The measure of a great casino company is the gaming projects upon which it is known. For Wynn Resorts, that legacy extends far beyond the properties it currently owns-Wynn Las Vegas, Wynn Macau and Encore Las Vegas. Steve Wynn and his companies will forever be known for transforming Las Vegas-and indeed the entire casino industry-with seminal casino resorts that became icons the minute they opened.
Wynn discovered his love for development when he bought the Golden Nugget in Downtown Las Vegas in the early 1970s. What was a serviceable "grind joint" became a luxury hotel in the span of several years as Wynn transformed the property into a must-see attraction in one of the grittier areas of town.
His move to Atlantic City in 1978 really created the basis for the company. From design, to human resources, to operations, to advertising... the Golden Nugget Atlantic City was where Wynn began to put together the team that would create a mold that he broke and reformed over and over again through the years.
After selling the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City in 1986 to Bally's for a then-unheard-of price of $440 million, Wynn embarked on the Mirage, the first new project on the Las Vegas Strip in more than a decade when it opened in 1989. It was at the Mirage where his love for design and drama became evident-and his impact on the gaming industry became apparent.
Subsequent properties only improved on the design, the construction, the amenities, the public spaces, the rooms... and the all-important "wow factor." Whether it was Treasure Island, the Beau Rivage in Mississippi or his ultimate gem, the Bellagio, Wynn kept getting better.
The sale of Mirage Resorts to MGM in 2000 left Wynn property-less for the first time in almost 30 years, but it wasn't long before he got back in the game. On April 27, 2000, he bought the Desert Inn and its 215 acres of Strip land as a "birthday present" for his wife Elaine. The property has given him a palette upon which he would create his greatest legacy, a mini-city that would be appreciated and loved long after he was gone.
Wynn Las Vegas became its initial tenant. It quickly achieved AAA five-diamond, Mobil five-star, and Michelin five-star status. Although it clearly qualifies as a "mega-resort" with more than 2,700 rooms and suites, Wynn Las Vegas had a boutique feel, with the Wynn design team rising to the challenge once again. Innovative features include a vertically stacked tower that dramatically reduces the vast distances guests need to travel between amenities.
Like Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas sports a lake and a water show, but unlike Bellagio, it can only be enjoyed from inside the property. And the concept of integrating the inside of the hotel with the outside environment begun at Bellagio was enhanced and improved.
Wynn Double Take
So what to do for the "encore" to Wynn Las Vegas? (Elaine Wynn coined the name, by the way.) Like all other Wynn properties, Encore was a product of much reflection and evolution.
Two longtime members of Wynn Design and Development say that Encore was never supposed to be just an addition to Wynn Las Vegas.
"The talk in the very beginning was 'Should Encore be more Wynn?'" says Roger Thomas, executive vice president of design for the company. "I held out from the very beginning that Encore should be its own place. It should have its own sense of place. It should have its own menu of all the services we want a guest to have. You should never have to leave Encore to go to Wynn to get something and vice versa. You should want to leave Encore to go to Wynn to get something but you should never have to leave."
DeRuyter Butler, head of architecture for Wynn Design and Development, agrees.
"We wanted Encore to have its own personality," he says. "In order to be successful, it had to be perceived as an upgrade to Wynn. We again emphasized reduction of scale and integration of the indoor-outdoor component, which are really principal design theories we employ today when building a successful project."
Thomas says the personality he envisioned for Encore was very specific.
"Encore is Wynn's stylish younger sister," he laughs. "Wynn was an invention of vocabulary and alphabet. We added new letters to the alphabet and a lot of new vocabulary. We added several new conspirators, like Victor Drai, who did not have the same role at Wynn."
To achieve that personality, Butler says the same improvements that were implemented with previous Wynn properties were also made here.
"If we had just tried to build another Wynn, it would have been considered just a step child," he says. "So we wanted Encore to be special and be considered at least equal to or better than Wynn. We made the rooms bigger. We used bolder colors. It's a little more contemporary. We incorporated a greater sense of indoor-outdoor. We used a special glass made in Germany that has non-reflective properties so it truly brings the outdoors in at any time of day or night."
Like Wynn, the concept of a "boutique" feel in a larger hotel was crucial.
"We felt very much that we succeeded with Wynn," says Thomas. "By comparison with the marketplace, it was by far a more intimate and upgraded experience. Once we started doing Encore we wondered what we could do better. And we usually find ways to make it better."
Butler says the vertical stacking of the hotel tower solved a lot of the travel-distance issues at Wynn, but it was done even better at Encore. For example, while the arrival and VIP registration atrium at Wynn was conveniently located near the elevators, the check-in area for regular guests still required a trek across the casino floor.
"At Encore, we took a different tack," says Butler. "We figured out how to put the tower, the check-in and the elevators all within 100-200 feet of each other. At the same time, the registration lobby looks out onto the pool at Encore so it also has a view, as does the Wynn registration area of the lake. It also is next to the lobby bar café, so it's that next level of sophistication where we make things ultra-convenient for the guest."
Rooms to Move
The rooms at Encore were a work in progress almost up until the day it opened.
"We already planned the rooms to be larger than the Wynn rooms," explains Butler. "The right-to-left dimensions are identical but the dimensions from the door to the window are increased by six feet."
But a standard room wasn't going to be good enough for Steve Wynn, especially when he saw what his designers were working on for his Macau property that was also in development at the time.
