Many high-rise condos have been stopped before we even complete their design. Alternatively, we had several projects for which we completed the majority of design that were never constructed.

HERETAKIS: Many of our projects have been put on hold because of escalating construction costs on other projects our owners are involved in.

LANGEMADE: For the first time in many years, we're seeing double-digit increases in the cost of furnishings. We're also faced with higher labor costs, higher fuel costs and competition from China and India on raw goods. There is a shortage of qualified vendors and other service providers to adequately service all the casino projects underway globally.

RIZZO: The costs of all elements of a building (i.e. labor, material and equipment) are obviously very sensitive as cost increases. The cost of raw materials, the fabrication and the transportation are all affected by the ever-increasing cost of energy.

RYDER: The spiraling price of oil alone has affected everything from fuel to PVC pipe to irrigation components to insulated wire. With regards to hardscape, the prices of steel, copper, aggregates, concrete, stone and glass are the key elements driving up the cost of finished flatwork, pools, water features, masonry, fencing, railings, etc. This obviously has a
huge impact on our business.

VANCE: Volatile and ever increasing construction costs are affecting every facet of the build environment. We as architects are no longer willing or able to provide opinions of probable costs for our clients. The result is a process change that we have used for years in the commercial sector, "Design-Assist." Selecting a contractor at the onset of a project (based on GCs and fees) provides the design team with real-time cost data that ensures that the project is kept within the owner's budget.



Don Brinkerhoff, Chairman and CEO, Lifescapes International, Inc.
Don Brinkerhoff guides Lifescapes International's award-winning landscape architectural design team on virtually all projects worldwide. "I guess you could say I'm the visual storyteller for the company," Brinkerhoff says. He received his profession's highest honor when he became a fellow in 1998 of the American Society of Landscape Architects. His  industry contributions include landscape terminology ("softscape," "hardscape") and cobblestone-patterned concrete paving (now an industry standard).

Tom Donnelly, President, ValleyCrest Landscape Development
Thomas Donnelly joined ValleyCrest in 1980 and became vice president in 1984. He developed relationships with key national clients, opened several new offices and managed operations through the 1996 Olympics. He continues to expand operations throughout the Southeast, principally North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama, and manages national expansion of the company's site development capabilities. He is a member of the American Society Landscape Architects and the Urban Land Institute.

Terry Dougall President, Dougall Design Associates, Inc.
Since 1988, Terry Dougall has created some of the most talked-about casinos and retail projects in the gaming industry: Mandalay Bay, Borgata, the Monte Carlo, the Forum Shops at Caesars, and the lion concept for the corner marquee of MGM Grand. Current projects include Echelon Las Vegas, to open in late 2010, the Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino, opening in late 2009 and the just-completed Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.


Jonathan F. Douglas, Managing Principal, VOA
Jonathan Douglas has been VOA principal-in-charge on large-scale leisure entertainment/hospitality projects throughout the U.S., the Caribbean and the United Arab Emirates. His design approach reflects the philosophy that visitors and guests want to be informed and entertained. Douglas believes that themes and messages that "tell a story" lead to a memorable experience. He has been quoted in numerous business and trade publications on architectural design in the resort and hospitality sector, and the growing green movement.


Brett Ewing President, Marnell Architecture
Prior to joining Marnell, Brett Ewing worked for firms in Nevada and Colorado. He is a registered architect in those states as well as California and Idaho. Certified by the National Council of Architectural Registra- tion Boards, he is also a member of the American Institute of Architects, the International Council of Building Officials and the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Idaho, Moscow.


Tom Fo, Associate Vice President, WATG
Since joining WATG in 1985, Tom Fo has worked on most of the firm's high profile gaming projects including the Venetian and Grand Canal Shoppes in Las Vegas and the Tropicana in Atlantic City. Fo has led design efforts on projects around the globe and served as senior project designer for Disney's Grand Floridian Beach Resort at Walt Disney World and Disney hotels in Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong. He has also directed design efforts on a multi-resort destination in the Maldives, and a luxury resort in Morocco.


Rick Gardner, Partner and Principal, Hnedak Bobo Group
As the leader of HBG's largest design studio serving the entertainment and hospitality markets, Rick Gardner has directed teams from concept design through client occupancy on an array of technically challenging and intricate large-scale projects from coast to coast. He directed the $170 Million Greektown Casino Resort project in Detroit, a complex urban expansion of an existing casino. He is currently leading design teams on two significant confidential destination resorts on the West Coast.


Mark Hedge, Principal, Civil Engineer and Co-Owner, Lochsa Engineering
Before founding his own firm, civil engineer Mark Hedge was project manager on projects like the MGM Theme Park, Golden Nugget Laughlin, Boulder Station, Bellagio, and the Orleans. He was civil principal-in-charge at Fiesta Rancho, Wynn Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay, CityCenter, Fontainebleau, the Palms, Panorama Towers, One Las Vegas, Pala Casino and the MGM Grand. His company, based in Las Vegas and Boise, provides civil, structural and traffic engineering and surveying.


Paul Heretakis, Vice President, WESTAR Architects
Paul Heretakis has more than 15 years of experience with the top gaming and hospitality companies in the world (Venetian, Bellagio, MGM Mirage, Caesars, Harrah's Entertainment, Trump) and celebrity chefs (Mario Batali, Paula Deen, and Georges Perrier). He has established design studios offer branding, restaurant development, client-driven vision process, innovation laboratory and alternate revenue studios. WESTAR Architects continues to be ranked as one of the top hospitality design companies in the country.


Tom Hoskens, Principal, Cuningham Group
Tom Hoskens has over 30 years of experience in architecture with an emphasis on casinos, hotels and entertainment. He was principal-in-charge for $3 billion worth of destination resort design in the last four years alone. Hoskens' commitment to client satisfaction includes highly responsive architectural and engineering teams. "Each team responds directly to the client to help drive clarity of communication and accuracy of information," he says, ensuring large-scale, complex projects are completed on time and within budget.


William Langmade, President, Purchasing Management International
William Langmade has more than 20 years of hospitality construction, management and purchasing experience. His company, providing furniture, fixtures and equipment for the hospitality and gaming industries, has purchased and installed over $1 billion dollars in hotel, resort and casino furnishings, operating equipment and systems worldwide. The company is headquartered in Dallas with offices in Las Vegas, Guadalajara, Cancun, and New Delhi, India. PMI is also gaming's leading purchasing company agent.


Tom O'Connor, Founding Principal, SOSH Architects
Tom O'Connor has helped grow SOSH into a powerhouse, designing projects for the country's best-known hospitality, gaming and entertainment clients. With offices in Atlantic City and New York, O'Connor is working on projects coast to coast as well as in the U.K., Europe and the Middle East. O'Connor accepted the Sarno Award for casino redesign for the Spotlight 29 Casino in Palm Springs, and the McGraw Hill 2007 Best Adaptive Reuse Award for Harrah's Chester Downs.


Michael Prifti Principal, BLT Architects
Michael Prifti is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and an award-winning professional with experience in new construction, adaptive re-use projects and project management. Prifti is currently leading the 5.5 million-square-foot Revel casino mega-resort in Atlantic City and supports BLT's project teams for both the Water Club, a 40-story glass hotel tower addition to the Borgata in Atlantic City, and Echelon, the $4 billion resort planned for the Las Vegas Strip.


Dick Rizzo, Vice Chairman, Perini Building Company
Dick Rizzo is responsible for market planning and research at Perini, and oversees marketing strategies with particular emphasis on developing national clients. With more than 40 years of experience, Rizzo helped steer Perini into the hospitality and gaming industry. It has since become the nation's largest builder of hospitality and gaming projects, with a project list that includes Paris Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, and Trump International. Perini is currently building MGM Mirage's CityCenter.


Bart Ryder, Partner, Tracy & Ryder Landscape, Inc.
A seasoned landscaping professional with 30 years of experience, Bart Ryder is a partner at Park West Companies Inc. of Rancho Santa Margarita, California and its Las Vegas arm, Tracy & Ryder Landscaping. The companies provide work site development from concrete and electrical foundations to landscaping and irrigation. Notable Las Vegas projects include the Red Rock Casino, the Palazzo and the upcoming Fontainebleau Casino, as well as the Lake Las Vegas Resorts. Born in Orange, California, Ryder studied at the Marshall School of Business at USC and graduated in 1981.


Jon Sparer Principal, YWS Architects, Ltd.
Jon Sparer perceives the world visually, and always with pencil in hand. In 2001, he joined Tom Wucherer to form YWS; the firm has since grown in size and caliber with more than 30 gifted employees. YWS projects span the industry and the globe: from Las Vegas, where the firm devised the "light as architecture" concept for the Rio porte cochere, to China, where it created the concept design for MGM Grand Macau.


Barry Thalden, Partner, Thalden Boyd Emery Architects International, Inc.
With more than 35 years in hotel and casino design, Barry Thalden specializes in the design and architecture of hotels, casinos and related hospitality projects; its portfolio includes more than 400 hotels and 100 casinos. Currently working with over 40 Native American tribes in the development of gaming facilities, Thalden·Boyd is an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association and the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.


Rebecca Udell President, Floss Barber, Inc.
Rebecca Udell works to sustain Floss Barber Inc.'s reputation as a national boutique interior design firm while expanding into the international market. Her analytical and strategic skills enhance her design capabilities. Udell believes that understanding the client's needs and how they want to represent themselves both internally and externally to their clientele can be captured in the interior environment, which in turn strengthens the company's brand identity.


Ed Vance, President and CEO, Ed Vance & Associates
For 25 years, design excellence has characterized Ed Vance's career.  His work has led to numerous awards and significant commissions with major hospitality, commercial, and health care clients. Among other awards, Vance has received The AIA Nevada Silver Medal, the highest honor bestowed on an architect in the state. He is a past professor at UNLV's College of Architecture, where he continues to guest lecture, and is a registered architect in 14 states.


Scott Walls, President, COO and Co-founder, Bergman Walls Architects
Scott Walls has been partner-in-charge for the Augustus Tower, Palace Tower and numerous suite, lounge and restaurant remodels at Caesars Palace Las Vegas. Upcoming projects include the Octavius Tower, Fontainebleau, the Sahara and the Majestic Star Casino in Pittsburgh. A graduate of the School of Architecture at Syracuse University, Walls spent 10 years on design teams for projects such as the Mirage, Treasure Island and all the Golden Nugget properties. 

Creating the Signature Restaurant

By Felicia Lowenstein Niven   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

The stage is set. Hosts stand at attention to greet patrons coming from the bustling casino floor. Inside, couples relax in overstuffed chairs in quaint alcoves framed by fireplaces and trickling fountains. Candlelight and soft music set the mood; heavy menus adorned with gold braid foreshadow the price point.

An attentive wait staff caters to their every need. It is a quality experience from the moment they arrive until the time they leave.

Welcome to today's signature casino restaurant. It's a far cry from the $7.77 Gambler's Special, a steak dinner once offered 24 hours a day in casino coffee shops. These days, the casino customer is more sophisticated, educated by the Food Network, with an increasing awareness of fine dining and the snob appeal of celebrity chefs.

"Things have really changed in the gaming circles," says Corey Nyman, director of operations for Nyman Group restaurant consultants. "People are willing to pay for fine dining; it doesn't always have to be 'comped.' So casinos have to decide whether their restaurants are going to be amenities to the high rollers or a money-making venture."

"The high-end casino restaurant used to be a loss leader," adds Richard Dobransky, vice president of food and beverage for Delaware North, a 95-year old company that has worked with restaurants in a variety of settings, from casinos to stadiums. "Since they catered to high rollers, they would just give the meal away. But that's not the case anymore."

More and more, casinos are opting for the moneymakers, putting in a signature restaurant, or two or three. But what really goes into such a venture, and how do you ensure its success? Below, industry experts sound off about the challenges and rewards of creating today's signature casino restaurant.

Before you make a single decision, much less bring in a brand name chef, do your homework.

"We come in and do qualitative research," says Michael Soll, executive vice president of the Innovation Group.  "We do focus groups with current and future customers, we do telephone and Internet surveys. We find out what people want and how excited they are about it. Then we can make recommendations and extrapolate the kind of revenue that could be generated."

"We do a lot of analysis," says Nyman. "We look at the property's strengths, weakness, demographics, food and labor costs and restaurant competition in the area. We meet with key people at the property, from management down to the casino host and the people responsible for player development.

"We want to understand who their customer is so we can make recommendations for the type of restaurant. If management wants a Mexican cantina but the market is demanding a steakhouse, they need to know that."

The Nyman Group did all the restaurants at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Not only did they analyze the opportunities on property, they also assessed the draw to the local market by non-gamers.

"To some extent, locals are going to drive your business," says Nyman. "You have to look at the barriers to entry. How difficult is it for them to get to the restaurant? How far is parking? Is there a valet? Do they have to walk through a smoke-filled casino in order to get there? We take all of these issues into account."

Ultimately, the consensus is that casinos must be sure that a signature restaurant appeals to players and locals alike. But that's not all. It has to be different from any other restaurant at the property, and ideally at competing properties too.

One way to create that exclusivity is to bring in a celebrity chef or other innovative concept.


Star Chef or In-house Talent?
Bobby Flay Steak, Wolfgang Puck American Grille and Emeril's New Orleans are all examples of successful celebrity restaurant concepts. The match between celebrity chefs and casinos, however, is relatively new.

"We were the first celebrity chef in a casino," says Tom Kaplan, senior managing partner of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. "When we were approached about opening in Vegas, they said it would ruin our reputation. But it's done just the opposite."

"For us, the decision to open a Wolfgang Puck restaurant really starts with who the partner is," Kaplan says. "We look for the right partner, then the right location. It's not just about putting our name on the door. We're not interested in just collecting a management fee. We are present."

Puck himself makes personal appearances nightly in Los Angeles, where he lives, and visits his other locations faithfully.

"Usually at the beginning, you have to decide whether your property needs a celebrity chef for exposure," says Paul Heretakis of Westar Architects, a firm that has worked with celebrities like Paula Deen and Mario Batali. "Remember that the celebrity chef will drive both the décor and the food."

They also take some of the profits, according to industry experts. Michael Soll of the Innovation Group says a casino in-house restaurant offers more control, but there are benefits to bringing in a name as well.

"Do you want to create something in-house and forge a signature profile or do something out of house?" he asks. "Then you have to decide if you're going to lease the space or work with a management group or the restaurateur. It sometimes depends on who's putting up the capital. Celebrity chefs are supplying less and less capital, but they're getting the kind of media attention that sometimes in-house restaurants do not."

One reason to bring in a celebrity is to reach the client you don't have, says Heretakis. "When we opened Mia at Caesars in Atlantic City, it was a great marriage for the property and for Chris Scarduzio and Georges Perrier. Their core customers in Philly already knew the brand, and it's close enough that they'd drive an hour to a new destination to try that new restaurant."

"Everybody seems to want a celebrity chef," says Corey Nyman. "Personally, we're indifferent. Is the celebrity chef going to make the most money? Or do we want to save that money, which could be 15 percent to 30 percent? You might get the initial flash with the press, but is it going to be sustained?"

Heretakis adds, "Of course, if you don't have a star to bring in customers, you need to come up with a great concept."

Designing the Space
Once the concept is created, the next step is design.

"Sometimes the property has it nailed down, and sometimes it changes," says Bryan Hamlin, vice president of design for the WorthGroup. "There's a lot of fluidity. Our job is to realize the vision of the restaurant."

And just as patrons' expectations of fine dining have risen, so has the pressure to create a signature design.

"Design is so mainstream these days," Hamlin says. "Because of the media, design concepts have become much more accessible to the public. So the level of design has been elevated to a much higher standard."

To some extent, space dictates design as well.

"If the location is on the water, near the casino floor, in a larger or smaller space, all of those elements affect the design," says Floss Barber of Floss Barber, Inc. "With most upscale restaurants, however, there are design elements that are constant. For example, we 'announce' that it's upscale with an entrance that feels exclusive. Even the entry itself is an experience." 

"You don't want it to be crowded in this type of restaurant," says Barber. "The choice of materials will be more refined. The lighting might be concealed or if not, we might use signature lighting pieces."

Designers "choreograph" the path that patrons will take.

"There is a sequence of arrival," says Hamlin. "This gives us an opportunity for installation of artwork, views to the outside. There's a movement to introduce natural lighting in perimeter places, moveable partitions, outside dining where possible to open up the space.

"You want to build the level of ambiance, sophistication and privacy, so the acoustics are very important. You want to be able to have a conversation."

Designers may also get involved in more than the physical space. They often make recommendations on server's uniforms, menus, and even nametags.

"Black and white is a classic look for a server," says Nyman. "But if you have an upscale steakhouse with a bold theme, you can go for open collars and a more vibrant feel. Functionality is key. They have to be able to move and work in their uniforms."

Nyman doesn't believe in nametags. "Most guests don't take the time to look at them," he says. "I'd rather that they introduce themselves as part of their script."

Of course, design is another area where a celebrity chef often gets involved.

"In the case of Mario Batali, the design of the room was secondary to the simplicity of the food," says Heretakis. "In other restaurants, you'll see that the rooms are as much of a 'star' as the chef is.'"

The Menu

The menu is a natural result of the concept, whether it's signature in-house or celebrity chef.

The important point to remember is that the menu caters to the customer. That's why Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace offers a Caesar salad and strip steak.  

"Yes, it's a Southwestern concept," says Nyman, "but it's still approachable. So we include menu items that we know will sell."

Wolfgang Puck has created five distinctly different brands with different menus to address a range of customers, from the upscale Spago to the more playful American Grille. In all, Puck has 14 restaurants, each with an executive chef who's worked with Wolfgang for many years.

"Our menus may vary in each location, as our décor does," says Kaplan. "Our chefs are very talented in their own right and Wolfgang encourages creativity and exploration, within the concept of course. We also work with the local growers and producers in the region. We might do certain dishes in Maui with a focus on fish, while in Beaver Creek we'd focus on game. Then of course, if someone wants a dish cooked specially, we'll accommodate them."

The Next Big Thing
"Everyone's looking for the next big trend," says Soll. "Who's the next big chef? What's the next great concept?"

"I'd say the classic steakhouse has about five years left," says Dobransky of Delaware North. "It has been the hottest thing in recent years, but now we're also seeing a trend toward more specialty restaurants, like Asian fusion."

"It's important to stay ahead of the trends," Nyman agrees. "You can't come in the middle. You have to watch what's going locally, statewide, nationally and even worldwide. It's not enough to stay inside the bubble of the restaurant community."

One thing is certain. With the increased emphasis on fine dining, and increasing discernment among casino patrons, it will just keep getting better and better. Bon appetit.