"By that time we were well into construction-we were probably on the 25th floor," says Butler. "In Macau, we had decided we wanted to develop a suite in a typical room bay. What we had was the bed facing the window separated by a partition at the foot of the bed. The balance of the space became the sitting area. In this partition, we put a large flat-screen TV that you could swivel and watch from both sides of the partition."
After Wynn and the rest of the team saw the mockup of the Macau suite, they decided it had to be implemented in Encore as well.
"We got such a great response from our executives and people we brought in to show what we had come up with, we decided we had to incorporate it into Encore, as well," he says.
But the space changes weren't over yet. Two-story suites also planned for Macau caught Wynn's attention and more changes were ordered.
"This was Todd Lenihan's fault!" laughs Thomas. "Todd and Avery Brooks did all the rooms and suites at Encore. I think it was truly one of the most remarkable designs in hospitality design history. Everybody loved the first model of the suites that Todd did.
"But Steve decided that it didn't have the warmth and softness he was looking for. It had all the drama and caché, but Steve wanted something warmer. So when Todd added the warmth and the embracing feeling to his design, it was so wildly popular with the board and all the executives that everybody said 'it's a shame you're only going to have 10 of these.' The problem was it was too beautiful."
So the directive was given to make it happen, and again, the conundrum of re-designing during construction was brought to bear.
"We had originally planned 48 single-story two-bedroom suites," says Butler. "Again, we were developing a two-story suite for Macau with a balcony that looked over the living room. In Las Vegas, it would have been really dramatic and offered a great view of the west valley and the Spring Mountain range.
"The problem was, we had just poured the 15th floor. We didn't want to stop construction unless we had made a major mistake. We immediately jumped on expediting engineering drawings and had to go back to the county for approvals. We calculated the time it would take to draw, get permits, and where the construction would be when we needed to make the changes, which turned out to be on the 21st floor. So we let construction continue. We wanted to have as many two-story structures as we could but we didn't want to delay construction, so the question became when can we implement this without impacting our schedule."
Thomas says a traditional operation with independent architects, designers and builders would not have been able to pull this off in the short amount of time that it took at Wynn.
"The advantage of having an in-house design and development group steeped in the culture is that you can make last-minute changes," he says. "So when we asked John Littell, who runs Wynn Design and Development, if we could have more suites, he didn't have to ask someone. He just figured out how to get it done. Within hours, we knew we could do it. We had to give up some insignificant things, they would be the last rooms built out and we couldn't see one furnished until about month before opening. But we knew we could do it. We have a very elastic operation here. With an independent design group, I suspect it wouldn't be hours. It would be days and weeks."
Another last-minute change was the casino floor, which was also influenced by the Macau design.
"The way the casino was laid out was a concept that Hersh Bedner from Los Angeles achieved in our Macau property," says Thomas. "They were challenged with a casino that had never been designed before. In Macau, it's almost entirely baccarat-at least it was when we were designing it. So instead of having acres of baccarat tables, we decided to segment it into small rooms. And how do you get a bunch of small rooms, yet enjoy the energy of a large casino? They took the lift canopies we have at Wynn Las Vegas, made them into friezes, added tie-back drapery to soften the corners and create passages. It was very successful in Macau and I think it works well at Encore."
Because the concept worked well in Macau, with players enjoying the experience and the ambiance, the team decided to duplicate it at Encore, although the size wasn't identical.
"During the initial design of Encore, we designed a casino like every other casino we've designed here in Las Vegas," explains Butler. "But the learning process in Macau taught us that the customer responded very favorably to the modules. By the time we learned that, the design process on Encore was well along. The steel was all up and the spa up above was already under way. We had to live with the columns that existed but we re-designed the casino to address this modular approach. It's not quite as small and compact as Macau, but it's certainly broken up more than it is at Wynn or Bellagio or any other U.S. casino."
Restaurant & Retail
Like all modern mega-resorts, the retail, dining and entertainment experience is crucial. Because some of the operators of the restaurants weren't decided at opening, Thomas says he relied on previous experience to flesh out the designs.
"Sometimes the chef is there for me to conspire with, sometimes not," he says. "Sometimes I'm operating on the last discussion I had with the chef and then I'm on my own. With Sinatra, Theo Shoneker was not on board when we first started to design the room. At one point, Alex Stratta agreed to act the role as the operating chef. He looked over the room and told us where he needed all the serving stations, etc. We were basically done with the plan and our pencils were down. So we picked them up again and accommodated all his suggestions. When Theo came into the picture, things were far along. Drywall was flying. But we were able to make the changes he requested and now it's one of our most successful restaurants."
Switch is a unique restaurant that combines dining with drama. The walls literally transform three times an hour, changing the atmosphere and the very look of the restaurant.
"We had interaction with (Switch chef) Mark Podevin from the first day. We always knew it was going to be him. It's always better to work with the chef from the beginning.
"With Botero, we worked with Victor Drai right away. We didn't know who the chef was going to be right away, but Victor was very involved and hands-on. We made accommodations early on, and everything was smooth.
"The nightclub, XS, works because, like Tryst (the nightclub at Wynn), Victor was in every meeting, as was Steve, DeRuyter and myself. We talked about every little detail."
High-end retail has been a part of the Wynn experience since the Bellagio. But Butler says even that was a last-minute change.
"The original concept was changed late in the design process," he says. "We didn't have that retail component that you see now. Originally, it was all supposed to be part of the lakes. We added that entire retail mall probably about one-third into the project. Vegas has evolved and the high-end retail coming to the town was the reason we added this component. Vegas is now a mecca for fine dining and fine retail."
The Team Approach
Even though Thomas and Butler play crucial roles in the design and construction of every Wynn project, they both concede that it begins and ends with Steve Wynn.
"Steve is the conductor," says Thomas. "In many cases he's the conductor and the composer. The idea that Encore was going to have much more sunlight; the entrance for the Strip directly into the atrium; the concept for Switch being about theater and drama... those are all Steve, 100 percent. The way the master plan relates to the building in the large sense is Steve and DeRuyter. They move the big bubbles around and I come in and move around the bubbles, to give them an axial alignment and a more friendly shape so that they take on a better presence.Thomas says he rarely considers trends in the casino industry or even contemplates what competitors are doing.
"I don't follow trends," he insists. "I don't ever go to other casino properties unless I have to go to a function. I don't consider trends. I notice what's going on in fashion because I love to be inspired by the color and movement of fashion. I'm somewhat inspired by the marketplace, but I custom-create things that you don't see anywhere else. So I use the marketplace for my raw materials."
Butler says he trusts Wynn to let him know what the customers want and then he designs with that guidance.
"We believe that Steve's insights are common to our clientele," he says. "We don't target any specific group, but if you build something of the highest quality and discriminating design, you tend to attract a certain clientele-those who can tell the difference. And those are people who are possibly of higher intelligence, better financial means, those who have traveled the world, been to many places and experienced the best out there. They come to us and we try to meet and exceed their expectations."
For Thomas, Encore has been the company's highest achievement so far. But while he's happy with the results, he's never content.
"Encore has succeeded in ways Wynn did not," he says. "And I suspect our next one will succeed even more because we're already talking about what are the good things at Encore and what we can do better. You'd think we'd be satisfied but that's not our job. Our job is to always move forward and to make things better."
The Shrinking Mega-Resorts
Just a few years ago, there was no limit to the size or cost of casino projects being proposed throughout the world. It was very clear that bigger was definitely better. It wasn't just a case of big for the sake of big; economic conditions essentially mandated it. Real estate prices were spiraling upwards and the only way to make good financial use of the land was to pack it with thousands of rooms and thousands of square feet of meeting, convention and retail space.
Out of that specific economic condition arose projects that are still moving forward like CityCenter and Echelon in Las Vegas, Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, and the City of Dreams and the Cotai Strip in Macau. There were also a number of other proposals that now seem to be in limbo, like CityCenter North, El Ad's proposed $5 billion Plaza on the Strip, and Station Casinos' proposed mega-resort Viva! just off the Strip.
The number of projects that have been completely abandoned is simply too long to list.
Some projects never had a chance, and that became painfully obvious when even gaming giants like Las Vegas Sands Corp., MGM Mirage and Boyd Gaming struggled in their efforts. Only MGM Mirage has been able to continue construction on CityCenter. Work on the Cotai Strip was stopped for a time due to financial pressures, and Echelon has sat in the early stage of construction since August 2008.
There are lessons to be learned from the difficulties these companies encountered, but just what those lessons are may take some time to discern. For the most part, the problem was not that any of the operators were aiming too high; it was that their lofty ambitions crashed to reality as the global economy went into the tank. The glory days of month-after-month revenue increases, a seemingly endless line of people willing to pay increasingly higher prices for everything from rooms to shows to meals to drinks, and easy access to credit are largely gone.
It hasn't been a complete meltdown. In Nevada, for example, despite the continual stories about the death of the industry as double-digit revenue drops were reported month after month, 2008 was not a particularly bad year (2009 has been much worse). The demand remained, and even as people spent less or cut vacations shorter, the gaming industry realized its second-best year in terms of revenue.
On the financial side, credit all but disappeared. Companies struggled to obtain financing to finish projects. There were a few shaky weeks where it looked like CityCenter might join Echelon and Cotai on the list of stalled, but not canceled, projects. (It should be noted that Boyd wasn't forced to suspend work on Echelon, but elected to do so in the face of rising costs for materials and labor.) It took some strategic maneuvering to lock down the money needed to finish CityCenter, some design changes were necessary, and it won't open in one big bang as originally planned, but it will still be completed and open by the end of 2009.
Watching these companies struggle has prompted some to question whether this idea of the mega-resort was actually sound, and whether this is something that the industry will ever see again. The answer is quite simple: It depends.
Until projects like CityCenter and Cotai are completed, it will be difficult to assess whether the mega-resort idea is dead, according to Dick Rizzo, vice chairman of Perini Building Company, which is building CityCenter.
"It's a big experiment," he says. "It's hard to make a judgement call until it actually opens."
Rizzo and others say similar projects could be built in the future, provided the circumstances are right. If there is enough traffic and enough demand, a project similar in scope to CityCenter is by no means out of the question.
Terry Dougall of the interior design firm Dougall Design Associates agrees that until the industry has had a chance to see how well the mega-resort works, it might be a while before someone dares to attempt a similar project.
"I think everyone will look to see what happens at CityCenter over the next two or three years," he says. "I think people will sit back-well, they might not have a choice-and they'll watch CityCenter and see what happens before I think anybody gets too crazy about emulating what they've done there."