The New Natural

By Rodrick J. Bradford   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

The desert oasis that is Las Vegas has thrived as a resort by featuring many artificial structures-the Eiffel Tower, the New York City skyline and an Egyptian pyramid, to name a few.

But an emerging trend now taking hold in Vegas is natural landscape designs, internal and external, that add more visual serenity to the world's most famous strip of commercial land.

"People love to be in a beautiful garden, no matter where they are," says Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs of Lifescapes International Inc., which worked with Steve Wynn at the Mirage and the Wynn, and is currently in the design process at Echelon Resort. "That's definitely one of the driving factors behind the casino gardens trend.

It's all driven by the visitor."

An Enlightened Outlook

With the desert as a backdrop, most landscaping in Las Vegas is developed artificially; it would never exist in such an arid environment without constant care.

"Historically, resorts took a conventional approach to landscaping, albeit within an increasingly grand and beautiful scale, and with complex site engineering challenges to match," says Tom Donnelly, president of ValleyCrest Landscape Development. "Many attempt to evoke a theme or style that immerses the guest in either a replicated or altogether unique environment. And in some cases the landscapes are meant to complement or conceal the architecture."

Today, Donnelly adds, "We're seeing a more enlightened landscaping that transforms the environment, enhances the guest experience and provides a human scale to the towers that grace downtown and the Strip."

Natural design appeal is achieved with dramatic water elements (for real and perceived cooling) and effective use of plant material (to soften harsh direct and reflected heat and light). It's a fairly recent phenomenon in the gaming industry," says Brinkerhoff-Jacobs.

"Until the Mirage 20 years ago," she says, "there wasn't a lot of attention paid to the landscape environment outside the pool area."

The Mirage set a new trend by featuring orchids and other flora that typically would not survive in the desert. Prior to landscaping, several heat analyses had to be completed. It was a race to the finish, with major changes in landscape design implemented just six weeks before the Mirage's grand opening.

Sheer Romance

"One of the reasons the landscape environments are so successful in Las Vegas is because we treat them all like large gardens," says Brinkerhoff-Jacobs. "We are romanticists in garden design. We respect the geometry of the space. We are not afraid to use unusual materials to create beautiful surroundings."

As in any industry, staying ahead of the trend curve is essential. As Las Vegas becomes an international destination-in Donnelly's words, "a modern desert metropolis"-new natural landscapes must reflect a more modern architectural design.

"With modern building design comes the opportunity to make equally inventive statements through landscaping," Donnelly says. "An expanded interest in drought-tolerant plant materials has led to the introduction of new species from around the world with potential applications in the Las Vegas desert. Along with an expanding plant palette, more realistic looking synthetic turf, and more sophisticated irrigation systems, landscape professionals have more tools to shift the Las Vegas paradigm."

The "large garden" now in vogue can make other natural destinations (like pool areas) more inviting. Because pools today can be situated on up to five acres of land, resorts want to make use of them day and night.

"The pool setting and cabana design have changed," says Brinkerhoff-Jacobs. "Now you have to figure in the restaurants, fire pit experience, and cocktail areas. We've completed over 20 casino properties in the Las Vegas metro area, and this is definitely a big trend."

Another trend: interior gardens in surprising areas, like retail and other gathering spaces.

Surviving the Desert
Because the desert is subject to extremes of heat, cold and wind as well as seasonal monsoons and long periods of drought, the palette of materials available is limited.

"Our challenge is to develop a theme that evokes a specific time or place using a limited palette of locally viable materials," says Donnelly. "The materials don't have to be 'native,' but they must be able to adapt to the local climate. For the landscape contractor, the challenge is to find the right material, help it through the acclimation process, and install it in a manner that overcomes the local challenges."

Using established local specimen trees is vital, because there is no appreciable local nursery industry in Las Vegas, and large trees from Southern California and Arizona can be expensive and difficult to transport.

"Long ago, enlightened owners recognized the value of salvaging and reusing any specimen trees on local properties," says Donnelly. "In the preferred scenario, the trees are often on site and readily stored and transported to their new location, or they are located close enough to the site to allow for cost-effective transportation."

The seasonal timing of planting operations is as vital as material selection. Palms are planted during the summer to avoid root rot. Pines and shrubs are planted strategically to avoid extremes of the heat and cold. Deciduous trees such as maple, birch or hickory can be planted in the middle of the winter.

"There are seasonal constraints on planting," Donnelly says. "The challenge is to find a cost-effective approach to optimizing plant installation while coordinating with all of the other trades on site. You don't want to throw the overall project schedule into chaos."

When using plants from outside the area-in Vegas and elsewhere-it's helpful to import them one or more seasons prior to installation. It allows the plants to adjust and avoids the losses that can result from dramatic climate change.

"(Imported) nursery plants may lose leaves or suffer scald, but the leaves and shoots that subsequently emerge will be adaptively structured to better tolerate their new environment," says Donnelly. "But this process is costly, as it requires sufficient land on or near the project site and sufficient lead time prior to the installation date."

The desert soil is hard on non-native plant material, so another required strategy is soil amendment. In soil chemistries that are more alkaline and saline, and low in organic content and cation exchange rates, percolation levels can range from slow to non-existent. To accommodate this situation, the planting process is modified with the addition of oversized planting pits, plant pit sub-drains or auger-drilled drainage pumps combined with sand-based planting soils to facilitate drainage and air-exchange on the root zone.

"For shrubs planted as a dense mass, it's not uncommon to over-excavate the entire shrub area and place a layer of amended sand-based planter soil down," says Donnelly.

Fertilizer treatment works hand in hand with a soil amendment regimen to produce the desired results, and fertilizer injection systems ensure plant nutrients are delivered, often through the irrigation system with a precision injection pump system. This strategy allows for general plant nutrition and long-term pH correction while reducing the effect of maintenance labor that interferes with the guest experience.

Finally, drip irrigation systems are key. The heat and wind of Las Vegas can decrease the efficiency of a conventional overhead irrigation system because water is lost to drift and evaporation.

"Drip irrigation systems have become the norm in Las Vegas as a way to conserve water through precision delivery," says Donnelly.

Establishing a long-term strategy for maintenance is another way to reduce maintenance labor costs, reduce green waste production and limit water use with no negative impact on curb appeal.


Techno Trends
Technology has certainly made maintenance easier. Modern irrigation systems feature flow sensors and data recorders that detect unnatural water flow, causing an automatic shutdown and quick notification of maintenance personnel.

Other basic maintenance trends utilized by gaming resorts include upgrading irrigation systems to match specific plant needs, and keeping shrub areas properly mulched, preferably with a mulch made of recycled "green waste," shredded to a uniform consistency and composted.

Mulching lawnmowers are preferred on natural turf, but Donnelly recommends removing natural turf when possible and replacing it with more drought-tolerant plant materials, including woody shrubs, perennials, cacti or succulents.

Proper pruning techniques and the selective removal of inappropriate and underperforming trees and shrubs are also necessary for basic maintenance and a successful natural landscape.

Retail Therapy

By Marjorie Preston   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

At the high-end retail corridor known as Via Bellagio in Las Vegas, shops like Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Prada could easily outfit Hollywood's entire A-list.

Movie stars usually get such goodies for free. For the rest of us, these exclusive labels carry a high price. A clutch from Fendi or Dior can cost several thousand dollars; ditto an Armani silk suit or bauble from Tiffany & Co.

Despite the pricy product lines, the shops at Bellagio are among the most profitable shopping "malls" in the country.  


In 2006, the typical regional U.S. mall averaged about $350 per square foot in revenues. (The best-performing brought in $392.) But retail located in casino environments left their suburban counterparts in the dust.

In 2006, the Forum Shops at Caesars Las Vegas posted approximately $1,300 PSF, a figure that rose to $1,500 in 2007. And some analysts whisper that this year, Via Bellagio-at the Bellagio casino resort in Vegas-could rack up an astonishing $2,000 per square foot.

Hard to believe, but the idea of putting retail in casinos was once a hard sell. In the 1980s, developer Sheldon Gordon was among the first proponents when he noted that foot traffic at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas exceeded that at Macy's legendary department store in New York. Gordon, who ultimately developed the Forum Shops at Caesars, would be later hailed as a visionary. But first he had to overcome the ingrained conviction held by operators and retailers alike that gamblers would never shop where they play.

That conviction was not only untrue, it was the polar opposite of true. For tourists, going to the casino is like going on vacation. They expect to spend money. They're not averse to blowing through their vacation allowance or casino winnings on a few souvenirs or the occasional big-ticket splurge.

"In the tourist environment, people tend to leave their economic sense behind," says Brent Pirosch, director of gaming consultant services at CB Richard Ellis's Global Gaming Group in Las Vegas. "If you have a good day at the tables, maybe a $5,000 watch for your wife isn't out of line."

While upscale casinos support more upscale retail (think Wynn and Bellagio in Vegas or the Pier Shops in Atlantic City), the same demographic that ogles Manolos and Maseratis readily patronizes mid-market stores like White House, Black Market and Ann Taylor. Pirosch says 10 percent to 15 percent of luxury retail is usually appropriate; it's important, too, he adds, to serve niche consumers who aren't drawn to mainstream apparel.

"Pay attention to who your customer is and create the kind of environment you don't get at home." For the alternative customer, "Maybe you want a cool, sports-themed store, like a Niketown. Or if you're in the middle of nowhere and have your own golf course, open a high-end golf store."

If there is any formula for success in casino retail, it's a simple one: a great mix of shopping within walking distance of lodgings, food and gambling. Guests spend about 60 percent of their "play money" at or near their hotel, 30 percent immediately adjacent, and 10 percent elsewhere in the market; to reap the retail rewards, it's imperative to keep them on the property as much as possible.

"The 'why' is partly psychological; tourists are in an unfamiliar environment, so the property becomes their 'home,'" says Frank Volk, executive vice president of Robert K. Futterman Associates in Las Vegas and an expert on retail in the gaming capital. "The logistics of moving in and around the Vegas Strip, for example, can often be difficult and/or time-consuming. It's far easier to shop where or near where you are staying."

In a 24-hour environment, retailers can justify longer hours-10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. to midnight on weekends-which also boosts their bottom line.

"The important thing here for retailers is that they are getting 30 percent to 40 percent more shopping hours due extended shopping and 365 days a year of store operation," Volk says.

'Louis Vuitton on Every Corner'
Steve Henri, director of planning and design for national investment firm Taubman Centers Inc., has used the of the gaming-shopping alliance to good effect in Atlantic City. In 2006, Taubman added the Pier Shops at Caesars to its list of urban and suburban shopping centers.

The multilevel 46,400-square-foot venue has everything you'd expect in a suburban mall-retail, a food court-along with an indoor water show and elaborate fountain, a collection of high-end designer shops and boutiques, and dozens of food offerings, all within a quick walk of the gaming floor (Caesars Atlantic City is connected to Pier Shops by a skywalk over the famous Boardwarlk).

Moving from Atlantic City to Las Vegas, retail "sometimes outperforms the gaming revenue," Henri says. "It's a big, significant piece of the income."

To succeed, casino-based retailers in Atlantic City strive to attract a broad swath of customers, not just the traditional older gambler who once arrived here by bus, but that veteran patron's children and grandchildren too, as well as the locals.

"It's the LA experience-the anchor is the casino, but you want to appeal to everybody," says Henri. Shoppers can browse at the Pier Shops Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton, Armani A/X, bebe and Burberry as well niche shops like The Art of Shaving, where a deluxe razor goes for $1,000.

The Pier Shops offer the kind of products vacationers wouldn't normally buy at home: "Luxury items, out-of-the-ordinary items, impulse items," says Henri. High-priced retail adds to the "holiday" experience; casinos recognize that and embrace it.

"You have to do a lot to keep people from leaving your property," says Henri. "You have to have everything the other guy has, plus something else."

He believes the growing diversity of casino patrons presents an as-yet-untapped market for casinos and retailers alike. When you successfully capture the right patrons, "You could put a Louis Vuitton store on every corner, and they'd all do well."


Image-Maker, Moneymaker
At Harrah's Atlantic City, Senior Vice President and General Manager Scott Barber says retail was always an important component of the 44-story Waterfront Tower, which opened this year.

"We looked at customers coming today and we looked at customers we wanted to attract tomorrow," he says. "Once we determined that retail was high on the list, we included it in the plan."

All Waterfront Tower retail is owned and operated by the Harrah's organization. Not all casinos handle the retail component this way, but for Harrah's it was a natural fit.

"We already have a very established corporate retail department," says Barber. "We wanted to create a seamless transition for our rewards customers." The decision allows them better control of product line in the stores and simplifies the use of comp points as well.

Harrah's wanted seamlessness from a design perspective. Guests who leave their cars with a valet attendant enter through an amber dome with stained glass accents. The hum of slot machines beckons from the right, and Park Place Jewelers from the left. The placement of retail space is instantly visible on arrival. Seventy percent of the hotel rooms are positioned in the tower at the center of the shopping corridor.

"You have to walk right past the retail space to get to those rooms," says Barber. "We wanted to create that foot traffic."

As at the Pier Shops, retail at the Waterfront Tower aims for a wide demographic, though families are not targeted. The seven shops offer designer clothing, shoes, home goods and of course, jewelry.

"Our jewelry store has just been a huge hit," Barber says, adding that Sony performed second or third in sales volume from the beginning. But changes are underway.

"Electronics have been very popular," but customers want "more lifestyle-type merchandise," Barber says. In the spring, the Sony store was replaced by Innovations, which will offer everything from toasters and blenders to televisions and video games. The store will carry Sony but other brands as well.

Harrah's Total Rewards loyalty program helps it identify the top selling merchandise.

"Our customers can use comp dollars to purchase out of catalogs, so we know literally the types of products that are most popular with our market," Barber says.

By offering special "multiplier days," where points are doubled or tripled on site, Harrah's entices guests to come back for another day of shopping, dining and gaming.

"We wanted our retail to be integrated with the rest of the casino," with a gallery of shops and dining designed to make customers feel they are at a true upscale beach resort, Barber says. Marble and aquamarine lights line the corridor, and both the retail and dining options conjure subtle images of a beach resort with natural light flooding the area from the hotel's palm-tree dotted pool area.

The resort's dining options include gourmet in addition to the Taste of the Shore food court and the dazzling Waterfront Buffet.

"Our approach to food is very similar to our approach to retail," Barber says. "We wanted to make sure there were quick options as well as fine dining options."

Variety is the key to successfully tapping its market, Barber says. "Our priority customer is our casino customer. Our goal is to increase the length of stay so we offer the kinds of amenities to encourage that."

The amenities include a posh pool, Elizabeth Arden's Red Door Spa, dining and a 15,000-square-foot-shopping gallery. The obvious bonus to that approach is that the whole resort becomes a destination, not only for gamers, but for those who bypass the casino floor for the diamonds in the window.


Building Aspirations
Executives at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City use the term "aspirational" to describe their target audience. The buzzword describes people who want to "trade up," says Jordan Covell, executive director of retail operations at the Borgata.

"From the beginning, we wanted to reach those in search of a full-scale, full-fledged casino resort experience-those who wanted something more like Las Vegas."

To attract the right visitors-including those famously dubbed "Atlantic City rejecters"-the upscale operator employed retail as a critical component of the mix. The casino included 11 retail shops including Whim, Borgata's 5,000-square-foot version of a logo shop.

"We took a different approach because our client demands a different product," says Covell. In fact, the store offers a whole slew of unique products including Borgata bedding, electronics and designer clothing, like 7 Jeans that sell for $200 a pair.

"Envy No One" is the store's trademark slogan, which sums up Borgata's overall approach.

The operator is applying the same philosophy to the 9,000-square-foot retail space at the new Water Club, a non-casino tower next to Borgata.

The shopping area is strategically placed in the corridor connecting Borgata with the Water Club. The amenities within each property will be shared, but each store will be "very distinct, very different" from its neighbors, Covell says.

Borgata and Water Club will continue to own and operate some of the shops on site, including Whim, but they also bring in high-end designers like Hugo Boss, Just Cavalli and Hearts of Fire jewelers to provide their guests with a signature shopping experience.

Luxury is an important component, and the goal is to reach the sophisticated consumer who knows and craves up-market retail and designer specialty stores. The retail shops are united by elements like marble, fine wood and elaborate chandeliers, but "they are built out to stand out," Covell says.

Each space is a signal to the resort's urbane customer base that Borgata and the Water Club provide what is hot now, "like Fifth Avenue at your fingertips," Covell says.

Supersize Me
Expand the Borgata/Water Club concept, add an Italian accent, and you've got both two of the most popular shopping venues in Vegas: The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian and the Shoppes at the Palazzo.

Together the destinations offer a stateside shopping trip to Venice courtesy of General Growth Properties (GGP), which, like Taubman, is a real estate trust company that buys and builds shopping malls.

In 2004, GGP bought the Grand Canal Shoppes from Las Vegas Sands, which had built the shopping area as part of the Venetian in 1999. In January, the company opened 60 more retail shops at the Palazzo.

According to Susan Houck, vice president of marketing, GGP operates five shopping areas totaling more than 5 million square feet in Las Vegas alone. The industry trend, Houck says, is to offer hotel and casino guests the very best in amenities: "world renowned spas, signature chef restaurants, unique lounges and nightclubs and the very best retail boutiques available. Shopping and dining are becoming as important as gaming today."

And the demand is still growing. GGP is working with Echelon and Boyd Gaming on a new project, High Street, a luxury retail space set to open in Las Vegas in 2010.

"Las Vegas is a unique retail environment," Houck says. "The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian comprise a completely different experience than The Shoppes at the Palazzo, and each represents the culture of the resort they live in."

Together the distinct but complementary venues offer 160 retail shops over 800,000 square feet of shopping space. The Grand Canal Shoppes offer an experiential visit to Venice, with touristy attractions like gondola rides. The Shoppes at the Palazzo focus on luxury brands including Christian Louboutin, Piaget, Diane von Furstenberg, Bottega Veneta and Ralph Lauren. Thirty of the 60 new shops are firsts on the Nevada retail scene.

"We have a strong leasing team that works closely with our casino partners to determine the right retail fit to complement the environment the resort is trying to project," Houck says. The mix is critical to the casino and the renting retail stores since it both serves and grows the market. Houck agrees with Taubman's Henri that in the right market, there's never too much Louis Vuitton-in fact, her words echo his almost exactly.

"Louis Vuitton is a powerful brand, internationally recognized. We could have a Louis Vuitton on every corner and they would all continue to do great sales."

With casinos facing more and more competition and flagging revenues, retail may be more vital than ever to attract and retain patrons. Though the casinos do not see a significant amount of direct revenue from retail-they are typically getting rent-RKF's Volk says the benefit is "the incremental dollar spillover from a visitor to the shopping venue."

According to Mark Birtha, vice president of development for Marriott International Lodging Development, retail, dining, and entertainment help to "insulate casino revenue, which can be volatile at times while these others are traditionally more stable."

Sheldon Gordon was among the first to see the light. The rest of the industry has fallen in line. As for the future, Birtha foresees an even greater integration of these disparate parts.

"In years to come," he says, "we'll see the actual fusion of the gaming space with retail and other non-gaming components. We're already seeing casino lounges or privès that have the look and feel of nightclubs with the equally exciting energy of tables and slots. We will see retail venues housed in or around the casino floor, with changing ambiances, lighting, and sound and provide customers with both gaming and shopping products.

"We may even see casino spaces designed and defined with the flavor of an iconic retail partner who caters to a similar customer. Both product enhancement and innovation will push the boundaries of the casino and allow for other significant revenue generators," thus redefining the gaming experience.



Navigating the Credit Crunch

By Matt Sodl   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

 "May you livein interesting times." 
-Ancient Chinese proverb

The volatility of the financial markets has led to interesting times indeed for borrowers, investors and Wall Street. The good news is that a broader segment of the market is willing to take on risk, and we're now seeing a number of financings proceed to closing.

In a credit crunch, lenders stop lending and credit becomes difficult to obtain. In the current crunch, the market discounted or sold off everything from weak, deeply indebted companies to over-extended lenders to over-leveraged consumers. Various surveys indicate that our economy is in a recession; however, economic data suggests that we're not there quite yet.

Is Gaming Recession-proof?
The gaming industry, long considered recession-proof, has now shown unprecedented softness in nearly all markets across the United States, including southern Nevada. This consumer-led recession is causing lighter discretionary spending, which has a direct impact on gaming revenues. Overall, monthly reports indicate that most gaming markets are down 10 percent to 15 percent in a year-over-year comparison.

Impact on Capital Markets
As weaker macroeconomic conditions persist, softer credit fundamentals and constrained liquidity has pushed up default rates. Correspondingly, these risks have weighed heavily on the capital markets. Market performance has suffered as a result of highly leveraged capital structures and weak structural protections.

It didn't happen overnight. Due to declining structural protections and other aggressive features of new deals brought to market in recent years, risk in the leveraged loan market had in fact been building for some time.

The abundance of loans originated to fund shareholder-oriented activities (like leveraged buyouts or LBOs and covenant-light and second-lien loans) was a part of this trend. The massive overhang of approximately $150 billion in the leveraged loan market has been met by anemic demand from investors. Thanks to the Federal Reserve, liquidity has returned to the market; Wall Street firms and investors have shown a willingness to take on risk, if slowly and at high return thresholds.

The secondary trading levels of debt securities (high yield bonds) for gaming-related borrowers have declined meaningfully, approximately 8 percent to 10 percent since early January. This technical market correction has resulted in a meaningful increase in the borrowing costs for all gaming operators, both commercial and Native American.

Deal Activity in the Gaming Industry
With continued weak demand in the leveraged loan market, Wall Street debt arrangers trying to close transactions have had their work cut out for them. Harrah's Entertainment saw its deals flounder in the market as the massive debt used to finance the company's going-private transaction couldn't be sold by Street underwriters. Ultimately, large amounts of Harrah's debt were sold at discounted levels; however, a meaningful part of this debt remains on Wall Street's balance sheet. Yields on the Harrah's bonds were priced at a discount to yield 13 percent.

According to Loan Pricing Corporation, there were a total of 10 of gaming financings valued at approximately $19.5 billion completed through April 2008. Given the complexion in the market, the only ones completed were those that had to be, because the opportunity costs of "not closing that merger" or "breaking ground on that casino development" were too high. The owners of those borrowers could bear the higher cost of financing because their overall returns exceeded the incremental borrowing costs resulting from the credit crunch.

Market Liquidity
In early 2008, credit market investor appetite for new financings was sparse. The most active players in the credit market during this period were hedge funds managers who funded transactions as club deals. The traditional high yield bond market was effectively unavailable to borrowers.

But a combination of the Federal Reserve's continued easing, creative stimulus packages and wide investor yields have brought a broader base of investors off the sidelines to begin participating in deals.

We're now seeing a slight opening in the high yield bond market to certain issuers, albeit at higher borrowing costs. Given the balance sheet issues of the commercial banks (LBO bridge loans, sub-prime and derivative write-downs) we continue to see minimal capital commitments from Wall Street banks related to gaming development financings. That, too, will change at a slow pace as banks shore up their balance sheets and raise capital for the next economic cycle.


Notable Gaming Financings 2008
Besides the Harrah's LBO financing, the most notable gaming financings thus far in 2008 are the $340 million Firekeepers Development Authority (Native American casino development in Grand Rapids, Michigan) and the $720 million PITG Gaming (commercial casino development in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).

Both transactions were "greenfield" financings that had little to no equity in the capital structure and no corporate backstop. The result is that both projects will likely get financed at higher borrowing costs.

  • Firekeeper's $340 million 144A senior secured notes priced at 13.875 percent at a 96 discount. In what is believed to be the first Native American high yield bond financing in 2008, this transaction was met with solid interest and was meaningfully oversubscribed. Full House Resorts is the management company for this casino development.
  • PITG's $720 million credit facility (which had not closed at press time) was split into $100 million revolver, $380 million first lien and $260 million second lien facilities. The sponsor of PITG is Don Barden, a Detroit businessman who won the license to operate a casino in downtown Pittsburgh in a highly competitive selection process.


While Barden had intended not to invest any equity in this financing, the debt markets forced him to provide a $35 million completion guarantee whose proceeds are being pledged from the sale of the Fitzgerald's Las Vegas property, which Barden owned personally.

It should also be noted that credit market investors were extracting equity warrants in connection with the second lien tranche. Overall, this financing was a highly aggressive structure to be contemplated in the current market environment.

Access to the Capital Markets Going Forward
It is our expectation that the capital markets will become modestly more aggressive as we work our way through 2008. A moderate increase in investor liquidity will drive more aggressive structures and lower market pricing.

However, borrowers should not expect pricing to return to the pre-credit crunch levels of 2007. In our view, it could be several years before we see deal-pricing levels return to that level of aggressiveness.

In the near-term-or until there is a significant increase in market liquidity-borrowers should expect that hedge funds will continue to drive the pricing on financings, which means higher costs of capital, tighter covenant packages and more conservative capital structures.

Given the choppiness of the market, we recommend that clients proceed carefully, get their ducks in a row on development plans and hire skilled financial advisors to help them navigate this period of uncertainty.

Remember, if you have a quality gaming development project, the market can and will finance a good project, albeit at higher borrowing costs when compared to those of the last few years.


Size Matters

By Robert Holtfreter   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

Should one goal of the smaller casino be to "seem bigger," or is it better to emphasize the intimacy or friendliness of a space?
That depends on the target market. YWS has been involved in projects in Las Vegas as well as other U.S. venues (commercial and Native American), and in Asia and Europe. Each of these markets has cultural and economic considerations. I think the most vital consideration is flexibility. As the saying goes, the only constant is change, and providing clients with flexibility is paramount. Many small casinos aspire to become larger, and that's where a flexible plan creates an avenue for future growth.

If you do want a gaming space to seem bigger, how do you accomplish it? Is there a floor plan configuration that lends itself to a feeling of grandeur or size?
The configuration or shape of the casino is more important than size when designing any casino. However, there are ways to make a smaller venue appear bigger by utilizing compression techniques in the design so patrons feel that the space is bigger than it really is. You need to look at how the customer will experience the space and build anticipation, stimulate curiosity and create a sense of arrival. This is true whether you're approaching the front door or coming out of a restaurant.

Do you have to scale down accoutrements (lighting fixtures, furnishings) in a smaller casino?
You can. This is just one of the ways that you can manipulate scale to make the space feel bigger, or smaller, depending on the client's goals.  Ceiling heights, and column placement and shape all have an impact on the perceived size of a space.

Is it helpful to use mirrors to "enlarge" a small space, or is that a hackneyed idea? Any colors or finishes that work better in a smaller space to accomplish a feeling of space and scale?
The traditional use of a massive amount of mirror is definitely dated; however, many designs still employ a selective amount of mirror used in creative ways to make a space feel larger or add interest. For example, mirror placed at the end of a vista will give the impression of the space continuing. Mirror intermixed with millwork or other materials can make a space look lighter and brighter and therefore larger. This is also true for lighter colors; a darker space will always feel smaller.

Does the ratio of gaming space to non-gaming amenities differ in a small casino?
Generally, the ratio stays pretty constant; the smaller the gaming facility, the fewer the amenities. The challenge is finding the correct amenities and placing them appropriately. Flexibility is again paramount; markets change and the design needs to be able to flex with the demands of the target market as well as be responsive to competition.

Can a small casino be competitive with its big brothers and sisters in the same market? Or is a small casino better on its own, with no competition?
This question really speaks to brand differentiation. What makes the smaller venue special? What does it do that the others can't (or won't)? If you identify and answer that, then, yes, absolutely you can compete with larger venues next door and even gain market advantage.


What Ho, Macau?

By Marjorie Preston   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

A Chinese territory with a Portuguese history and a communist government has become the center of a distinctly capitalist enterprise.

xSince 2004, when the $240 million Sands Casino opened in Macau, the once-down-at-the-heels gambling enclave, an hour by ferry from Hong Kong, has become a Holy Grail for gamblers. In just a few years, the former Portuguese colony has overtaken Las Vegas as the world's premiere gambling destination, earning more in first quarter 2008 than Vegas and Atlantic City combined.

Yet the overall aesthetic of casinos on this Chinese peninsula could not be described as fully Asian or even vaguely Pan-Asian, particularly when it comes to those built by U.S.-based operators. If anything, the glitzy, $1.8 billion Venetian Macau, to date the world's largest casino, could have been picked up and dropped in from Las Vegas, or Disneyland for that matter. It is truly the sister property of the Las Vegas Venetian: a gilt-edged approximation of Venice complete with gondolas and a Grand Canal.

For Philip Payne, formerly  the design director for the Las Vegas Sands Corp. (Macau's first American developer and operator of both the Sands and Venetian Macao), the comparisons between Macau and Las Vegas are inevitable.

"Some of the resorts could be transplants from Vegas-for example, the Venetian (Sands) Cotai and Wynn Macau," and there's a very simple reason, Payne says. In the case of the Sands, the aesthetic was driven "more by the necessity for speed and economics" than a painstaking marketing plan.

A short-lived shotgun marriage between the Sands and licensed investor Galaxy Entertainment-among the first concessionaires in line when the Ho monopoly ended-had dissolved by 2002. With a timetable in place and all systems go, Sands forged ahead on its own, and remarkably, went from blueprint to grand opening in less than two years.

Despite the frenetic pace, designers "paid special attention to what would be successfully receptive to the Asian/Chinese clientele," Payne says; design architect Paul Steelman says 98 percent of focus group participants approved the property's ultra-modern, un-themed architecture.

The result, says Payne: "a very international, iconic type of structure unlike anything in Las Vegas" with a landmark gilded circular tower, adjoined by a boxy gaming facility that Steelman famously described as the world's first "stadium-style casino."    

At 1 million square feet with an eye-popping six-story crystal chandelier, the Sands Macau takes the bigger-is-better mentality to an extreme, and the idea has paid off so far. Opening day in 2004 was mayhem. Ten thousand people charged the entryway in the first hour of opening; the property won back its $260 million investment in a year.

For its second project, the Sands Corp. decided not to reinvent the wheel, in part for financial reasons.

"The planning and design of the Venetian Las Vegas and the casting of the Venetian's signature elements were already paid for," says Payne. "There were economic advantages-and the saving of an enormous amount of time-by replicating the Venetian in Las Vegas."

Wynn Macau-with a curved tower that instantly recalls Wynn Las Vegas-took the same approach.

"While the podium structures of Wynn Macau are project-specific, the high rise is a half-size replica of Wynn Las Vegas," Payne observes. "The Butler Ashworth architectural plans required very little modification for the Macau high rise. Both saved considerable time and money for the operator and have worked very successfully."

Paul Heretakis of Westar Architects says Vegas-based designers naturally lean toward elements and functional requirements that have succeeded in Sin City. And while some Asian casinos still rely on "a heavy dose of glitz and fantasia," the emergent look reflects the kind of modernism found in Hong Kong and Shanghai: "No theming, just high quality materials used in a sophisticated and elegant manner."

Payne agrees. "Minimalist design goes down very well in Hong Kong commercial development, but in my experience a sense of opulence and luxury is very important to the Chinese clientele in Macau."

A general shift away from the bombastic themes of casinos like the Luxor and Excalibur in Las Vegas should be particularly important in emerging destinations. Consider Vietnam, where phases one and two of the $4.5 billion Ho Tram Strip are under way.

A project of Asian Coast Development, Ho Tram's stated theme-if it can indeed be called a theme-is "environmental preservation and conservation highlighting the lush natural beauty of the area while showcasing Vietnamese and Asian culture." The wow factor will be evident in two five-star hotels, a luxury spa, a Vegas-style casino, an 18-hole Greg Norman golf course and a Cirque du Soleil theater.

Back in China, bigger-is-better is rivaled by what Philip Payne calls "higher-is-better. It's very satisfactory to look down on one's commercial neighbor-the Galaxy Star World and Grand Lisboa in Macau are perfect expressions of this."

If Macau's newest casinos lack a "sense of place," Payne attributes it to "the overwhelming preponderance of Chinese punters. It appears that they do not want Chinese interpretations, but completely embrace 'all things American.'"

The exception might be the slot machines, which remain a hard sell among Asian gamblers. While slots account for more than 60 percent of gaming revenue in Las Vegas, it pulls in just 4 percent of the take in Macau. Though U.S. operators are confident they can acclimate Asian players to slots in time, that may be one gamble they stand to lose-and one Asian cultural preference that does not give way to Vegas sensibilities.


Full Moon, Full House

By Marjorie Preston   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

In Las Vegas, though Asian and Asian-American patrons currently comprise just 4 percent to 7 percent of the clientele, last winter's 15-day Lunar New Year brought them by the tens of thousands-primarily from the West Coast and mainland China-to celebrate in Sin City.

The casinos, and the city at large, happily welcomed the free-spending visitors. Streets were draped in banners welcoming 4076, the Year of the Rat. Dragon dances were ubiquitous. Culinary festivals got the menu right (including a feast at the MGM Mirage prepared by nine chefs from Beijing's legendary Diaoyutai State Guesthouse). The Bellagio featured a statue of the God of Wealth alongside a six-foot rat; MGM Grand brought in Taiwanese pop stars.

The net result: MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni called the Lunar New Year weekend bigger for gambling in Vegas than the Super Bowl. According to the Associated Press, the holiday increased Nevada's baccarat handle by half: $1.03 billion in February, "topping even blackjack, the king of card games."


Do Over

By Felicia Lowenstein Niven   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

No restaurant can succeed indefinitely without periodic "freshening" of the design and decor; experts suggest that casino restaurants, in particular, require some kind of renovation-from a cosmetic sprucing-up to a complete overhaul-every six to eight years.

But renovating can be as time-consuming and costly as building from the ground up-and there are additional challenges.

"Renovations usually involve the infrastructure," says Scott Walls, president of Bergman, Walls & Associates, a full-service architectural firm for casino resorts. "Do you have enough power for all the new lighting you're planning to add? If you want to add a cooking surface in the kitchen, do you have the ability to add another exhaust? You look at the electrical, the mechanical, the air conditioning, and evaluate it against the new format."

"The electrical and plumbing can be very expensive," says Jason Lapin, vice president of Blau and Associates, a strategic restaurant planning and development company. "When you renovate your house, the hardest thing to do is your bathroom because of the plumbing. It's the same thing when you're moving a bar.

"On the flip side, you better make sure the infrastructure is there," Lapin says. "A common mistake is to redo the restaurant but not enhance the kitchen. The new concept draws additional business that the old, small kitchen cannot handle-and that's a recipe for failure."

The physical space is another challenge. It's essential to change the floor plan so customers don't recall the old restaurant, says Walls.     

"When we brought Rao's into Caesars, the management wanted to recreate the feeling of this cozy New York restaurant. But the ceilings were vaulted-that's not cozy. So we had to bring them down. We used canopies, some lowered ceilings, and a large millwork piece over the bar. We achieved the look of the New York space. But sometimes we can take something like that and give it a Vegas spin, too."

Bally's Atlantic City is putting the finishing touches on three renovations "to provide a fresh new look and dining experience," says Joe Domenico, senior vice president and general manager.

The traditional coffee shop is being replaced by 6ix, a bistro. "The new design is very contemporary. It looks like a gourmet room. The food centers around a theme of freshness-fresh food, fresh flavor."

Formerly Mr. Ming's, the Red Pearl is an upscale Asian fusion restaurant. "We had a quick-turnaround Asian restaurant on the casino floor, but this provides a more leisurely dining experience," says Domenico.

Finally, the Prime Place has been transformed into the Reserve. "The rooms were enclosed and we really opened them up, with a new bar, Preview, to set the stage for the dining experience," Domenico says.

Case in point that restaurant renovation is a must to attract new customers while retaining loyal patrons.


The Asian Experience

By Marjorie Preston   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

Are there any cultural concerns or protocols that come with creating an Asian casino experience?

There are countless superstitions in China having to do colors and numbers, and their relations with luck and death. A top-notch feng shui expert is mandatory in order to develop something that is appreciated rather than shunned.


Is there a bigger-is-better mentality in Macau?

In some cases bigger is better, but some operators are learning that oversupply can be extremely wasteful, and properties are being re-positioned and laid out differently to maximize utility. There will always be those that believe that extra supply means at least a little extra demand, but it is not the best path to profitability.

What are the top gaming attractions among Asian players?

VIP baccarat is king in Macau, accounting for 67 percent of revenues in 2007. Mass-market table baccarat accounts for 19.5 percent of revenues. Slots, sic-bo and blackjack combined account for approximately 10 percent of revenues, or most of the balance.


In Las Vegas, up to half of revenues derive from non-gaming amenities. What are the prime amenities for gamblers in Asia? High-end entertainment? Shopping? Dining?

In Macau, the casinos generate well over 90 percent of property revenues. Shopping is a relatively new concept in conjunction with casinos and is doing relatively well, but it's still small scale (though I haven't yet seen how Venetian's retail has performed).

I have not seen a successful effort at entertainment. F&B has generally been unsuccessful, since so many visitors are day-trippers; they might take some time to eat some noodles, but the primary purpose of coming is gambling. Amenities that do work: hotels and spas.

In Korea, there's only one casino open for domestic play, and it's five hours from Seoul. Non-gaming activities are major generators of income, including a ski area and themed attractions.