He noted, like others, that probably the single biggest obstacle to projects of this scope in the future will be the difficulty in obtaining funding. It is that difficulty itself-the problem of financing-that plagued these projects; it was never the case that the projects suffered from some sort of conceptual flaw.
"If the economy hadn't taken the pause that it has taken, I don't think anyone would be asking questions like this," says Brad Friedmutter of the Friedmutter Group. "The concepts were sound, the approach was sound and had we not faced what we did, they would have just opened and things would be moving on."
Bergman Walls vice president George Bergman agrees. He feels that ultimately the projects that have already started will be completed. Operators really have no other choice.
"I think all these things will get completed. I think Las Vegas will adapt. These owners are very intelligent people and they'll find ways to make their assets work," Bergman says.
Everyone expects that Las Vegas and the other jurisdictions will ultimately enjoy success with the mega-resorts that will be introduced soon. The financial troubles that plagued builders also hit consumers, and many were forced to cut back on their spending. As the economy recovers and people resume spending, these resorts will see the traffic they expect.
"There is a huge amount of pent-up demand for entertainment facilities," says Lee Cagley of the interior design firm Cagley & Tanner. "People have gone without for a couple of years, and anybody who is poised with a beautiful new facility like CityCenter will probably do very well. On a similar note, some of the older properties on the Strip, if they aren't appropriately spruced up, won't be doing so well."
The consensus among the designers and architects is that between the difficulty in obtaining financing and the increased pressure from the few new casinos that are set to open over the next year or so, there will be a larger focus on renovation work, which can be financed through cash flow alone.
"I think there will be a slowdown for sure," says Bergman. "In the next three to five years, there won't be a building boom, but I think there will be a lot of renovation work. I think Las Vegas will adapt. People are still coming here. Everyone still wants to come to Las Vegas."
"I think a lot of regional work will start to pick up, too."
Friedmutter adds that new ownership of casinos will lead to additional remodeling work as the new regime looks to put its brand on a property.
And Cagley points out an additional benefit of remodeling, suggesting that it might be the new trend in the industry. Rather than requiring a large amount of energy to produce materials and erect a building, renovation and remodeling work takes an existing resource and improves upon it. It is a more sustainable approach, he says.
"There are so many existing resources in terms of casinos and gaming facilities," he says. "You've already paid for the floor and the walls and the ceiling. All you've got to do is make the inside box appealing and you've got all the basics already handled.
"All I need is a better mousetrap. I don't need a better house to put it in."
The Long Haul
It is extremely difficult for even the brightest of the gaming and hospitality industry to say with any certainty just what will happen in the long run. And there is a good amount of divergence of opinion. While some think that big is here to stay, others predict dramatic changes in energy sources could bring about major changes in how operators approach casino design.
Cagley agrees, in a sense, with the sentiments mentioned earlier by Bergman: Regional casino work will start to take on greater importance. He bases this on the prediction that as the world's oil supply dwindles, transportation will become increasingly difficult, and similarly, increased governmental regulations will make it difficult to build this kind of project in the future.
"People are not going to be traveling as far, and if they do travel a long distance, the result had better be spectacular," Cagley says. "That's why I believe there will always be a Las Vegas.
"The existing casinos will be remodeled and perfected, but increasingly, in the long run, a mega-resort doesn't make much sense. As more and more regulations are in place for energy conservation and energy-efficient building, it becomes less and less feasible to build a new one. It's not impossible, but it's really hard."
Tom Hoskens of Cunningham Group doesn't completely agree. He thinks that bigger will remain a drawing point on its own, although he cautions that building big for the simple sake of building big will never work.
"The reality of entertainment and entertainment resorts is that one is continually looking for what is the next big attraction, what is the thing that will draw guests to you," he says. "Mega-resorts have been continuing to grow and create that 'wow' attraction. I don't think that will ever go out of style. I think the bigger, better attractions will always draw people."
Planning to Succeed
One thing that will likely change is that operators will generally be forced to look at better planning models for their properties, even if they don't have the desire to build a mega-resort.
"Certainly, I think past experience has shown that if you've got a lot of acreage, even if you're not planning a huge development, you'll lay out the property in a way that will allow it to grow," Dougall says.
Additionally, operators might look at a more protracted method of introducing new product to market by phasing in new additions. In essence, that is the more traditional approach. As Hoskens points out, a property like Caesars Palace in Las Vegas has grown in an almost organic way into a mega-resort, with thousands of rooms and the entertainment options and the retail component. But that issue ultimately comes down to a decision by the developer, as each approach has its advantage.
"There are pros and cons to the one big bang," Friedmutter explains. "That gets a big wow. There are challenges in how you get tens of thousands of employees trained, get the bugs worked out; it's mind-boggling how complicated that is, but the industry certainly has the people with the expertise to do it.
"On the other hand, there is a benefit, for example, to having a master-planned project built in phases so you get multiple wows and the multiple bang of openings every six months or every year."
And the uncertainty of future demand looms, too. No one can really say whether demand for Las Vegas will continue to increase, but there is some belief that the major emerging market of Asia poses the best location and the best possibility to see future mega-resort development.
"Asian gaming is growing by 15 percent a year, and I think you'll see mega-resorts in Asia grow quicker than other areas," Hoskens says. "I think in Vegas they'll come back by the phasing approach. You'll get Echelon and those to come back, but they'll be phased.