Is luxury paramount for Asian gamblers?

Luxury may come in the form of a nice room or attention from a host, but the main interest of the most serious players is the amount of cash-back that a casino offers to gamers from their losses, which can be a large amount. Thus far there has not been that much offered for the Asian gamer in terms of comps comparable to that of Vegas; a private room for gaming is pretty much all that is requested. 

As these new resorts are developed, they have been focusing a little more on the one-of-a-kind luxury amenity, i.e. a spa at the Crown Macau that is ultra-exclusive. I'm not sure that these amenities have really been enjoyed yet to the degree they would be in the United States, though.


Design High 5

By Tom Wucherer   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

1 What's the average life expect-ancy of a casino restaurant?
TW: It really varies. We've been involved in restaurant designs that vary from the simple, high-volume buffet to high-end, low-volume specialty restaurants. There are different drivers for each, and the restaurant itself may outlast its design. For example, Olive (at Bellagio) has been open since 1998 but went through a remodel a few years ago. The brand is still strong, but the space needed changes. As a general rule of thumb, we find that designs hold for about five years.

2 What's up with the mid-20th century decor at casino restaurants? It's become such a trend.
Restaurant design, like any other design genre, goes through constant change.  A few years ago, opulence was more the standard; today, we're designing clean, simple-yet-sophisticated designs.

3 What's cooler right now--opulence or minimalism?
Minimalism is currently what's on the boards. There are new concepts coming that will change the current design trends once more.

4 What's cooler right now-spaciousness or intimate niches?
The one constant we're seeing is a transition to more intimate dining.  Restaurants that would have been based on larger, more open concepts are now transitioning to a smaller, more intimate model.

5 Other than the '50s-'60s Rat Pack interiors that seem so prevalent, what are some other noticeable trends?
It would be wonderful to say that theming is dead in Las Vegas, but isn't this mid-century, '50s-'60s Rat Pack interiors thing just another form of theming? The difference is that the notion has shifted from theming based on a place to theming based on a time. I hope you're going to see more of a design fusion-designs that evoke a feeling or place, but don't necessarily directly mimic them.


Guess Who’s Going Green?

By Rodrick J. Bradford   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Although Las Vegas is often associated with excess and waste instead of conservation, the gaming and resort industry has pitched in to become part of the green effort.

In April, the Palazzo Las Vegas was named the biggest green building in the world, earning the Silver LEED Certification for energy conservation and a proclamation from Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons.

"From the beginning, we were determined to create Las Vegas' first truly eco-friendly property," said Sheldon G. Adelson, chairman and chief executive officer of the Sands Corporation. "We are extremely proud to have achieved it and to be recognized for it."

Among the Palazzo's energy-saving features: air conditioning that resets when guests leave the room; lighting occupancy sensors in service areas; an average 95 percent of recycled content in the building's steel structure; and a 26 percent recycled rate for concrete.

"There is an increasing necessity to employ green construction principles," Adelson declared. "We're proud to be a leader in the evolution of environmentally-focused building practices, not only on the Las Vegas Strip but at our properties throughout the world."

Additional green strategies that are now commonplace:

"Given the energy demands of Las Vegas, perhaps more than any other U.S. city, it has the most to gain from a sustainability focus," says Tom Donnelly of ValleyCrest Landscape Development.

"We have no doubt that Las Vegas will emerge as a world leader in this science. In all of our operations we are finding more clients asking us to be green, build green and take different approaches to sustainability in their business models.


Retail Q&A

By Jason Spillerman   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

How do you develop the right "recipe" for retail in a casino environment?
Creating the mix for a successful casino-based retail project requires a bit of art and science. We've found that it should be guided by a development strategy, program and execution plan built on four main pillars:

  • Defining a clear set of goals (What positioning is the property trying to achieve? Who is the property trying to attract? Do you want to retain existing customers, gain new ones or both? What is the overall guest experience?)
  • Understanding the competitive landscape so you can differentiate the project and the property within your given market
  • Incorporating highly profitable uses
  • Creating a dynamic environment that has a sense of place; i.e., working with existing and planned spaces or sites to create vibrant "people places" that enhance or help define the guest experience

Explain how the retail mix at The Quarter, in the Tropicana in Atlantic City, was developed.
The project was contemplated as a mid-market development to appeal to existing Tropicana visitors as well as the sweet spot (middle market) or broadest range of Atlantic City visitors who also visit other properties in the market.

The overall guest experience takes a page out of Las Vegas by creating a themed interior streetscape that does not feel like a traditional mall. Since most visitors pass a number of traditional malls on their way to the Quarter, we tried to differentiate the property with a unique mix of national brand names, signatures, boutiques and entrepreneurial or created venues.

All the while, the project was designed as a spine that connects the parking garage to the anchor-the casino.  

Do you have to periodically swap out certain shops for the good of the whole?

Leases are typically executed on five, 10 or 15-year terms. It's often beneficial to mix tenants with different terms. Also, it's inevitable that some tenants will go out of business for a variety of reasons.


Why does retail work so well in the casino environment?
For the same reason mall developers attach multiplex movie theaters to malls as anchor attractions-because they generate foot traffic.

On average, a multiplex can attract 1.5 million people per year. Casinos in smaller, second tier U.S. markets like Dover, Delaware or Evansville, Indiana can generate 2 to 3 million visitors per year, which roughly equates to having a mall with two major cineplexes.


Is there ever a danger that retail can become the main attraction, to the detriment of the casino?
Retail needs to be master-planned into a gaming property. The owner or developer and the architectural team need to contemplate or plan the property and consider the guest experience from arrival through departure. Without such master planning, both retail and the casino can suffer.

Also, if the mix of retail does not support the existing or planned gaming demographic for the property, you can create a situation in which you draw two distinct demographics that may not mix well.  


How much extra revenue do casinos derive from the increased traffic generated by retail?
Retail, dining and entertainment in casinos do not have to be loss leaders. They should be developed as profitable real estate ventures in which the tenant pays a base rent, and often a percentage or overage rent if they're extremely profitable and generating significant gross sales.

In addition to keeping patrons at a property longer, a successfully planned retail development at a gaming property can serve as a true destination and gross importer of visitors. 


The Innovation Group of Companies

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

The Innovation Group of Companies' broad range of expertise and experience covers almost every aspect of the casino-resort economic development process: The Innovation Group to consult; Innovation Capital to finance and advise; Innovation Project Development to coordinate build-out; and Innovation Marketing to position.

The Innovation affiliates provide an array of related services that enable clients to maximize their strategic and implementation alternatives-from assessing markets and raising capital to oversight of construction and the development of PR strategies.   

The Innovation Group has always been committed to providing forward-thinking solutions for its clients. Now, when owners and operators move to execute upon our industry-preferred recommendations, they have the collective resources of The Innovation Group of Companies to bring the vision to reality. Working together or independently, Innovation affiliates offer a seamless and efficient transition to address advisory, management, financial, development and marketing needs.  

The Innovation Group of Companies has provided services throughout the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Canada. Domestically, our client list consists of leading operators like Boyd Gaming, Delaware North, Hard Rock Café International, Harrah's Entertainment, Isle of Capri Casinos, Las Vegas Sands, MGM Mirage, Penn National Gaming, Trump Entertainment Resorts, Wynn Resorts and more than 100 Native American clients.  

Our affiliates have also worked directly with governmental and regulatory agencies providing strategic planning and advisory services to aid in structuring new gaming jurisdictions, establishing regulations, privatizing state-run operations, transaction and litigation support, expert witness testimony, and asset and portfolio management.    

The Innovation Group of Companies' reputation for discretion and commitment to ethical practice are second to none.  We implement protective measures to ensure that our clients benefit from our global, national and regional market knowledge without ever compromising the intentions and proprietary information of individual clients.   

The professionals of The Innovation Group of Companies are flexible and responsive, keeping at the forefront of a rapidly changing business environment by continually upgrading the services we provide. When unique approaches are required, we know when and how to create and apply them to put strategies into action for our clients.

Casinos, hotels, food and beverage, convention centers, stadiums, racetracks, entertainment halls, golf courses, spas, RV parks, restaurants, retail facilities and more-our list of successful leisure developments grows longer and more diverse every year.   

The Innovation Group. For the past two decades, The Innovation Group has been recognized as the premier provider of consulting and management services for the gaming, hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries. The Innovation Group provides feasibility studies, market assessments and forecasts, economic impact studies, strategic and financial planning, and a variety of related operations and marketing advisory services.  

To date our reports have been the justification for more than $45 billion in investment decisions including public bond issues, private placements and bank institutions, as well as investor guaranteed credit enhancements.  

Contact: Stephen J. Szapor, Jr., president at 303-798-7711.

Innovation Capital. Since its inception in 2004, Innovation Capital has emerged as a leading middle market investment banking firm with a practice dedicated to the gaming, leisure and hospitality industries.

The firm provides expert merger and acquisition, corporate finance, restructuring and valuation advisory services for projects in the $20 million to $500 million value range. The firm has completed more than 20 transactions aggregating over $1.3 billion.  

The firm's client list includes Snoqualmie Tribe in Washington, Jumer's Casino in Rock Island, Illinois, Bedford Downs in Pennsylvania and Tropicana Entertainment in Evansville, Indiana. Member FINRA/SIPC.

Contact: Matt Sodl, president/managing director at 310-335-9333.

Innovation Project Development. Innovation Project Development is a multi-disciplined project management services company capable of providing consulting advice or total development oversight.

Functioning as an owner's representative, Innovation Project Development can provide a project scope description and site concept, model and plan optimum sizing for maximum revenue, manage the work of design and construction firms to help owners make good gaming industry decisions and to get projects open and operating with tight adherence to schedules and budget.

The staff at Innovation Project Development has experience across the globe and is currently providing its services on such projects as the MGM Grand at Foxwoods and Akwesasne Mohawk Casino expansions.      

Contact: Bob Kelly, president at 228-248-0088.

Innovation Marketing. Innovation Marketing leverages the unparalleled consultancy, analysis and insight of The Innovation Group of Companies into effective marketing tactics.  

Services include advertising campaigns, public relations plans, direct marketing campaigns and more.  Working domestically with such high profile clients as Foxwoods Resort Casino, Tropicana and Sandia Resort & Casino, Innovation Marketing is also recognized for its expertise in translating cultural sensitivity within international tourism markets. 

Contact: Joe Witterschein, VP of marketing at 952-906-3831.

Aspen | Atlantic City | Biloxi | Colorado Springs
Costa Rica | Denver | Los Angeles | Minneapolis  New Orleans | Orlando

Steven M. Rittvo, Chairman | 970.927.1400


Lifescapes International, Inc.

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Established in 1958, Lifescapes International, Inc. is a leading privately held landscape architectural design firm. The Newport Beach, California, headquarters is home base for 50 employees.

Celebrating 50 years in business, Lifescapes is well known for creating dynamic "destinations" throughout the United States and overseas. Lifescapes offers cutting edge landscape architectural design services for casinos, resorts, mixed use, urban villages, high-rise and mid-rise luxury residential communities, apartments and private estates.

Within those types of properties, Lifescapes specializes in creating all inclusive projects, including the design of all softscape and hardscape elements for entrances, pools/spas, decorative fountains, paving, walkways, porte cocheres, retail areas, restaurants-everything but the physical buildings themselves. The firm is recognized for helping to establish the "theater" for projects, in conjunction with other design and development team members.

Co-founders Barbara and current CEO Don Brinkerhoff still remain extremely active. Don, a fellow of American Society of Landscape Architects (FASLA), leads the company, focusing on establishing a project's conceptual design.

After graduating from the California Polytechnic in Southern California in 1952, Don used his education in ornamental horticulture while working for a variety of nurseries and landscape architectural firms. In 1958, he decided it was time to form his own company

Complementing these two dynamic industry leaders is a successful team of senior principals. President and CFO Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, Executive Vice President Daniel Trust, Director of Field Services Roger Voettiner and Director of Design Andrew Kreft work in unison to create and manage the firm's work. A team of highly qualified landscape architects, project designers and a strong administrative staff ably assist them.

Lifescapes' first casino design project was the Cascades Hotel for Sun International in South Africa. The firm has completed 400 additional projects worldwide.

Domestically, Lifescapes' innovative handiwork is visible along the Las Vegas Strip, which started with the Mirage in 1989. Other Las Vegas accomplishments include Treasure Island, Caesar's Palace Garden of the Gods, Bellagio, Paris, the Venetian and its new Palazzo tower, MGM Grand Mansion, Green Valley Ranch, Wynn Las Vegas, Golden Nugget and Town Square shopping center.

In addition to creating beautiful landscape design to enhance buildings, Lifescapes' work on the Las Vegas Beautification Project is four miles of landscaped median improvement of the Strip. The stretch is now designated the Nevada State Scenic Highway.

"I guess you can say we have had a significant impact on the look of the Strip," says Don Brinkerhoff, "We have been entrusted by the Strip clientele to assist them with creating successful garden settings for over 20 years, and more are on the way."

Elsewhere in the United States, Lifescapes has completed the Lumiere in St. Louis and the Borgata in Atlantic City, where Borgata's new Water Tower hotel will open this summer. Lifescapes has set the landscape mood and design direction for 40 gaming and tribal gaming projects. These include Seven Feathers Casino, Agua Caliente Casino, Trump 29, Harrah's Rincon Casino and Hotel, Barona, Pala Casino & Resort and the Spa Casino & Resort.

Designing for Indian tribes requires individual and specific attention. According to Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, "We are sometimes asked to include cultural heritage into design. An example would be the eagle sculpture from Seven Feathers Casino in Oregon, or using Palm Canyon as the inspiration at the Agua Caliente Casino. Tribal Councils make the decisions for Indian Country projects, as opposed to one or two gaming executives for non-tribal properties."

A roster of future projects includes the Four Seasons Macao opening this summer and Wynn Resorts' Encore debut in December. Looking ahead, Echelon in Las Vegas opens in 2010, as does Harrah's Margaritaville in Biloxi, Mississippi. Lifescapes is also working on the Silverton Casino expansion, Durango Station and the Beach House, the Atlantic City project for Pinnacle Entertainment.

As the industry changes to reflect more sophisticated customer demands, additional creativity beyond the gaming halls has taken on greater importance. "The entertainment and resort operators, including astute executives within the gaming industry, have realized for many years that the stand-alone gaming activities are simply not enough to keep customers engaged on their properties for any extended length of time. We are working on vacation ownership, retail, wholly-owned condominiums and restaurant environments, providing our clients' customers with numerous additional captivating and fun activities to enjoy during their stays," says Brinkerhoff-Jacobs.

Lifescapes International, Inc. continues to create innovative garden settings for casino/destination resorts all over the world. The company's work can be found in Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Missouri, Oregon, California and Nevada, as well as in Canada, Greece and Asia.

For more information, contact Donald C. Brinkerhoff, CEO/Founder or Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, President/CFO at 4930 Campus Drive, Newport Beach, California 92660; 949-476-8888 (office); 949-476-8854 (fax);
web site:


Olympic Entertainment Group

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Based in Estonia, Olympic Entertainment Group is one of Europe's fastest growing casino operators. Its first casino at the Tallinn Olympic Yachting Center opened in 1993. As the international company expands, representations of the underlying themes of that auspicious first effort-the sea and Greek mythology-have evolved and blended with others in the interiors of OEG's ambitious projects.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, OEG was formed as one of many small emerging gaming companies throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Unlike many pioneers, founder Armin Karu wanted to ensure that each OEG casino would be more than just a cash machine.

Karu believes the best way to retain a guest is to reinforce positive emotions during play and create good memories of the visit. To facilitate that goal, design is an important aspect of the OEG entertainment product.

That strategy has succeeded. Today, OEG has 127 gaming venues. Most are stand-alone slot casinos, but the company also operates 20 full service casinos, seven located in hotels, spread out across eight contiguous countries from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Operations will soon open in two more jurisdictions. The public company employs over 4,000 people, and is listed on both the Tallinn and Warsaw stock exchange.

Meelis Press Architects of Estonia oversees the design of the full and slot casinos. Named for lead architect Meelis Press, the firm's portfolio includes diverse projects from the Radisson SAS Hotel & Business Centre City Plaza in Moldova to the Cartier Jewelry Store in Tallinn to the headquarters of Baltic ferry operator Tallink Group.

Meelis Press was responsible for the interiors of OEG's Reval Park Hotel & Casino renovation in 2005. Elegant materials like pearl mosaic and matte gold were combined with light beige furniture, walls and ceilings.

"The basic idea behind the interior design of the Reval Park is for the client to feel as if he or she were in a luxurious living room," said Press.

Press created fanciful interiors for some of the local OEG slot properties, including exotic tropical and pirate themes, and a French cabaret style for the Moulin Rouge casino.

Press handles all the OEG prestige casino designs, regardless of their location. The slot casinos outside Estonia employ the talents of local architects, designers and contractors. In all cases, the OEG management team, coordinated by Chief Development Officer Meelis Pielberg, works closely with the outside firms, setting the parameters for theme, floor plan and exterior elements.

New this year is the Olympic Casino in Bratislava, Slovakia. The casino is designed in a lounge style with abundant wood, mosaics and several large aquariums. The floor plan is similar to OEG's other large casinos with a mix of tables and slots, and a centrally positioned bar and stage area. The casino holds the first new license issued by the Slovak government in 10 years.

OEG is currently in the hands of three men. Founder Armin Karu has been chairman of the board since 1993. He graduated from Finland's Haaga Institute with a degree in international management in 1998, and earned his MBA in 2005. Karu is responsible for strategic management and the rapid expansion-oriented development plan of OEG.

Managing Director Mart Relve joined the company in 2007. A 1997 graduate of Tallinn Technical University with a degree in international business management, Relve was the former vice president of Estonian Air before joining OEG. He is in charge of management and day-to-day operations of the company.

Andri Avila has been a member of the management board since 2006. He joined OEG in 2001 as CFO. A 2000 graduate of Concordia International University in Estonia, Avila holds a degree in international business management. He previously worked in real estate and investment firms. Avila manages investor relations and financial and legal issues.

Speaking at a recent shareholders' meeting, Karu said, "Our current vision-to operate in at least 10 Central and Eastern European countries in 2010-is about to be achieved. Therefore we need more ambitious targets. As a new direction, OEG will start developing hotel and entertainment resorts, and our new vision is to be a global casino and resort operator with a passion for service excellence."

This goal is just one more element in the grand design of OEG. Learn more at or contact the company directly.

Olympic Entertainment Group AS, reg. code 10592898
Pronksi 19
10124 Tallinn
Tel: +372 667 1250
Fax: +372 667 1270
Press inquiries:


Bergman Walls & Associations

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Bergman, Walls & Associates, Ltd. (BWA) was formed in 1994 as an architectural firm that specializes in architectural, master planning and design for resorts, casinos, hotels, resort condos, retail, dining and entertainment projects.