"I think Asia will continue to develop big resorts, but remember, you can't just do mega-resorts for mega-resorts' sake. You can't just make it big; you really have to have content and planning. Our future, I think, involves a much more sophisticated planning and more sophisticated phasing, and a much more sophisticated experience for the guest. Once we pull those three things together, that will give more legs to the mega-resorts."
While the future may remain uncertain, if there is one lesson that remains constant in the gaming and hospitality industry, it is the one espoused by Dougall when asked whether mega-resorts will continue to be a viable design trend in the future.
"It depends on what your neighbor is going to do," Dougall says. "If your neighbor is going to try to do something, then you've got to keep up with them. You simply have to."
Diet or Die
The American Gaming Association just released its annual the "State of States" report, formalizing many of the trend specifics the industry has been expecting: 2008 gaming revenues across the country showed a notable 4.7 percent decline from the record-setting year of 2007, with further decreases ongoing this year.
Although this information should not surprise anyone who has been monitoring the gaming industry of late, it is somewhat alarming that many operators and developers are just now realizing that their food and beverage programs must be realigned to respond to these shifts. The good news is that it's not too late to make significant improvements to the bottom line.
When consumer spending and gaming revenues decline, ancillary and amenity earnings fall as well. The Innovation Group has seen spending on food and beverage programs drop over the past year an average of 8 percent to 12 percent, a result of consumer downgrades to both restaurant and general beverage dollars. The spending decrease has been felt most by the upscale segment of F&B programs as current gamers and patrons to casino resorts are spending more in the midscale and casual dining segments.
Unfortunately, capture rates are mirroring these declines as well. The F&B capture rate is defined as the number of food and beverage customers divided by the number of total patrons to the property. In existing casinos, including both large-scale resorts and smaller local facilities, the Innovation Group has tracked an average 4 percent drop in food and beverage facility capture rates this year, bringing the overall rate to the low 30s. Comparatively, since 2003, previous capture rates within urban casinos had been steadily climbing toward 37 percent, and even up to 43 percent for resort-style properties. For existing and future owners alike, the potential impact on seat demand should be obvious.
The most successful operators understand the importance of flexibility and responsiveness in such an environment. With that in mind, below are various operational strategies and development goals that your property can apply to capitalize on the changing spending patterns that impact casino F&B.
The Price-Value Relationship
Along with the drop in spending, gamer habits and expectations have shifted. The current gamer and resort patron is more mindful of the dollar, and expects the price-value relationship to be very high. In fact, in some cases, the patron actually wants that value relationship to be higher than before the decrease in spending.
Accordingly, any current F&B assessment must consider such responses as the introduction of value-conscious menu items, closing down certain restaurants during off-peak days and times and focusing on service and training to increase consistency. In addition, developers of new casinos need to pay particular attention to sizing parameters, capture rate declines and consumer desires, and create plans that allow for phased expansions within the F&B program.
How About A Free Lunch?
It's interesting to note that players' expectations for comps have (reasonably) been lowered, with patrons demonstrating that they are more accepting of fewer comps or a lower value thereof. This means there's an opportunity for those properties that can afford it to maintain an aggressive comp strategy.
It also means that since consumer expectations have changed, food comps have taken on a greater significance. Until recently, buffet comps were taken for granted. Now buffet and other casual food comps represent an opportunity to grow market share through an aggressive comp strategy. It will be important to analyze the costs associated with the comp program to make sure it is financially viable before implementing this strategy.
Maximize Hours of Operation
For existing operators in particular, it's important to analyze and potentially alter several key aspects within their respective food and beverage programs.
One of the first and easiest "fixes" is to analyze performance in order to identify opportunities to close certain restaurants during off-peak dining days and times. The main goal is to reduce the labor burden. For example, a reduced demand within the casino may allow for an upscale restaurant or fine dining restaurant to go dark Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. By closing or reducing the hours of the restaurant during these typically low-volume evenings, a potential operator can utilize a smaller staff while still maintaining full-time status for the employees.
Certain caveats are important to consider when closing a restaurant for off-peak meal periods. It's important to make sure that the segment mix within the casino remains balanced. If the steakhouse or fine dining outlet is closed on specific days, it will be necessary to offer a dining experience for the potential steakhouse customer in another outlet during that time frame. In large programs, this goal can be accomplished by staggering the closing days for the fine dining and upscale restaurants. This will create the balance needed within the overall program so that potential high-spend gamers and patrons have an outlet to dine in, all while allowing the operator to reduce labor spending.
In smaller operations-often defined as those with only two to three outlets-menu modification can be made in the midscale or casual restaurant in order to offer certain menu items from the closed restaurant. The MonteLago Casino in Lake Las Vegas, a resort with three restaurants, recently achieved an example of this. The operators chose to close the Portofino Steakhouse during off-peak days and broaden the menu at the midscale restaurant with popular steakhouse items. This allowed frequent patrons of the steakhouse and higher-spend gamers to have a fine dining experience outside the steakhouse. Also, by closing Portofino's, MonteLago at Lake Las Vegas was able to decrease labor and food costs and position itself better to weather the downturn in spending.
Continue to Emphasize Value
Another core aspect is to offer more price-conscious or higher-price value relationship items on menus. In order to capture the widest assortment of customers, it's imperative for higher-end outlets to add more cost-sensitive menu items. This could include cheaper cuts of meat or lower-priced seafood items, although it's important to not lose overall quality while utilizing lower-cost products on the menu. Remember, consumers are hypersensitive to quality and value at this juncture.