Both founding partners, Chairman Joel Bergman, AIA, and President/Chief Operating Officer Scott Walls, AIA, worked with Steve Wynn on projects such as the Mirage, Golden Nugget and Treasure Island, creating the Las Vegas "mega-resort" concept.

Headquartered in Las Vegas with an office in Los Angeles, BWA's 115 employees include 15 registered architects. Along with partners Executive Vice President Joe Rothman, AIA, Vice President George Bergman, Leonard Bergman, AIA, Robert Fredrickson, AIA, Rene Rolin and Darrell Wood, AIA LEED AP in Las Vegas, plus Greg Lorusso, AIA LEED AP in Los Angeles, their group of experienced, energetic, diverse professionals represent the backbone of BWA. Their invaluable and visionary experience influences BWA's approach to design for gaming and non-gaming facilities of all sizes.

Many iconic BWA projects define Las Vegas and the gaming industry. These include Paris Casino Resort, Caesars Palace Augustus Tower, Palace Towers and Octavius Tower, currently under construction; Trump International Hotel & Tower, the Residences at MGM Grand, L'auberge du Lac Hotel & Casino in Lake Charles, LA, and Majestic Star Casino in Pittsburgh.

BWA is the executive architect for Las Vegas's newest project, the Fontainebleau Casino Resort. Currently under construction, the resort is designed for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification.

Located on the former El Rancho and Algiers casinos' 24.5 acre site, this development is an alliance between Fontainebleau and Turnberry. Fontainebleau will include a hotel, casino, spa, retail, dining, nightclubs, lounges and convention /conference venues.

Leading the pack in the hottest and latest retail and dining and entertainment venues, BWA's hospitality experience includes the newly opened LAX nightclub, PURE nightclub and the Pussycat Dolls Lounge and Casino, plus signature restaurants such as Guy Savoy, Rao's and Trader Vic's.

BWA's architectural expertise in Indian gaming spans the United States with projects at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Little Six Casino, Casino Snoqualmie, currently under construction, and the highly successful Barona Valley Ranch Resort Casino.

For more information, visit


BLT Architects

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

BLT Architects has a legacy of distinction in design, planning and project services that spans nearly half a century.

Michael Prifti, Eric Rahe, Michael Ytterberg and their fellow principals lead the 130-person architectural and interior design company, ranked as one of the Top 500 Design Firms in a recent issue of Engineering News Record.

The firm specializes in resort/hospitality, multi-family residential, higher education and corporate projects. BLT has earned industry acclaim for its commitment to design, project delivery, cost awareness and team management.

The hallmark of BLT's service is a collaborative approach with clients, working to achieve and exceed their project and strategic goals through dynamic and meaningful architectural expression. Each project team is custom tailored to a client's specific program, schedule and budget to ensure astounding success.

BLT has a wealth of experience designing large-scale hospitality and resort projects, and possesses exceptional abilities in managing and coordinating these complex, time-sensitive projects. The firm has contributed to the design and development of several successful destination casino resorts including the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, its subsequent 350,000-square-foot expansion and the Water Club at Borgata.

Currently, BLT is the executive architect and architect of record for Revel Entertainment's beachfront casino entertainment resort in Atlantic City. The firm's affiliate, BLT Architects NV LLC, is providing overall master planning and architectural design for Boyd Gaming's Echelon, the resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

BLT's hospitality design experience includes architectural and interior design of guest rooms, food service, retail, conference and fitness centers. Projects range from boutique hotels, extended stay and suites-type operations to full-service business and convention hotels.

Headquartered in Philadelphia, the firm has offices in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. For more information, visit


Cope Linder Architects

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Cope Linder Architects believes that design should inspire people, affecting the senses beyond the visual. Since 1966, the Philadelphia-based design firm has created engaging spaces that enrich the relationship between people and places, always guided by the principle that great design must be enduring, useful and beautiful.

A dedicated, experienced staff of 50 professionals represents the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and master planning. The company designs a variety of building types including gaming, hospitality, corporate office, multi-family residential, retail, institutional and mixed-use.

Cope Linder employs a thorough understanding of complex building programs in all these sectors, utilizing best practices that create an enduring, useful and beautiful design for each engagement.

Every project is viewed as an opportunity to exceed the client's expectations. This is accomplished through innovative design, the use of appropriate technology and a balanced sense of economic reality, while responding to the specific context of the site and program with environmentally sensitive solutions. 

Completed Cope Linder gaming projects include Borgata in Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City, Dover Downs Hotel & Slots in Delaware and Pompano Park Raceway in Pompano Beach, Florida. Gaming industry clients include Boyd Gaming, Harrah's Entertainment, Centaur Gaming, HSP Gaming, IsleCorp, MGM/Mirage and Dover Downs, among others. Cope Linder has also successfully completed hotel projects representing Sheraton, Hampton Inn and Hilton flagged properties.

Current casino commissions include the expansion of Borgata, and its new "Water Club", with JV partner BLTA, Valley View Downs in western Pennsylvania, SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and others.

Cope Linder believes that appropriate design solutions will provide long-term value to its clients. As much of the firm's work is accessible to the public on a daily basis, Cope Linder diligently works to create buildings, spaces and experiences that are timeless, inspiring, evocative and memorable.

For more information, visit


Cuningham Group

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Cuningham Group transcends tradition with architecture, interior design, urban design and planning services for a diverse mix of client and project types, with a significant focus on gaming, casino and entertainment destinations.

"The future of casino resorts lies in the design of 'experience architecture' and the use of architectural storytelling to create unique environments. As in the Vegas of today, the resorts of the new millennium will be multidimensional experiences, where each guest becomes part of the action," says Tom Hoskens, AIA, principal of Cuningham Group.

Cuningham Group's client-centered, collaborative approach incorporates trend-setting architecture and environmental responsiveness to create projects that weave seamlessly into the urban fabric. While design excellence through collaboration is always the goal, the development of green solutions for the clients and the planet is also a priority. The company believes each project should be designed for the betterment of the community and society as a whole, where sustainability and green design are a natural extension of Cuningham Group's core ideologies.

Throughout its 17-year history designing gaming and resort destinations, Cuningham Group's stature in the industry has continued to grow. Multiple gaming industry awards and repeat work from clients have come from the firm's successes in designing creative and profitable gaming resort environments.

Major project openings this year include the new Hotel and Convention Center at the Isleta Casino & Resort in New Mexico, the Creek Nation Casino in Oklahoma and the Red Hawk Casino in California.

Cuningham Group's portfolio of completed projects represents a full array of casinos, hotels, theaters, convention centers, restaurants, retail venues, parking structures and support facilities that comprise gaming and resort destinations. These include the Harrah's Cherokee Great Smoky Mountain Casino Resort, Soaring Eagle Casino Resort, Palace Casino Resort and seven casino resorts for Grand Casinos/Lakes Entertainment, to name a few.

Extensive experience allows Cuningham Group to offer clients the professional design expertise essential for creating environments that attract guests, increase profitability and encourage repeat visits.

Founded in 1968, the firm is consistently recognized as a leader in the field of architecture, and has grown to over 200 employees. The company operates offices in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Biloxi, Bakersfield, Madrid and Seoul.  

Cuningham Group's gaming, hospitality and entertainment projects can be found in Europe, Asia and throughout the United States, including projects in California, Nevada, Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Minnesota and Michigan.

For more information, visit


Dougall Design

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

It may not be the largest design firm out there-currently it has 25 employees-but Dougall Design Associates, Inc. packs a strong punch because of its fun, flair and focus. With 15 years of design experience, principal Terry Dougall founded the company in 1988. The design veteran quickly grew the company's reputation and raised its profile; in 1990, just two years after opening, he was already working on big projects, among them the Forum Shops at Caesars and a series of renovations at the Stardust Resort and Casino.    

During the mid-'90s, the company experienced an explosion of growth. Dougall was commissioned to create three Sam's Town casinos in 1994. By 1996, he designed the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, followed shortly with a third renovation and expansion of the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. In 1997, the company hit the casino jackpot when it was selected to design the highly-coveted big-name projects in casino design: The Venetian and Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino-work ranging from $800 million to $1.3 billion.
Those two projects established Dougall as a top player in the casino design arena, a status that continues to this day. Recently completed high-profile projects like the acclaimed Borgata in Atlantic City and THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay, as well as the company's current projects, MGM Macau and Boyd Gaming's $4 billion Echelon Place, show that Dougall and his team aren't about to slow down anytime soon.

For information visit


Ed Vance & Associates

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Founded in November 2006 by President and CEO Ed Vance, AIA, NCARB, Ed Vance & Associates (EV&A) is a full-service hospitality and commercial architectural and interior design firm. With a strong desire to promote his true creative individuality, Vance followed his dream to be a designer rather than an executive.

Vance formed EV&A after stepping down from his position as president of a Las Vegas architectural firm that employed 200 people at five offices. This life-changing move has created the opportunity for him to remain personally involved in every project.

The Las Vegas company specializes in services for the hospitality, commercial and healthcare industries. EV&A's first projects include the Wild Rose Casino, under construction in Iowa, the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion and the World Market Center Building 4.

The EV&A team has several other large scale projects in the design phase, including Moulin Rouge, Indian gaming projects around the United States and a large hotel/condo project in Las Vegas.

The 29 EV&A staff professionals follow their company's principle of commitment to customer and business partner satisfaction. They use state-of-the-art technology to achieve EV&A's company mission: "To be our client's trusted advisor."

The design teams gather specialists as needed to coordinate complex project teams of professionals, contractors and consultants. Every employee understands the necessity of meeting with clients and learning their individual business models. This connection develops an environment with solid relationships for increased efficiency. 

EV&A recently designed the newly completed first phase of the Meadows Bank in Las Vegas. The tenant improvement project is the bank's first branch and corporate headquarters.

The bank's design elements create the feeling of a meadow in the desert. The bank used "green" construction and has an earthy appearance with a contemporary flair. Recycled materials were used on the millwork and bamboo flooring in the lobby. The teller line was composed of reclaimed wood from wine barrels. These natural components were balanced with acrylic panels, granite countertops and a full glass entry, which reinforces a custom contemporary look.

Looking ahead, Vance aims to preserve the boutique nature of EV&A, hopefully limiting its growth to a maximum of 50 staff professionals. Based on his past experience managing a large organization, Vance adamantly believes that staying smaller will maintain the company's culture while maintaining a large enough workforce to design and innovate some of the larger projects in the world.

For information visit


Floss Barber, Inc.

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Headquartered in Philadelphia, award-winning Floss Barber, Inc. is a full-service interior design and space planning firm. For more than 20 years, Floss Barber, Inc. has successfully completed projects throughout the United States. Recognized in regional and national publications, Floss Barber, Inc. has been on Interior Design magazine's list of giants since 1998.      

Company founder and CEO Floss Barber formed her company on a shoestring budget that included only a folding picnic table, an answering machine and a bicycle. With steadfast enthusiasm, Barber parlayed her passion, talent and vision into what is today a nationally recognized interior design firm.      

Barber believes that interiors should follow timeless principles of good design: form, function, balance and harmony. Integrating state-of-the-art techniques and technologies with sustainable concepts, Floss Barber, Inc. is committed to exploring the delicate balance of energy and aesthetics. The firm's clear design philosophy, broad client base and systematic approach allow Floss Barber, Inc. to develop solutions that stimulate both visually and texturally.  

By fully representing the brand identity, vision and goals of the firm's clients, Floss Barber, Inc. has created distinct destinations, honored by both professional and major industry publications.      

In 2007, the company took another step and melded the philosophy, talent and ambition of its founder with the expertise, drive and strategic mind of President Rebecca Udell. Together, Barber and Udell have developed a clear design philosophy within a uniquely disciplined firm of like-minded professionals.     

By fully representing the client's brand identity, vision and goals, Floss Barber, Inc. is committed to design solutions, whether for a core business, new concept, paradigm shift or total cultural change. The firm continues to inspire acclaim for superior quality and excitement. Focusing on creative solutions to design dilemmas, Floss Barber, Inc. bridges the functional and aesthetic desire of its clients to create spaces on time and within budget. Seamlessly partnering with industry consultants, the company has developed interiors for both new construction and for renovation commissions as well.    

Floss Barber, Inc. takes a team approach to assure an uninterrupted chain of contact, services and responsibility. A company principal leads each project, which also consists of a project manager, senior project designer and support staff of interior designers and/or architects. Floss Barber, Inc.'s affiliate architecture firm, Harman Deutsch Corporation, provides the architectural services required for each commission.    

For information, visit


Friedmutter Group Architecture & Interior Design Studios

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Founded by Brad Friedmutter in 1992, the Friedmutter Group Architecture & Interior Design Studios is an award-winning design, architecture and master planning firm. Friedmutter Group has designed and assisted in successful hospitality, casino and entertainment projects in excess of $12 billion.

Friedmutter Group offers high-quality, innovative design solutions to clients worldwide. From the core and shell architectural design to interior fit-out, Friedmutter Group's U.S. offices in Las Vegas, New York City, Newport Beach, Atlantic City, South Beach and Biloxi, plus international offices in Dubai, UAE and Macau, China, are positioned to meet the needs of its growing client base.

Utilizing cutting-edge technology, Friedmutter Group's 225 diverse, creative architects, designers and art directors provide impeccable services on domestic and international projects. Brad Friedmutter has personally assembled one of gaming's most dynamic, respected and experienced senior design teams in the hospitality, resort, entertainment and retail design fields.

The company has won numerous industry accolades, including the 2006 Architectural Design Company of the Year award from the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions. Friedmutter personally won the prestigious 2007 Sarno Lifetime Achievement Award for Casino Design.

Friedmutter Group's exceptional range of talents has led to a high profile portfolio of projects, including hotels, casinos, entertainment complexes, convention facilities, spas, retail, and high-end hotel/condominium towers. The firm recognizes the importance of speed and efficiency in the design and construction process, and plans for the comfortable movement of large numbers of people into, through and out of venues.

Friedmutter Group's notable recent projects include Station Casinos' four-diamond award winning Green Valley Ranch Resort, the Red Rock Resort Casino and Spa and the groundbreaking Cosmopolitan Resort on the Las Vegas Strip.

The company is developing design and master plan concepts in locations worldwide. These include the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Hungary and Macau. Friedmutter Group provides consultant services relating to hospitality, casino issues and trends, to investment groups and finance companies around the world.

Friedmutter Group feels privileged to work with multiple prominent operators in the casino/hospitality industry, including Station Casinos, Harrah's Entertainment, Cosmopolitan Resort, MGM Mirage Resorts, Dubai Properties, Trump Entertainment Resorts and Isle of Capri Casinos.

A sterling reputation and commitment to excellence has earned Friedmutter Group higher than a 90 percent rate of repeat business from clients. The company is delighted that clients enjoy an enviable rate of return on their projects.

For more information, visit


Hnedak Bobo Group

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Within the past year, Hnedak Bobo Group has been ranked as one of the top 10 design firms by multiple hospitality design and management publications. HBG has also been named a Top five best firm to work for within the American architectural industry. The company is cementing its reputation as designers of dynamic casino resort destinations.

Established in 1979, HBG is a 125-person, multi-specialty firm that concentrates on architecture, interior design, building code specialties and project and development management. Services are delivered with a dedicated focus on the firm's core business areas, 85 percent of which serve the national hospitality and entertainment marketplace.

HBG's central location in Memphis is positioned at the nexus of both population and transportation centers in the United States. The proximity of a major national air carrier hub provides HBG's design teams the ability to support clients throughout the country in four hours or less. In addition to a national reach, with projects spanning coast to coast, HBG has numerous gaming resort plans underway in Central America and the Caribbean.     

HBG's casino resort designers bring passion and vision to each project, creating expressive entertaining spaces delivered within the unique context of client and guest needs. The company's approach to hospitality and entertainment design comes not only from years of research and design experience, but also from its hands-on experience as hotel owners and operators.

As owners, HGB experiences design from a unique perspective, fostering a deeper understanding of the balance between operational efficiency, financial performance and design aesthetics. HBG's keen operational insights provide its clients with distinctive design solutions that embrace functionality, marketability, financial success and, of course, innovative, guest-pleasing aesthetics.        

HBG currently has over $1 billion of destination resort projects in various stages of design and construction for both the commercial and Indian gaming industries. Within the Indian gaming market, HBG has worked with more than 25 of the most recognized Native American tribes. Several major projects will complete construction in 2008. These include Greektown Casino & Hotel in Detroit and the Potawatomi Casino expansion in Milwaukee.

As HBG looks toward the future, an increasing number of commercial and Indian gaming projects are providing abundant opportunities to produce truly captivating and compelling architectural design experiences. HBG looks forward to continuing to offer the best in design and operational sensibility to its roster of esteemed, visionary clients.

For more information, visit


J.A. Casillas

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Jorge Casillas opened J.A. Casillas in San Diego in 2006, after 15 years working in the custom furniture business. The company manufactures high-end furniture for hotels and casinos. J.A. Casillas produces case goods consisting of hard furniture like stands, and soft goods including exposed wood seating with fabric, leathers and vinyl.

"Every job is new-nothing is run-of-the-mill," says Casillas. "We produce each custom item per specification." Only the finest materials are used in the manufacturing process including travertine marble, custom finishes and exotic veneers like zebrawood, teak and rosewood.

Among the newest trends in furnishings are clean, straight lines and metal accented by stainless steel at the base of chairs or sofas. J.A. Casillas strives for exceptional service regardless of a project's size or complexity

The company operates from three sites. The San Diego headquarters has four employees. The manufacturing plant in Tijuana employs 45. A sales office in Atlantic City has a staff of two.

Manufacturing top quality furniture may take from one week to six months.

In addition to delivering on time and on budget, J.A. Casillas extends the product's lifespan and ease of maintenance by providing each order with additional hardware (pulls, knobs, hinges and screws).

Casillas understands the importance of manufacturing durable furniture for his customers. Casino accoutrements must be "contract quality," he says, as customers often take out their disappointment at losing on the furnishings.

Business, he happily reports, is good. J.A. Casillas sells throughout the United States and the Bahamas. The firm also sells to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Samples are displayed at the CityCenter complex in Las Vegas, co-owned by Dubai World in the Persian Gulf.

The newest names to join the company's impressive portfolio of customers are the Wynn hotel casinos in Las Vegas and Macau, MGM Grand at Foxwoods, Harrah's, Hyatt Manchester Grand, Bellagio, plus other properties owned by Caesars Entertainment, Trump, MGM Mirage, Hilton and Tropicana.