By broadening the menu options, upscale restaurants should be able to lower prices on certain menu items. While this could reduce overall check averages, it could also increase revenues through higher volume sales.
Think Out of the Box
Operators should also consider expanding venues that highlight cost-effectiveness and convenience, including the successful grab-and-go concept. Grab-and-go typically entails pre-made sandwiches and salads offered at a lower price point. As check averages within casinos decline, there's an opportunity to expand grab-and-go offerings to capture the "spending less" market.
Traditionally, grab-and-go outlets have not included high-profile brands, but with the shifts in consumer spending, more and more casinos are attracting lower-spend consumers with higher-profile value brands and concepts. While branding opportunities have been associated primarily with upscale and steakhouse segments until now, operators now have greater options for service brands related to the grab-and-go segment. On top of retaining existing customers, the new grab-and-go branding opportunities will attract new customers looking to spend less but still get a quality product.
On top of branding opportunities, operators now have the ability to lease out grab-and-go space to outside quick-service operators. Additionally, the property can form joint ventures and purchase franchises with successful concepts to help grow the expanding market and reach a higher market share potential.
Train the Staff You Rely On
Perhaps most importantly, as business and demand slows, existing operators can expand server training. Consumers are looking for a higher price-value relationship, so it's important to maintain high customer service standards and consistency in both the front and back of house. During these reduced demand times, operators should focus on customer satisfaction training, employee cross-functionality and product education. This is a prime tool to utilize to enhance the guest experience and build morale within the employee base.
One important tool for owners to consider is internal educational and training activities on F&B products and sales techniques. These activities can range from specific alcohol classes with on-site vendors to sales psychology classes with a local college professor. By providing free on-site education to the employee, he or she gets the chance to learn in an environment that will directly affect check averages and tips.
As restaurants trim labor costs because of shrinking revenues, cross-functionality training becomes even more prevalent. Because operating volumes are down, the slower pace of the restaurant may allow an operator to cross-train a bus person to become a server, or a cashier to become a buffet attendant. Creating multi-purpose food and beverage employees will allow operators to be flexible with staffing. In turn, this will allow a large multi-unit outlet facility to utilize employees across all the outlets, thus reducing overalls staffing needs and numbers.
One potential downside is negative employee motivation. Operators must walk a fine line to keep employees happy and motivated as they work in different restaurant environments. For example, it might be difficult to cross-train a fine dining captain to work in the midscale restaurant, but a bus boy in the midscale restaurant might be easily trained to be a back waiter in the fine dining location.
The Beverage Department
Interestingly, beverage sales have not seen the same decreases as food. Revenues are down 3 percent to 5 percent over the same period that food sales have decreased close to 10 percent. This is partially due to the fact that consumers tend to drink more during recessionary times.
Even so, consumers are trading down on beverage choices, spending more proportionally on beer and less expensive alcohols and ordering more well and call brand liquors than premium and super-premium brands.
Traditionally, the margin on the call and well brands is higher that premium alcohols-a blessing in disguise for F&B operators. In restaurants, wine sales have shifted from high-priced bottles from traditional wine-producing areas to value plays in the non-traditional, new-world wine regions. Additionally, operators are showing a trend to more wine-by-the- glass sales. For both restaurants and beverage-centric outlets, this shift has changed the way beverage revenues are coming into the property.
The midscale and upper-midscale segments of the F&B plan are positioned well to capitalize on this shift in beverage spending. These styles of restaurants have the ability to expand their wine-by-the-glass offerings and also modify the wine lists to include value wines from regions such as Chile, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand/Australia. By increasing these areas of the wine list and properly training the staff on sales techniques, these outlets should see an increase in wine sales.
Of all the changes listed above for both the restaurant and beverage departments, the beverage changes will be the easiest and cheapest strategies to employ. Also, because margins are traditionally higher within the beverage department, these changes will have quick and direct affects to the bottom line of the department.
On the Boards: Rules for Projects Not Yet in Operation
Prior to the downturn, the operator's strategy was: build it big, make it famous, charge a lot and the people will come. The current trend is to build more midscale and casual offerings with a high price-value relationship. For developers, the key for any food and beverage program is right-sizing. Just as casinos create a master plan for expansion, there needs to be a food and beverage master plan. As amenity and ancillary spending decreases, the food and beverage outlets will be used less. Developers must modify forecasts and create a value-sensitive F&B experience.
A corollary to that strategy is the ability to phase in new products quickly. Once spending increases, it will be important to integrate new outlets into the existing plan without a long development or lag time. It's important to constantly monitor the program and be ready to adjust to changing spending habits. Your F&B master plan should be built around the ability to expand or repurpose food and beverage venues quickly as amenity and ancillary spending increases.
This is an important consideration for existing operators, but it applies to planned facilities as well. One way for properties under construction to achieve this is to consider shelling out planned F&B areas and applying final finishes at a later date (when demand increases). Whether the building program includes a shelled-out space or leaves room for development is up to the individual developers and their resources. There are some inherent capital costs and risks associated with this approach, but as spending increases, the casino will be at a distinct time advantage to capitalize on the increased spending habits.
In either case, the current trend is toward midscale and casual seats and away from more elaborate fine dining options. The past 6 to 12 months have clearly shown that gamers are spending less on meals in casinos, but still demand a high quality food and beverage experience. By building more midscale yet still high quality seats, the casino will be able to capture a higher percentage of gamers within the food and beverage program. Appropriate size and positioning is the key.
Industry-wide, F&B venues have taken a hit. But it doesn't have to continue. Every property should aim to minimize the potential loss and capitalize on both the current trends and potential upside, including a focus on midscale and casual offerings sized appropriately for lower capture rates. By creating a higher price-value relationship, training and educating staff, and analyzing potential operational hours, existing casino operators will be better positioned to weather the current downturn.
Survival of the Fittest
The current economy has had a devastating impact on the gaming industry. This year, we've gathered 19 architects, designers, builders and casino executives who explain how they plan to survive (and, for some, thrive) during these challenging times.
They will explain how their companies plan to gain significant market share when the economy improves. Where and how their companies are spending precious resources to improve service, design and other professional skills. How they add value to their clients and customers, and how some operators have aggressively expanded their customer base. Why some believe mega-resorts will remain strong while others see something different on the horizon.
There are many commonly shared insights from this leadership group worth noting. Many of the companies have survived other economic downturns and are, once again, adjusting their businesses accordingly (staff reductions, fine-tuning their sound business practices, diversifying their product types, keeping expenses down and cash flow stable). Most believe that Indian gaming will remain active, with local casinos starting to design and plan for new developments. There are also divergent opinions about the look and feel of mega-resorts and their viability as a venue into the future. At least one company is actually experiencing an incredibly profitable, best-ever year, and at least one firm's leaders have opened their minds to explore design/build relationships.
Some say gaming will never be what it has been for the last 15 years or so. What is true is that we provide an escape from the humdrum of everyday. Our customers enjoy, if not yearn for, the entertainment experience we all design, build and operate-and shall do so into the future.
My thanks to all who took the time from their busy schedules to send us the responses to our questions.
-Julie Brinkerhoff Jacobs
Casino Design: As a gaming professional, what actions are you taking to survive (and possibly thrive) through this challenging business cycle? Are you reinventing your company or yourself to meet the current business climate?
JOEL BERGMAN: Inasmuch as several projects have not gone forward, BWA has taken the opportunity to re-evaluate its entire staffing needs. We have streamlined our production teams to be more efficient; we have increased a number of Revitt-competent teams; and, we have increased internal educational programs so as the economic and business environment changes, BWA will be poised to meet not only the current economic and business climate, but also the future business climate. Fortunately, BWA has several ongoing client relationships which have helped us through the current business cycle.
DON BRINKERHOFF: We are doing some incidental gaming remodels and additions on projects supplemental to existing facilities. We have also tightened our purse strings, have no debt on the business and own our building outright. We are working a great deal in Asia, which we owe to our highly visible projects in Las Vegas that have been visited by our Asian clients.
KIM DAOUST: No matter what we do when it comes to cutting back on some of our costs, we want to make sure that we never stop advertising. Many design companies actually tend to see the advertising budget as the easy option for budget cuts, because it is something that can be cut back overnight. But it is during these bad times that you want to actually capture the hearts and minds of consumers, and to do this you are going to need to advertise. In fact, many robust businesses actually increase their advertising during a recession.
BRETT EWING: We are very progressive in the use of technology (especially with our multiple offices), and we are leveraging it to the next level. We are implementing BIM (Building Information Modeling) as well as anyone in our market. Not only do our clients appreciate it; our contractors are seeing tremendous value in BIM when the entire project team is on board.
MIKE MECCA: Given the current economic environment, at Galaxy0 we have reviewed each and every program within the business, with the aim of identifying more efficient ways to achieve the desired result. We have identified significant savings across the business, and implemented procedures to capture these savings. This will deliver HKD $200 million in savings per annum. Further, we have closely reviewed our customers’ play and have instituted a program that focuses on delivering profitable play as distinct to focusing on just volume of play. Over the past year the Macau VIP gaming volumes have been down 22 percent, while Galaxy’s VIP volumes are up 17 percent. Finally, we have beefed up our service standard to an even higher level, to ensure repeat business from our valued customers.
AL MOSLEY: Make sure you are running your company and your property as efficiently as possible. Make sure you look carefully at your business plan and company strategy to make sure it works in this current economic environment. After the first quarter, we scrutinized each department and adjusted them as we saw fit. We are proactively targeting our main customer base and, as a result, we have seen business grow in a positive direction since December. It is still down from projections, but it is stabilizing. We have also found that a destination casino resort can intimidate our local customers, so be prepared to address their concerns, whatever they may be. We have also expanded our local customer base from nearby to include a one-hour drive market, all the way to Albuquerque. In addition, our decision to use Hilton has proven to be most beneficial for the hotel/resort portion of the property.
DICK RIZZO: We are finishing what we have on the books. It’s also been our best year ever. Our biggest challenge is making sure the projects get funded, and then completing them on time. We have a $3 billion backlog to finish before the end of the year. As we look forward, how can we help our clients finish their projects? We are preparing a white paper, which will examine how our clients can properly receive some of the stimulus package (the non-gaming amenities) money. This white paper will also examine how much money is available. There are approximately 30-40 financial institutions that will provide funding. We want to identify the ones that can assist our clients.