For more information, visit


KHS&S Contractors

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

The mention of art typically brings to mind images of sophisticated galleries and museums. But with KHS&S Contractors, art is created at the most unlikely of places-construction job sites across the United States.    

As one of the nation's largest interior/exterior specialty contractors and the country's leading theme contractor, KHS&S turns to its in-house artists and craftsmen to fulfill developers' visions for large-scale projects, from casinos to resorts to high-end retail and lifestyle centers.

Using paints to replicate everything from wood to marble to upholstery, and plasters to reproduce wood, bricks, rock and aged surfaces, KHS&S craftsmen have amassed a portfolio of projects that are a virtual showcase of building creativity and originality.

Through a water feature and rockwork group, KHS&S even continues the artistry outside-or brings the outdoors in-by integrating artificial and authentic rock formations with synchronized fountains, water walls or perimeter landscaping.

What's more, since 1984, KHS&S has combined this creativity with the experience and knowledge of traditional wall and ceiling construction, offering a one-stop shop that can provide nearly every aspect of a project, from structural to ornamental.

At the Palazzo-the Las Vegas Strip's newest casino resort-KHS&S touched nearly every aspect of the project, illustrating the firm's combination of artistry and structural integrity. The scope of work included interior and exterior fountains, casino theming, framing, drywall, ornamental iron, architectural glass and cast products, and pool deck.

For most projects, KHS&S in-house design-assist teams collaborate with architects and designers who want to make a statement with their projects. They use challenging designs and unique features and finishes. KHS&S staff takes these architectural concepts to finished construction drawings, providing assistance in material selection, value engineering and "constructability" along the way.

KHS&S operates 11 offices in California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, Washington State, Texas and New Jersey. Newest projects include the Palazzo and MGM CityCenter in Las Vegas, Seminole Hard Rock Casino expansions throughout Florida and Revel in Atlantic City.

For more information and to view the KHS&S portfolio of projects, visit


Perini Building Company

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Perini Building Company is the largest builder of hospitality and gaming resorts in the United States. Its niche market is the construction of fast track, complex projects. Perini offers professional services in construction management, general contracting, pre-construction, post-construction and design/build.

The company is currently experiencing record growth thanks to multimillion-dollar projects underway in Connecticut, Maryland, Arizona and Nevada. Major projects in progress include the Foxwoods expansion in Connecticut, the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel in Phoenix, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland, the Cosmopolitan Resort & Casino, and CityCenter-the largest privately funded construction project in the country-in Las Vegas.

Perini has built some of the most recognizable resort and gaming properties throughout the United States including Trump International Hotel & Tower Las Vegas, Luxor Las Vegas, Paris Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, Mohegan Sun expansion, Palms Casino Resort, Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa and the Ritz Carlton Lake Las Vegas.

In addition to Perini's construction expertise, the company's successes can be attributed to Perini's philosophy of "building relationships on trust."  Perini derives more than 85 percent of its business from repeat clients.

Perini Building Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Perini Corporation and is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: PCR). Notable recognition achievements include Forbes magazine's selection of Perini Corporation as one of the "26 Best Managed Companies in America."

For more information, visit


Purchasing Management International

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Purchasing Management International is a large volume hospitality procurement agent that supplies furniture fixtures and equipment to the hospitality and gaming industries. PMI is the largest purchasing agent in the gaming industry.         

Founded in1993, PMI has globally sourced, purchased and installed more than $1.5 billion in casino, resort and hotel furnishings, operating equipment, systems and construction materials worldwide. Its mission is to provide unparalleled purchasing services while expanding its global reach in order to remain the leader in procurement and sourcing.   

Headquartered in Dallas, PMI employs 60 purchasing specialists at four worldwide office locations, with satellite offices in Las Vegas, Cancun, and Delhi, India. PMI provides a global network, ensuring seamless acquisition, project coordination and job cost control.
PMI offers the following range of services:

  • Worldwide sourcing
  • Conceptual budgets
  • As-specified budgets
  • Flat fee negotiation
  • Purchasing timelines
  • Cash flow projections
  • Bid spreadsheets
  • Expediting reports
  • Job cost reports
  • On-site supervision
  • Logistics, installation and warehouse coordination
  • Video conferencing

In Las Vegas, PMI is currently working on the renovation of 2,753 rooms and corridors at Treasure Island, renovation of 2,738 guest rooms and 200 penthouse suites at the Mirage, and new construction of a luxury resort and casino at Stations Red Rock Casino.

In Atlantic City, PMI projects include the three phases of the Borgata Hotel & Casino: the new casino and more than 2000 guestrooms, a 300,000 square foot expansion of gaming areas, spa and luxury suites and an expansion of 880 new rooms and the lifestyle center.

The Revel Resort and Casino, currently under construction in Atlantic City, will include 2,000 rooms and public areas. Another Atlantic City project is HarrahÌs new construction and renovation of over 2,500 rooms and its new 800-room expansion, pool and spa area.

PMI is currently involved in purchasing management services for projects in North America, Latin America, Asia, Caribbean and the Middle East.

PMI is on the forefront of green business practices in the casino/resort and hospitality industries. President Bill Langmade is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional, designated by the United States Green Building Council. His accreditation assists in understanding how project FF&E complies with the LEED Green Building Rating System, the nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.

For more information, visit


Réalisations Inc. Montreal

By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

Réalisations Inc. Montréal has created a first for club-goers at the eyecandy sound lounge & bar at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Using cutting edge technology, customers have the ability to control their nightlife experience from the comfort of their booth. Interactive, multi-touch tables permit guests to direct cameras around the lounge, create visuals and messaging that can be sent to other tables, and create sound mixes of their own

The sound lounge, located next to eyecandy's dance floor, offers three sound stations that let users tap into their inner DJ by using their iPod. During promotional nights at eyecandy, guests can bring their personal music mix to play from their sound station, facilitating DJ access to guests' music and the capability to play it through the main sound system.

eyecandy's revolutionary dance floor has three layers of images. The glass dance floor is fed with global low-resolution LED video input that plays continuously on the 70 LED tiles of the dance floor. This LED video content is echoed by a high-resolution overhead video projection that overlays vibrant imagery on dancers. The dancers' steps on the pressure-activated LED tiles trigger the third layer.  

Roger Parent, founder and president of Réalisations Inc. Montréal, says eyecandy sound lounge & bar marks a new step in the evolution of the club experience.

"People are used to being able to control their personal environment in their homes. eyecandy gives people the same possibility but one step further-it allows guests to create their own world in a public space," says Parent.

This is only the beginning of interactive technology in people's daily lives, Parent adds. "It will go further, and the line between the physical and virtual worlds will start to disappear," he says.

Parent calls this phenomenon "moving architecture." "We are at a point now where the limits as we know them are no longer barriers, but possibilities to rearrange our space.  In fact, the only limit we really have is our imagination."

For more information, visit


Sosh Architect

By Casino Design Staff   Thu, Apr 29, 2010

Established in 1979, SOSH Architects is a privately owned full service international practice with offices in Atlantic City and New York.

Founding partners Thomas Sykes, Thomas O'Connor, William Salerno and Nory Hazaveh focus on superior design and innovation. The company's comprehensive growth has been demonstrated by the successful completion of complex buildings around the globe. SOSH Architects challenges conventions, explores options and generates the kind of unexpected solutions that are the hallmark of enduring architecture.

With the combined talents of 75 architects and designers, SOSH Architects produces thoughtful building designs that are technically sound, site specific and environmentally aware. Dedicated to remaining current, these professionals routinely establish design trends.

The company values exploration and the contribution of multiple voices. The group believes that thoughtful collaboration produces the best design solutions. This diverse approach ensures the unique quality of each project.

SOSH Architects has designed high-rise towers, gaming properties, golf resorts, retail entertainment and educational facilities. The company has also developed large-scale master plans, interior design, three-dimensional design visualization and professional management services to the finest hospitality and resort properties.

Among the firm's projects currently under construction are the Seneca Buffalo Casino and Resort in New York, the Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, master plans for several Native American clients in the South and West, plus project development in Dubai and Cairo.

SOSH Architects fully supports green building design. Working with the industry's leading engineers, the firm balances the initial cost of construction against long-term advantages of sustainability. SOSH Architects believes that green building design effectively provides economic benefits of energy, water and materials savings, as well as reduced maintenance and operational costs.

SOSH Architects' mission is to provide recognizable and respected design expertise to clients worldwide.

For information, visit


Thalden-Boyd-Emery Architects

By Casino Design Staff   Thu, Apr 29, 2010

Thalden-Boyd Emery Architects are specialists. As casino/resort architects, the firm has been at the forefront of visionary designs for casinos, hotels and destination resorts since 1971. Led by partners Barry Thalden, Chief Boyd and Rich Emery, the company maintains offices in Las Vegas, St. Louis and Tulsa.

With more than 35 years of architecture and design experience, Thalden-Boyd-Emery has worked on more than 400 hotel and 100 casino projects for distinguished companies in the hospitality industry. In the last seven years, the firm has been the architects for more than $2 billion in casino projects in the United States and Canada.

Some current projects include the Casino Morongo near Palm Springs, California; Paragon Casino in Marksville, Louisiana; Chukchansi Gold Casino and Resort expansion near Fresno, California; Dakota Dunes Casino in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada; and Cherokee Casinos in Tulsa, West Siloam and Roland, Oklahoma.

Thalden-Boyd-Emery's services include architecture, master planning, engineering and interior design. The staff is comprised of inventive designers/architects, accomplished planners and imaginative interior designers who are extremely knowledgeable in the development of hospitality properties.

The entire Thalden-Boyd-Emery approach is based on creating unique and exciting visions, and then bringing those visions to life. The firm has earned recognition as the architects who design themed casinos/resorts-from Native American themed casinos/resorts to themes developed from an owner's imagination. Whatever concept the client chooses, Thalden-Boyd-Emery works to make the project come alive, never settling for the ordinary.

Most important is the Thalden-Boyd-Emery philosophy. To each client's project, the company brings an abundance of experience, creativity and integrity. The entire Thalden-Boyd-Emery staff feels rewarded by the joy of a client's success.

For more information, visit


Virtual Sciences

By Casino Design Staff   Thu, Apr 29, 2010

Founded as a full-service organization by entrepreneur Steve Baum in 2003, Virtual Sciences' mission is to transform ideas, concepts, designs and plans into digital virtual worlds that entertain, educate and most of all, engage.

The company produces state-of-the-art renderings, animations and communication solutions for the architectural, real estate and building professions. This is accomplished throughout the life cycle of a project, from planning and approvals to design development to marketing, sales and public relations.             Headquartered in Parsippany, New Jersey, with offices in Virginia Beach, Virtual Sciences and its 20 staff professionals have experience in the communications, architectural and technology fields. The company has doubled in size each year since its inception as client relationships prospered and technology investments delivered ever more advanced solutions for their clients.

Virtual Sciences' state of the art digital production facilities house artists of extraordinary talent including creative directors, digital artists and animators who can take any concept or design and develop a virtual experience of exceptional quality.

Virtual Sciences specializes in the hospitality and gaming industries, but also has done extensive work in commercial, mixed use, retail, educational, residential and sports and entertainment complex verticals. The firm has worked on projects around the globe with some of the world's leading developers and architects, including Bovis Lend Lease, Gensler, Metro Homes, MDR Architects, Starwood Hotels, Trump, the Festival Companies, Avenue Capital, Multi Capital, British Petroleum and United Auto Group, RTKL, Callison, Toll Brothers, Forest City, Hicks Holdings and more.          

One of Virtual Sciences' current gaming projects is the newly renovated Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Company efforts consist of photo-realistic renderings and richly detailed animation tracks of the new gaming facilities, upscale restaurants and new high-end luxury tower. Virtual Sciences will leverage the digital assets to develop a captivating video production and an engaging website experience to introduce and showcase the new Trump Taj Mahal to the public. The company will also support Trump's overall sales and marketing efforts.

Virtual Sciences aims to become a leading provider of digital virtual services and solutions for a variety of vertical markets and geographies. The goal is to continually deliver advances in new technologies, providing an ever-increasing immersive experience for clients. Virtual Sciences is founded on a commitment to technical innovation, inspired creativity and the utmost in client service.

Virtual Sciences
1639 Route Ten East
Parsippany, NJ 07054
Tel.: 973-387-4000
Fax: 973-387-4008


Vallycrest Landscape Companies

By Casino Design Staff   Thu, Apr 29, 2010

Burton S. Sperber was an aspiring young horticulturist from California when he founded the ValleyCrest Landscape Companies in 1949. Today, Sperber is CEO, and his son, ValleyCrest President Richard A. Sperber leads the privately held company, considered among the nation's most prominent landscape firms.

From its early roots as a neighborhood nursery, ValleyCrest has evolved into an American success story. The company's intuition, operational efficiency and commitment to quality and service have not changed, nor has its collaborative approach. Driven by an increasing base of loyal repeat customers, ValleyCrest delivers the best, most dependable service while providing significant value for every landscape dollar.

Headquartered in Calabasas, California, ValleyCrest maintains a network of more than 100 branch offices and seven design studios in major markets nationwide. With revenues approaching $1 billion, the company currently employs more than 10,000 people across the United States.

The professional pre-construction team develops unparalleled strategies to minimize costs and construction risks while ensuring maintainability of the landscape for the long term.

ValleyCrest Landscape Development's extensive in-house resources, equipment and building expertise are unrivaled in the construction industry. Offering quality and professionalism in all aspects of site development, landscape installation, irrigation and hardscape, ValleyCrest is a licensed, bonded general and specialty contractor offering comprehensive, integrated services through five branded divisions:

ValleyCrest DesignGroup for landscape architecture and master planning.

ValleyCrest Landscape Development
for landscape construction and site engineering

ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance
for landscape maintenance and horticultural services

ValleyCrest Golf Course Maintenance

Valley Crest Tree Company for tree nursery and tree moving.

For nearly 60 years, ValleyCrest landscapes have improved air and water quality, conserved natural resources, reduced operating costs and contributed to the overall quality of life.

The company's vast portfolio of projects includes prestigious casino resort and hospitality/mixed-use properties. ValleyCrest has designed, built and/or maintained these facilities.

Landscape construction projects include the Borgata, Wynn Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Barona, Pechanga and Cache Creek.

In the area of design, ValleyCrest's studio landscape architects and design principals have resumes that include luxury and eco-friendly destination projects in the Caribbean, Middle East, Europe, Asia and South America.

As part of its long-term commitment to sustainability, ValleyCrest supports all green build initiatives and has LEED-accredited professionals on staff. ValleyCrest is a member of ASLA, Urban Land Institute and the U.S. Green Building Council.

For more information, visit


VOA Associates Incorporated

By Casino Design Staff   Thu, Apr 29, 2010

VOA Associates Incorporated provides remarkable client service and award-winning design for the built environment. The firm's commitment to excellence is based on the philosophy of listening to and understanding clients' needs, then integrating its collective expertise and delivering effective and efficient solutions.

VOA's credentials as a leading architectural and design firm have been affirmed by over 200 local and national awards for design excellence and an impressive list of client references.

VOA professionals are design architects, planners and interior designers serving the hospitality, themed entertainment and gaming markets. The company's role is to create leisure entertainment and hospitality environments that connect with guest desires and provide inspired solutions, fostering recreation, relaxation and memorable experiences.

VOA is also adept at incorporating sustainable design features to add value to new and existing properties. VOA's portfolio of hospitality projects includes more than 10,000 guest rooms and over 1 million square feet of conference space in more than 50 hotels, resorts, casinos and themed environments.

The firm is proud to be consistently ranked among the industry's top design firms by Hotel Business, Hospitality Design, Hotel and Motel Management, Hospitality Construction and Interior Design magazines. VOA is also an active member of the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC), International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) and TEA (formerly the Themed Entertainment Association).

VOA's most recently completed hospitality project is the $300-million Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, a new luxury destination resort, plus the renovation of its existing casino property in Rancho Mirage, California. Other notable projects include an extensive interior redesign of Disney's Contemporary Hotel in Orlando, Florida, the design of a new Florida golf resort, a new $150-million hotel and villas in the Middle East, and numerous new and renovated hospitality, entertainment and themed projects throughout the world.            

Founded in 1969, VOA currently employs a staff of more than 200 people worldwide, maintaining offices in Orlando, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Columbus, Ohio, Highland, Indiana, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

For more information, visit


WESTAR Architects

By Casino Design Staff   Thu, Apr 29, 2010

Established in Las Vegas in 1997, WESTAR Architects is a corporation with the original mission of servicing the casino resort capital of the world. Pat Klenk and Paul Heretakis lead an office of more than 35 skilled employees in a 10,000-square-foot creative environment.  

WESTAR Architects specializes in master planning, architecture, interior design, branding and restaurant development services, all coordinated via a cohesive effort. As gaming has proliferated throughout the country, WESTAR has also expanded to the East Coast, opening an office in Philadelphia.

Over the past 20 years, Indian gaming has expanded into multiple states, especially in the western United States. WESTAR opened a branch office in Phoenix to meet the needs of its tribal clientele. The firm's leadership has helped build WESTAR into an award winning, nationally ranked force in the hospitality industry.

WESTAR was created on a foundation of Passion, Creativity and Service.

Passion "generates expertise" in the unique amenities found in the casino resort

  • Gaming spaces
  • Rooms and suites
  • Theaters and convention centers
  • Bars and lounges
  • Restaurants and nightclubs

Creativity is "born of two"-the client and the designer-through the use of the following creative studios.

  • Client driven vision studio
  • Innovation laboratory studio
  • Operational branding and amenity studio
  • Alternate revenue generating studio

Service "drives success"-WESTAR has maintained longstanding relationships with multiple properties and repeat clients.

  • MGM Mirage Corporation
  • Las Vegas Sands
  • Harrah's Entertainment
  • Trump Entertainment
  • Resorts International

WESTAR's goal is to extend its version of Passion, Creativity and Service to the Macau market and other Asian ventures.

For more information, visit


YWS Architects

By Casino Design Staff   Thu, Apr 29, 2010

Founding principals Jon Sparer and Tom Wucherer established Las Vegas-based architecture firm YWS Architects, Ltd. in 2001. YWS offers a selection of design services for hospitality, casino/gaming, entertainment and mixed-use developments.

YWS Architects has extensive experience designing casinos, hotels, nightclubs and restaurants across the United States. Notable projects include Avi Resort & Casino, Cocopah Resort & Conference Center, Diamond Jo Casinos in Worth County and Dubuque, Iowa, the Treasure Island Suites and Planet Hollywood guestrooms remodels, Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana, Delta Downs Hotel Casino & Racetrack in Vinton, Louisiana, and the award-winning Sushi Roku and Boa Steakhouse restaurants at The Forum Shops in Las Vegas.

Current Las Vegas projects are the E Las Vegas, Sam's Town hotel and casino expansion and the Ogden House Hotel remodel at the El Cortez.

YWS Architects also spearheads a variety of other project types, ranging from master planning to mixed-use high-rise condominium developments to special projects such as Congregation Ner Tamid, a contemporary synagogue campus in Las Vegas.

Operating from a 10,000-square-foot design studio at West Patrick Lane, the 34-member team at YWS Architects includes eight licensed architects, with an additional five who are in the process of obtaining their licenses.

Drawing on years of experience and many diverse projects of varying scope, YWS Architects has developed a sophisticated response to market demands, land utilization, operational efficiency and construction costs. Past projects prove that good design can improve the clients' bottom line.  

In addition to paying close attention to the visual details, YWS Architects is also interested in the functional and financial performance of a building. The company attributes its success to an emphasis on client service, evident from the repeat clientele and the frequent referrals.

YWS Architects has one simple goal: to positively approach each project, giving valued clients the absolute highest level of service while providing a creatively designed, architecturally distinctive and financially successful finished product.

YWS Architects' services include architecture, master planning, programming and scheduling.

For more information, visit


Asian Appeal

Tue, Apr 27, 2010

While most casino executives would like to think we have moved beyond the "build it and they will come" mentality, it still exists in many jurisdictions. New markets starved for gaming usually use refurbished buildings not originally meant for casinos, or erect temporary facilities that soon get replaced by more permanent-and more attractive-buildings.

The level of detail and destiny are most often controlled by outside forces: tax rates, infrastructure realities, customer acceptance and more. But the fact is, gaming can provide much more than simply taxes, jobs and entertainment. It can truly transform a community.

In Asia, gaming is on a roll-maybe the last and biggest roll it will ever experience.

Macau is the prime example of what gaming can do for a region. While gambling has been legal in Macau for generations, it only recently has been able to truly impact the former Portuguese enclave the way it has in other jurisdictions. By opening up Macau to international development-rather than the former monopoly status afforded to SJM for many years-the Chinese government has given the community a second bite at the apple. And the region has grasped it firmly.

A tremendous building boom has resulted in many spectacular properties in the last several years. The Sands Macau was the first departure from the norm, with a truly different and dramatic design that has created huge loyalty among its customers. Wynn Resorts downsized its Las Vegas facility with special Asian touches and spectacular results. SJM, the former monopoly holder, created a fantasy with the Grand Lisboa that speaks to its customers like no other casino.

Crown Macau is a business-like facility that has proven its worth in the gaming wars. The Venetian is more than simply a bigger version of the Las Vegas property of the same name-it has truly raised the bar. MGM Grand Macau presents an elegance that can't be appreciated at first glance.

And under-construction and planned developments like the City of Dreams, Studio City and the rest of the Las Vegas Sands' Cotai Strip developments-the Four Seasons, Shangri-la, St. Regis, Sheraton and more-will truly make Macau "Asia's Las Vegas" (with apologies to Sheldon Adelson, who trademarked the phrase).

And we still haven't discussed the massive developments in Singapore. The Sands Marina Bay project by LV Sands (is it just me, or are they everywhere!?) will present a business and meeting climate like no other integrated resort in the world. And the Genting Group's Resorts World on Sentosa Island is a sprawling mixed-use development for the entire family and includes a Universal Studio theme park.

The Philippines' Pagcor City in Manila Bay will include four integrated resorts, including the world's largest shopping mall. South Korea continues to grow its gaming industry incrementally. And if gaming is legalized in Taiwan, Thailand and Japan, as expected, the Asian agenda in casino design will be deep and long lasting.

So pay attention! Starting with our excellent cover story on the role of feng shui in Asian and other developments, this issue provides information on the latest trends, the most interesting techniques and cutting-edge projects that have emerged over the last year.

It was a year of changes and challenges in the gaming industry when it comes to new developments and future projects. 

In this issue, learn why financing these projects is more difficult, and how to get around some of the hurdles. Decide whether your next restaurant should feature a celebrity chef. Design your retail space to suit your market. Learn about bringing the "natural" environment indoors, and how to "build green." Understand why a small casino can often have the same attraction and appeal of one of the gaming giants. And finally, hear from a collection of architects, builders, designers and others on the challenges and opportunities coming up in the next year.

This is our sixth annual edition of Casino Design. We would like to thank our sponsors and our readers for making this magazine the "bible" of the design and construction field in the gaming industry. We could not do this without your great faith and support in our effort. It's a labor of love for all involved.


X + Y = ROI

Tue, Apr 27, 2010

"Pink is my favorite color."

"All you need is love."

Classic lines from my fraternity days? Hardly. These two phrases embody the steps taken by two legendary Las Vegas casinos to appeal to a younger demographic.

Two different casinos. Two different approaches. Yet both have successfully raised the energy level, grown the customer base and increased revenue for both gaming and retail amenities.

The repositioning of the Flamingo Las Vegas started with the "pink" tagline. Thirty thousand people pass each day through the open façade of the Flamingo; they are immediately greeted by iPod-influenced slot signage, loud music and a stripper pole in the middle of a gaming pit.

If you're saying, "This is not my father's casino," you're right.

Don Marrandino, regional president of the Flamingo and Harrah's Las Vegas, wanted to bring back the Golden Era, when Hollywood and the Rat Pack brought swank modern design to the desert resort.

"The room remodels incorporate the latest technological advancements," says Marrandino. "Flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations and a surround sound system with a sub-woofer so loud, it required additional soundproofing between the rooms."

That attitude continues with the sports book remodel, where music videos replaced sports events after hours to create an ultra-lounge atmosphere.

The sports book's gaming tables, with strategically placed personalized TVs, are some of the most played on the property. An infusion of technology and a whole lot of attitude adds up to a heightened energy that customers are drawn to.    

For Scott Sibella, president and chief operating officer of Mirage in Las Vegas, it's all about aligning his strong brand of Polynesian tropical with "one of the most famous brands in the world: the Beatles."

The music and the 60s-era theme at the resort attract baby boomers as well as the young. The popular Cirque du Soleil show, The Beatles LOVE, captures the music in an unparalleled production, while the Revolution Lounge transforms the after-hours experience.

The approach is working. "Non-rated gaming has increased before and after show times," says Sibella.

The Mirage is the first modern resort that influences resort design to this day. The brand is unmatched for class, sophistication, attentive service and customer experience. The customer base for years has been an influential, sophisticated patron, 40 to 65 years old, with high expectations for entertainment. The goal was to attract similar guests from 20 to 40 years old.

The addition of nightclubs, hip dining and an ultra-pool were key, followed by a more contemporary design approach and highly focused advertising. Print advertising for the Mirage in mainstream magazines is tame by comparison to the casino's ads in youth-oriented magazines. The latter emphasize nightlife and the sexy side of the casino.

The result: new generations of young, fun-loving customers have been introduced to the Mirage. All it took was tweaking the brand-and a little LOVE.    

To attract a more youthful demographic, the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City, a Harrah's property, incorporated the House of Blues brand into nightclubs, the Foundation Room and themed areas within the casino.

Jay Snowden, Showboat's senior vice president and general manager, says the casino took less an age-group approach than a "psychographic strategy" that included nightclubs, lounges and celebrity chef-driven restaurants.

"These unique experiences increased visitation and loyalty with existing customers," says Snowden. "We know new customers will follow."

The advent of server-based gaming has created a more communal experience on the gaming floor. It's another feature that draws the younger player, Snowden says.

"Playing in group environments creates shared fun and experiences. People of all ages enjoy being around younger crowds, even if it's just to people watch."

Technology, innovation, brand association and social interaction draw seasoned, affluent customers as well as Generations X and Y. The younger generation's "what-I-want-when-I want-it" attitude has led to a new focus on service that benefits all customers.

The power of the non-gaming dollar is stronger than ever, so now is the time to focus marketing to promote these amenities and create a buzz within the industry. Generation X and Y desires have created a new energy that has forever changed the customer spending behavior and influenced casino design.


Outside the Box—Literally

Wed, Apr 28, 2010

The casinos of today are a far cry from the heavily themed, insular structures of the past. By letting go of long-held notions of what a casino should look like, present-day gaming venues are honest, inventive environments that reflect the tastes of an ever-changing world.

But how can you achieve authenticity in an environment designed to transport people from reality? How do you create different and new experiences in these venues over time?

In recent years, the casino industry has experienced a major upswing both stateside and abroad. With new markets comes an increase in demand and competition, requiring owners to create ever more impressive environments. The formulaic, themed approach of traditional casinos has been rejected in favor of site-driven, authentic designs that pay homage to the region and its rich history. Yet today's patron still seeks comfortable and familiar gaming venues.

Ultimately, the key to success in an ever-changing industry is to develop venues that stand apart as creative interpretations of the casino's brand and location, rather than those that simply mimic the successes of other properties, places or times.

Originally defined as nothing more than "rooms for gambling," casinos have traditionally been built around a long-held set of design standards. For many years, due to the absence of competitors, the small gaming community in Las Vegas dictated the look of such spaces. With no one to challenge long-held beliefs, the status quo of windowless boxes continued. While these artificial environments proved successful for many years, developers saw their profits steadily dwindle as new markets drew people to alternate venues across the globe.

In danger of becoming little more than a cliché tourist destination, developers looked for solutions to reestablish Las Vegas as the premier venue for entertainment and game playing. By fusing the unique geography, history and demographics of a property with the investor brand profile, more impressive environments are being realized.

Further, through inventive use of material, color, form, pattern and texture, a reflection of this new brand identity is evident in the interior spaces. Authentic to the site, patronage and casino brand, present-day gaming venues offer a range of diverse experiences for an increasingly sophisticated clientele.

By remaining flexible and open-minded, present-day casinos have become one-stop resort destinations complete with hotels, restaurants, high-end shopping, spas and more. For the casino owner, the plug and play of vendors lends further versatility and profitability.

Such environments challenge the expected notion of what a casino is by allowing the gaming portion to exist in concert with other income-producing venues. By some findings, the monies brought in from such "secondary spaces" can account for up to 50 percent of the casino's total revenues.

Developers pushed the limits and thinking even farther outside the box-literally. The addition of windows to let in the outside environment was a radical move that ultimately proved genius. Plants, natural materials, elemental features and even outdoor settings for patrons soon followed. What once was a space disjointed from reality became tangible, authentic and in very high demand.

Today's savvy casino owners stand on a platform of environmental awareness, economic security, a return to community and personal wellness. In the relatively recent Smart Growth movement, one can see the future of the gaming industry. Advocating attractive communities with a strong sense of place, community-stakeholder collaboration and mixed land uses for development projects, this new trend in urbanism fosters quality of life as well as economic prosperity.

The most recent proposals incorporate museums, nonprofits and cultural institutions into their venues; some include plans to rehabilitate former industrial areas in decline.

Such development is a win-win for all involved: the tax revenue for casino projects nationwide has doubled in the last 10 years, totaling $5.79 billion last year.

Importantly, this new model for casino design has changed the attitudes of those who visit casinos too: in a 2007 survey, 69 percent of respondents agreed that casinos bring widespread economic benefits to other industries and business within the region.

Squaring off against long-standing notions of what a casino should be isn't always comfortable. But for those brave enough, the rewards are plenty. 


Singapore Swings

By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

Resorts World at Sentosa
Sentosa Island, Singapore

ARCHITECT: Michael Graves & Associates
COST: US$4.2 billion
TOTAL LAND AREA: 121 acres

When the Genting Group won the bid for the second Singapore casino, it was understood that the complex would be designed for a different audience than the first, Sands Marina, which will be built and operated by the Las Vegas Sands organization (owners of the Venetians in Las Vegas and Macau).

While Sands Marina will appeal to the business traveler, Resorts World on Sentosa Island-developed with partner Universal Studios-will be aimed at families. The first Universal Studios theme park outside the United States will play a large role in the resort along with Asia's largest aquarium, Marine Life Park, and the Maritime Xperiential Museum dedicated to Asia's maritime cultures.

Designed by legendary American architect Michael Graves, Resorts World will be an iconic tropical resort where landscape and architecture converge. Six hotels including the all-suite Maxims Residences, a Hard Rock

According to Lim Kok Thay, chairman of the Genting Group, Resorts World at Sentosa will be Singapore's vision of a true tourist attraction, with an estimated 15 million people ready to visit in its first year of operation in 2010.

"We will create a world-leading family destination that will be uniquely successful, uniquely sustainable and uniquely Singapore," says Lim.


Miami in Vegas

By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

Las Vegas

ARCHITECT: Bergman, Walls & Associates
COST: $2.9 billion
ROOMS: 3,889-room hotel with 2,719 standard rooms, 152 suites and 1,018 condo-hotel units
CASINO FLOOR: 100,000 square feet
MEETING SPACE: 390,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor conference space
RETAIL SPACE: 300,000 square feet
AMENITIES: 60,000-square-foot spa, 3,200-seat performing arts theater, 24 restaurants and lounges

Expected to open in late 2009, Fontainebleau Resort and Casino seems to be flying under the radar when it comes to coverage of projects on the Strip.

But the $2.9 billion resort will kick off a string of openings in Las Vegas that will change the look of the Strip and usher in a new era of upscale mixed-use resorts.

Fontainebleau will feature a 100,000-square-foot casino, a 63-story hotel tower with 3,889 rooms, almost 400,000 square feet of meeting space, 300,000 square feet of retail space and a 60,000-square-foot spa. It is being built on 24.5 acres that was once the home of the Algiers and El Rancho casinos.

As with the Eastside Cannery, James Packer's Crown has an interest in Fontainebleau. The Australian gaming mogul spent $250 million in April 2007 to acquire nearly 20 percent of the developing company Fontainebleau

The Las Vegas opening should build off the expected success of the fall 2008 opening of a non-gaming Fontainebleau Resort in Miami, Florida.


European Jewel

By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

Grand Casino Beograd
Belgrade, Serbia

DESIGN ARCHITECT: Árter, of Brussels, Belgium
PROJECT PARTNERS: Casinos Austria International (51 percent); Club Hotel Loutraki (39 percent); Serbia National Lottery (10 percent)
COST: US$124 million
TOTAL SQUARE METERS: Casino 5,500; total 9,000

Grand Casino Beograd is one of the most sophisticated properties to appear during Southeastern Europe's ongoing casino boom. Situated on the banks of the river Danube, this new entertainment center in Belgrade, Serbia, provides guests with an impressive mix of modern gaming, fine dining, entertainment and conference facilities.

The casino offers 25 tables of American roulette, blackjack, Casino Stud Poker, Three Card Poker, Texas Hold'em Poker, and midi punto banco. Slot players will find over 220 state of the art machines linked to a Mystery Jackpot.

Inside the gaming area, the restaurant Diva offers a gourmet menu and wine list, while Ginger features Asian fusion cuisine. A third restaurant, Chameleon, located outside the gaming area and accessible from outside the casino as well, serves French and Italian cuisine.

A luxurious mix of leather, glass, marble and turned wood gives Grand Casino Beograd a contemporary yet glamorous ambience. The various gaming and relaxation areas flow elegantly one into the other. Adding a touch of history, the casino has been built inside the yet-to-be renovated Hotel Jugoslavija, which hosted international movie stars and world leaders during the Tito years in Yugoslavia. 

The Parada multi-function room can accommodate up to 250 people for receptions, press conferences, seminars and banquets. Finishing the offering is the high-end retail Vicky M shop, located right in the gaming area.

The casino began operations at the end of June 2007 and celebrated its grand opening in February 2008.


Las Vegas of the Plains

By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

Downstream Casino Resort
West of Joplin, Missouri

OWNER/OPERATOR: Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, through the Downstream Casino Authority.
DESIGNER: JCJ Architects, Inc. of New York
PROJECT MANAGER: Mickey Brown, G. Michael Brown & Associates of Sea Girt, N.J.
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Manhattan Construction Co. of Tulsa

This year, the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma will open phase one of a luxurious, $301 million Las Vegas-style casino resort where the state lines of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas intersect, just west of Joplin.

Downstream Casino Resort, with 1 million square feet of building space, will feature a 70,000-square-foot gaming floor, more than 2,000 slot machines, 30 table games including blackjack, three-card poker, ultimate Texas hold-em, and mini bac, a 14-table poker room, and a race book that simulcasts in the casino's Sports Bar.

Dining options will include a steakhouse, an upscale international buffet, and several 24-hour restaurants with a Native American theme.

At the hotel, guests can choose from 222 upscale rooms and 15 deluxe suites. There's a penthouse-level VIP lounge, and a conference center with six meeting rooms, a boardroom, and catering services. A spa will open later this year with an oversized swimming pool, fitness center and enormous sun deck with Jacuzzi and fire pit.

Adding to the resort's appeal: a 36-hole championship golf course, less than a mile from the hotel.

Downstream Casino Resort is "the fruition of a long-term desire for the tribe, and an economic dream come true for the region," providing an estimated $43 million in payroll and benefits, says Sean Harrison, spokesman for the tribe.    

Adds tribal chairman John Berrey, "We want everybody to benefit from this."

Stylistically, the resort takes a sophisticated approach with a subtle but distinct emphasis on Native American themes.

The Quapaw estimate that the 140-acre resort will draw more than two million visitors annually, who will spend a projected $30 million a year.


Industrial Strength

By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

Eastside Cannery
Las Vegas

COST: $250 million
ROOMS: 307 rooms in 16-story tower
CASINO FLOOR: 65,000 square feet
MEETING SPACE: 20,000 square feet
Rooftop lounge overlooking Las Vegas, six restaurants, four lounges and a live entertainment lounge

Construction is moving along nicely at the Eastside Cannery, and project officials anticipate an August opening date.

The Boulder Highway casino will bring the same mix of gaming, dining and entertainment that Cannery Casino Resorts brought to North Las Vegas with the Cannery in 2003.

It's been 13 years since there has been any significant construction on the Boulder Highway, and most people agree that this project is significant.

With a design nod to the architecture of the 1950s, the exterior of the property will stand out along the Boulder Highway skyline. Large, exposed steel beams and a sawtooth roofline are reminiscent of post-World War II building styles. The theme is further expanded inside, with open truss ceilings and exposed mechanical elements.

Inside, the 65,000-square-foot casino will hold 2,000 slot machines, 26 table games and a 400-seat bingo hall. It will also have 20,000 square feet of meeting space, spa, pool and restaurants.

Initially developed and started by Cannery Casino Resorts, James Packer's Crown is finalizing the acquisition of the company. The $1.8 billion cash transaction should be complete by the time the property opens this summer.


Hot Property

By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

    Agua Caliente Casino • Resort • Spa
    Rancho Mirage, California

    OWNERS: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
    DESIGN ARCHITECT: VOA Associates Incorporated
    GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Roel Construction Co.
    COST: $350 million
    ROOMS: 340
    OTHER AMENITIES: Spa, conference complex and entertainment center

    When the Agua Caliente Casino debuted in 1999, its tribal owners envisioned a future as expansive as the surrounding desert landscape. That vision was realized in April with the grand opening of the Agua Caliente Casino Resort and Spa.

    The newly christened, 422,000-square-foot project, owned and operated by the Cahuilla Indian band, features a 16-story, 340-key hotel; a full-service spa, pool and cabana complex; and an array of first-class amenities including a multi-purpose state-of-the-art conference center, five restaurants (one fine dining steakhouse, one 24-hour restaurant, a buffet, a deli, an outdoor bar and grill and a coffee shop); and two specialty retail shops. The existing casino has also been renovated and expanded.

    Design architects and interior designers, VOA Associates Incorporated, Orlando, Florida, took their cues from the majestic backdrop of Rancho Mirage.

    "The décor is rich with earth tones and natural hues to complement the exterior and echo the themes of the desert setting," says VOA's Managing Principal Jonathan F. Douglas.

    Interiors feature superb finishes and fixtures that meet or exceed "four-diamond" criteria. An elemental color palette emphasizes tawny golds, rich reds and browns juxtaposed with textural influences like stacked sandstone, backlit onyx and gleaming Travertino Albero and Michelangelo stone flooring.

    The new hotel, which includes a cascading waterwall within a soaring grand rotunda, "exhibits signs of Native American handiwork in a very beautiful, subtle way," says Richard M. Milanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

    The casino offers Las Vegas-style gaming with more than 1,800 slots, a variety of table games and an 11-table poker room. The resort will provide the gaming, hotel luxury and entertainment amenities typically found in Las Vegas destinations, in a serene yet utterly opulent setting.


    Winds of Change

    By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

    Four Winds Casino Resort
    New Buffalo, Michigan

    ARCHITECT: The Urban Design Group
    CONTRACTORS: Kraus Anderson/The Christman Company
    COST: $185 million
    SIZE: 130,000 square-foot hotel

    The casino's name is a tribute to the heritage of its owners, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians; its look is informed by the natural surroundings of coastal New Buffalo, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

    Four Winds Casino Resort, a 52-acre, $185 million casino, is the pride of the Pokagon, and an economic boon to the region along Interstate 94, 75 miles east of Chicago.

    Managed by Lakes Entertainment, Inc., Four Winds Casino Resort is the newest addition to New Buffalo's rich entertainment environment and the only land-based casino in all of southwest Michigan. 

    With 130,000 square feet of gaming space (about 3,000 slot machines and 100 table games), the resort also includes a 165-room themed hotel, six restaurants and plenty of retail offerings.

    Architects, contractors and designers carefully incorporated natural elements and Native American imagery into the structure and interiors. A flame-patterned granite rotunda floor is flanked by two massive fireplaces, in a nod to the tribe known as "keepers of the fire."

    A cedar arbor leading to the gaming floor depicts the totems and colors in the circle of life: eagle/yellow, otter/black, milky way/red, and bear/white, which is rich in meaning and significance to the Pokagon. Throughout the property, guests can see representations of long houses and wigwams.

    "It has the look of a Northwoods lodge with all the amenities of a modern casino," said General Manager Matt Harkness at the opening in August 2007.

    The casino offers wide-area progressive games and a custom designed high limit slot area. Players can try their luck at blackjack, craps, baccarat and Pai Gow. Four Winds also features the Midwest's only World Poker Tour poker room.


    Just Add Salt

    By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

    Margaritaville Casino & Resort
    Biloxi, Mississippi

    ARCHITECT: Kuhlman Design Group
    CONTRACTORS: Roy Anderson, Corp., MCC Group
    COST: $700 million
    ROOMS: 798
    MEETING SPACE: 66,000 square feet
    RETAIL SPACE: 250,000 square feet
    OTHER AMENITIES: Spa, cabanas and a Margaritaville Restaurant

    Singer-songwriter and Mississippi native Jimmy Buffett has teamed up with Harrah's Entertainment to open a destination resort anchored by one of his renowned Margaritaville restaurants.

    The $700 million casino is being developed on 46 acres of land that used to house Grand Casino and Casino Magic. Harrah's is building an additional 420 hotel rooms to Casino Magic's 378 units, for a total of 798 luxury rooms. The casino will occupy 100,000 square feet, and another 66,000 square feet will be utilized as meeting space. Harrah's is also partnering with Simon Property Group to turn 250,000 square feet into retail space.

    Harrah's is taking Buffett's beach aesthetic seriously. The property will feature cabanas situated around a wooden pool deck with lush tropical flora and fauna, for the kind of relaxing backdrop evoked by Buffett's music.

    The Margaritaville development is the latest in a line of casino properties taking up residence on the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In a press release announcing the development of the property, Buffett said it's important to rebuild and bring spirit back to the coast.

    "One of the essential elements of life along the Gulf Coast is the Creole belief that hard work and good fun go hand in hand," Buffett said. "With that in mind, I say let's get to work and let's let the good times roll again."

    The resort will open in spring 2010.


    Grand in Connecticut

    By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

    MGM Grand at Foxwoods
    Foxwoods, Connecticut

    OWNER: Mashantucket Pequot Tribe
    ARCHITECT/DESIGNER: Wilson & Associates
    CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTOR: Perini Building Corporation
    COST: $700 million

    Connecticut's Foxwoods Resort Casino was already the largest casino complex in North America when it added its latest expansion. However, instead of adding once again to Foxwoods, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe decided to add a completely new hotel-casino, with its own distinct-and famous-brand.

    The MGM Grand at Foxwoods includes its own valet entrance, upscale rooms and celebrity-chef restaurants. Its design, masterfully executed by Dallas-based Wilson & Associates, is dedicated to reflecting the surrounding beauty of the Connecticut woodlands. Connected to the main Foxwoods resort by a covered, moving walkway, the 30-story, two million-square-foot MGM Grand features an exterior wall of windows which, according to the designer, "brings the outside in."

    Inside, the entire property is upscale-a step up from the main Foxwoods resort. From guest rooms with panoramic views of the surrounding woods to the gold-trimmed casino floor, from the 4,000-seat MGM Grand Theater to the huge business/meeting spaces (the 115,000 square feet of premium meeting and function space includes a 50,000-square-foot ballroom that is the largest of any hotel in the Northeast), the design focuses on the finest materials to create a luxurious atmosphere.

    "We are thrilled to introduce a new level of luxury and sophistication to visitors and residents of Connecticut alike with the opening of the MGM Grand at Foxwoods," said Gillian Murphy, senior vice president and general manager of MGM Grand at Foxwoods, at the May opening. "The services and amenities are on par with MGM standards and the dining, gaming and nightlife scenes will catapult the property to incredible new heights in the worlds of hospitality and entertainment."

    Only 50,000 square feet of the two million is devoted to gaming, the elegantly designed casino including 1,400 slots and 53 tables. Non-gaming amenities include a 21,000-square-foot "G-Spa" by Boston-based entrepreneur Gretchen Monahan, and a lineup of upscale retail shops.

    Finally, the new hotel features five restaurants, including Alta Strada by acclaimed chef Michael Scholow; a version of Tom Colicchio's famous New York steakhouse Craftsteak; Shrine, which features a fusion of Asian cuisines; the Marketplace at MGM Grand, a casual dining outlet mixing distinct dining experiences of various European cities; and the first location outside of New York for Junior's Restaurant, the landmark Brooklyn eatery.


    Warsaw Sunrise

    By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

    Olympic Casino Sunrise
    Warsaw, Poland

    ARCHITECT & INTERIOR DESIGN: Meelis Press Architects
    TOTAL COST: €7 million (US$9.5 million)

    The Olympic Casino Sunrise in Warsaw, Poland was the featured project among many for 2007 from Olympic Entertainment Group of Estonia.

    Opened in May of that year, the Sunrise is the largest casino in Poland. It occupies 1,600 square meters spread over three levels inside the new Hilton Warsaw Hotel & Convention Center, which itself had opened just two months earlier. The 24-hour casino has 20 gaming tables including poker, and 100 slots.

    Designed by Estonian architect Meelis Press, who does all of the signature casinos for Olympic, the Sunrise features the operator's trademark attention to interior design. Press utilized a variety of marbles to create floor mosaics that reflect the "sunrise" theme. Artificial plants draped over a false ceiling that extends throughout the table games area create a hanging gardens effect.

    The interior design portion of the casino project accounted for €3.3 million ($4.5 million U.S.) of the total €7 million ($9.5 million U.S.) investment, which does not include the cost of gaming equipment.

    The Sunrise is a variation on the usual Olympic Casino themes of Greek mythology, tropical environs and the sea, which are found in most of the operator's 127 gaming venues throughout Eastern and Central Europe.

    U.S. casino interior expert David Kranes said of the company's approach, "Olympic Casino interiors are winning interiors. They are both beautiful and emotional. Their sensuous and delight-promoting designs enable a strong experience and pleasure for their customers. They are, at the same time, contemporary and classical."

    The Sunrise was preceded in 2006 by the Voodoo Casino in the Reval Park Hotel in Riga, Latvia. In June 2008 Olympic will open its next major casino in Bratislava, Slovakia.



    By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

    Atlantic City

    ARCHITECTS: Wong & Tung International
    COST: US$1.25 billion
    ROOMS & SUITES: 600
    MICE SPACE: 1,452 square meters

    Following such iconic buildings as the Venetian, Grand Lisboa and Wynn, MGM Grand Macau had to make a statement. Unlike Wynn and Venetian, MGM execs chose not to duplicate their Las Vegas properties, but build something that would reflect and appeal to a uniquely Asian clientele.

    Led by Hong Kong-based architects Wong & Tung International (which also designed the Crown Macau), the interior of MGM Grand Macau is inspired by the same Portuguese style of design found in the rest of Macau. But the outside-now, that's something different, with three distinctly colored sections atop each other as if a child had piled up building blocks.

    MGM Grand Macau is reserved for the VIP trade. Walk through the doors into the reception area and you'll find luxurious and intricately designed archways, balustrades and furniture that truly create a feeling of luxury.

    The 20,620-square-meter casino floors spread over two levels and wrap around the Grande Praca, a central square that's triple the size of the arboretum at the Bellagio. The Grand Praca bustles with activity, strolling entertainers, diners and gamblers taking a break from the action.


    Towering Trump

    By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

    Trump Taj Mahal, Chairman Tower
    Atlantic City

    OWNER: Trump Entertainment Resorts
    PRINCIPAL ARCHITECT: The Friedmutter Group
    INTERIOR DESIGN: Hirsch Bedner Associates
    PROJECT COST: $255 million

    When it was first unveiled in 1990, Trump Taj Mahal represented the high end of the Atlantic City market. But new properties and expansions from Harrah's to the Borgata have left the casino out of the spotlight.

    All that changed when its operating company, now called Trump Entertainment Resorts, emerged from bankruptcy with a new capital spending plan. Every inch of the Taj has been renovated and renewed, with highlights such as the "Spice Road" retail promenade and new restaurants like Il Mulino New York.

    The jewel in the crown, though, is the new Chairman Tower, the first room expansion at the Taj since its debut. Slated to open in September, the Chairman Tower features 782 guest rooms, including 74 suites (four of them luxury suites along the lines of the existing Penthouse Suites at the Taj).

    Designed with both business and leisure travelers in mind, the rooms are larger than original Taj rooms, with higher ceilings and modern bathrooms including double sinks recessed into Brazilian granite countertops. Eight luxury suites top the tower, including two super-suites measuring 2,100 square feet apiece.

    Joe Emanuele, project architect for Friedmutter Group, designed the exterior to complement the original Taj tower, but with a slightly modern edge. Interiors by Calvin Dix and Katie Adams of Hirsche Bedner Associates are dominated by rich browns, golds and red tones, creating a warm, contemporary atmosphere.

    Dix notes that furnishings and finishes for the new suites are "inspired by an 'Asian chic' concept which fuses the spice colors of India with a contemporary clean line design."

    "The distinctive architectural design of the Chairman Tower was driven by the desire to create ocean and bay views from nearly every vantage point, while preserving land to develop future towers," says Trump Entertainment CEO Mark Juliano. "The accommodations are being created to offer a true luxury resort experience."


    The Asian Venice

    By Casino Design Staff   Tue, Apr 27, 2010

    Venetian Macao

    OTHER DESIGNERS AND ARCHITECTS: HKS (interior design) and RTKL (retail)
    COST: US$1.8 billion
    TOTAL AREA: 10,500,000 square feet (980,000 square meters)
    MICE SPACE: 1.2 million square feet
    RETAIL SPACE: 1.6 million square feet
    ROOMS & SUITES: 600

    Soon after obtaining one of the concessions to operate casinos in Macau, Las Vegas Sands opened the Sands Macao property, utilizing a small footprint of land near the enclave's ferry terminal with Hong Kong.

    But the future of the company lies on the Cotai Strip, a large swath of land acquired by Las Vegas Sands further south on the peninsula.

    The Venetian is the first of seven hotels and resorts to be built in the area, all owned by LV Sands with casino and entertainment facilities operated by the company. At 10,500,000 square feet, it's the world's second-largest building (after a tulip warehouse in Holland).

    This "integrated resort" features more than one million square feet each of exhibit, meeting and retail space. The Venetian Macao reaches out to the mass market like no other casino resort had yet done in Macau.

    While closely following the blueprint established at the Venetian in Las Vegas, the Macau version includes not one but three canals in the Grand Canal Shoppes, more meeting space than its Las Vegas cousin, and a wide-open gaming floor that dwarfs any other casino in Macau.

    With a new ferry terminal delivering guests virtually to its doors, the Venetian Macao has truly changed the parameters of gaming in Macau.


    Personal DJ

    By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

    PRODUCT: 'Sound Lounge'
    MANUFACTURER/DESIGNER: Réalisations Inc.

    Montreal, Canada-based Réalisations Inc. has produced a groundbreaking audio and video system to create the eyecandy sound lounge & bar at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The system's central feature is the ability of customers to control their own audio/visual mix from the comfort of their booths.

    Using interactive, multi-touch tables, guests can direct cameras around the lounge, create visuals and messaging that can be sent to other tables and create sound mixes of their own.

    The sound lounge, located next to eyecandy's dance floor, offers three sound stations that allow users to tap into their "inner DJ" by using their own iPod. During promotional nights at eyecandy, guests can bring their personal music mix to play from their sound station, allowing the DJ to access guests' music and play it through the main sound system.

    The lounge's dance floor features three layers of images. The glass floor is fed with global low-resolution LED video input that plays continuously on the 70 LED tiles of the dance floor. This LED video content is echoed by a high-resolution overhead video projection that overlays vibrant imagery on dancers. The third layer is triggered by the dancers' steps on the pressure-activated LED tiles.

    "The eyecandy sound lounge & bar marks a new step in the evolution of the club experience," says Roger Parent, founder and president of Réalisations Inc. "People are used to being able to control their personal environment in their homes. eyecandy gives people the same possibility, but one step further-it allows guests to create their own world in a public space."

    For more information, contact Réalisations at 514-842-3057, or visit the company's website,


    Custom Environments

    By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

    PRODUCT: Themed Design
    MANUFACTURER/DESIGNER: Cost of Wisconsin

    One design firm that has specialized in creating unique spaces within gaming facilities is COST of Wisconsin. COST has been an industry leader in creation themed environments, winning numerous design awards over five decades of operation.

    Typical areas of expertise include water features, faux trees, rockwork, decorative metals, specialty glass, accent/art pieces, theme façades, sculptures, decorative architectural finishes and custom aquariums. COST is versatile and experienced in utilizing various materials and methodologies in creating custom environments. Material use varies from concrete composites to glass/acrylics, epoxies, metals, wood, FRP, urethanes and many others.

    These materials are often fused together to develop an entire theme concept or developed as focal points within a casino.  Column covers, gaming canopies, restaurant and gaming floor separations, restaurant and cash cage façades and decorative accent pieces such as water features or sculptural elements are all used to deliver the themed experience.

    "Creating a unique casino experience separates one gaming facility from the next," says Chris Foster, vice president of sales and marketing at COST. "As the gaming industry becomes more competitive every day, entertaining and interesting experiences stimulate repeat guest visits."

    For more information, contact COST at 888-567-2678, or visit the company's website at


    True Vision

    By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

    PRODUCT: 3-D Visualization
    MANUFACTURER/DESIGNER: Virtual Sciences, inc.

    When gaming resorts need renderings, video presentations or other visualizations of projects to present to investors or executives, one firm they have turned to increasingly of late is New Jersey-based Virtual Sciences.

    Virtual Sciences specializes in 3D visualization-in renderings, animations, multimedia presentations, video productions, websites-of projects in the conceptual stage. The company produces digital output of images of the completed project in three dimensions, making any changes and alterations necessary to the images as projects progress.

    Once developed, 3D visualizations can be used to generate various media elements throughout the life of a project. These assets support communication needs across various platforms, including printed materials, multimedia presentations, interactive web experiences, etc., as well as printed renderings in any size.

    According to the company, using digital visualizations to create "virtual environments" can delineate a project's merits more actively for investors or clients, with greater flexibility and at significantly lower price points than traditional renderings.

    The company's list of services includes photo-realistic renderings, theatrical animations, real-time simulations, digital camera matches, interactive multimedia tools and video productions.

    For more information, call Virtual Sciences at 973-387-4000, or visit the company's website at


    Exotic Wood

    By Casino Design Staff   Wed, Apr 28, 2010

    PRODUCT: Zebrawood


    J.A. Casillas, a premier custom furniture manufacturer specializing in the hospitality industry, has been introducing its clients to the striking beauty of a wood it calls "Zebrawood." So named for the grain or "figure" that is reminiscent of the striping of a zebra, Zebrawood comes from the trees of one of several species, but most commonly Microberlinia.

    Despite prominent installations in luxury automobiles like Mercedes-Benz, many dedicated wood workers and furniture manufacturers have been unaware of Zebrawood's existence as a decorative exotic wood. Perhaps it is because, as is common in many premium products, what makes it special is also what makes it difficult to perfect. The dramatic graining is accompanied by an extremely coarse texture. This rough surface keeps all but the highly skilled from using the wood regularly in either custom furniture, trim, inlays, banding or marquetry.

    Due to the extensive experience of the craftsmen at J.A. Casillas, designers can take full advantage of the Zebrawood in any project ranging from a suite of luxury room furniture to an entire hotel project.

    For more information on Zebrawood or any other fine or exotic wood, visit the company's
    website at