KELLY STECHSCHULTE: Illuminating Concepts has always remained as diverse as possible with regard to the type of project or industries that we work in, allowing us to not rely on a sole industry for a source of business. That said, IC is very active in the gaming industry, with large projects progressing through financing difficulties and some that have temporarily stalled. Our experience in the implementation of large-scale projects has enabled our team to work directly with the project owners, manufacturers and contracting teams to develop cost savings and appropriate installation methods that benefit the overall project budget. In these difficult times, we have found that the strong relationships we have developed through a vast number of successful projects have been of great benefit as we have pursued peer review and value engineering processes.
DAVID STEWART: Our strategies remain focused on value-driven amenities and guest satisfaction. While we believe there is convincing evidence of challenging economic conditions and outlook, gamers continue to look for experiential relief and value. Customers are taking a harder look at where they spend their gaming wallet, which, we believe, provides opportunity for good operators. In addition, we are looking at every dollar spent to ensure it is allocated and aligned to influence customer decision-making and drive traffic.
In your opinion, will the mega-resort still be a viable gaming venue in the future? If not, what will future gaming development look like?
CHUCK BRAGITIKOS: The fundamentals are still the fundamentals, with market potential, demographics, tax environments and competitive landscape determining the appropriate scale of project. Certain markets can support, and in fact, call for large-scale destination projects. The balance sheets of most gaming companies, however, will preclude these developments for the near and mid term. I suppose there could be some new better-capitalized entrants into the market, but it’s not at all clear who these might be.
LEE CAGLEY: Sure, but it has to be understood by the mega-resort operator who the customer is. If a large resort is not able to deliver value and customer service that exceed the expectations of a very discriminating and fickle younger audience, it won’t survive. If not, what will future gaming development look like? It will be local, highly focused on service and rewards, socially open, niche-oriented and very tech-savvy.
EWING: I believe the mega-resort product will continue to develop, especially as gaming continues to expand in regions where the environment has something to complement the resort—outside of its walls. You are going to see more partnerships in the future. Our project examples are Buffalo Thunder in Santa Fe, which is a Hilton brand; and our recently opened Cherokee project in Tulsa, which has been re-branded as a Hard Rock.
BRAD FRIEDMUTTER: While the mega-resort model may not soon be replicated, the already-existing properties provide a tremendous amount of infrastructure that will continue to generate the need for growth and renovation within their own properties and any surrounding properties, as they respond to the regional demands. The amenity-rich property is here to stay, as the expectations and level of sophistication of the consumer continue to broaden, and this will continue to be translated into smaller boutique properties, as well as much larger resorts.
KIRK HARMAN: The most viable projects today are the smaller-scale expansions, local casinos and racinos, particularly in the jurisdictions where gaming has only recently been passed. As it becomes more difficult to raise tax dollars, states are stepping into or stepping up their participation in gaming. The first round of recovery in gaming construction looks to be in these smaller projects. It may take a few years before the mega-resort projects appear again but if the established gaming towns like Las Vegas and Atlantic City are to survive the competition for business, they will need to attract the travelers and remain destination towns.
PAUL HERETAKIS: I feel that there will always be a need for a mega-resort, but they will probably dwindle down to a few popular vacation destination markets. I believe that the smaller gaming venues that are geared toward locals will begin to take over. These properties tend to offer all of the same food and entertainment venues, but it’s more convenient. “Stay-cations” are becoming the status quo. Folks can get in and get out, for very little money, have just as much fun, and they don’t have to leave town.
KEN KULAS: We’re sensing that the approach to mega-resorts will no longer be the once-familiar projects. Venues that seem to have individuality and bits of history will somehow magically be ganged together to produce a single area to draw customers. With that thought, we are working to diversify our business by focusing even more on prospects outside of the gaming industry. We are looking to the club owners, restaurant groups and commercial office building owners. In doing so, we are directing our marketing materials to appeal to this market and making potential clients aware of our strengths in these areas of design.
MECCA: We are continuing to build Galaxy Macau-Cotai. To date we have invested HKD $4 billion, and this year we will invest a further HKD $2 billion. We are fully committed to and believe in our Cotai project. At Cotai we are developing a fully integrated casino resort, with three different hotels—each hotel offering a different price point, experience, service standard and level of luxury. As a corporation, Galaxy has always been focused on ROI. We do not believe in over-investing in a property. Our aim is to deliver affordable luxury. As an example, not all customers want 24 carat gold bathroom fittings. But customers still want an experience, attention and service. We are confident that the Galaxy project will deliver a healthy ROI.
What markets, either domestic or international, seem to be gearing up for the next wave of development? Are there any areas of business that are proceeding that are not directly gaming, but are affiliated with gaming companies?
TOM HOSKENS: Emerging gaming, as always, is the best bet. We see tremendous potential both nationally and internationally beyond the established markets. Emerging gaming markets in other Southeast Asian countries and in Latin America represent new opportunities, and we are exploring these potentials with our established network of clients and consultants. Whether national or international, regional markets with near monopolies are strong contenders for growth. Regional destinations with small tax implications are also potential markets of development. Business opportunities drive these decisions.
MECCA: Within Asia there are a number of countries that are actively moving forward with major resorts, even in the current economic environment. These include Macau, Singapore, Vietnam, Korea and the Philippines. In the near future, it is expected that other resorts will be announced. Please keep in mind that these integrated resorts are extremely large, and the lead time to bring a project on line makes it a multi-year task. The current projects are looking toward the future, realizing that the current economic environment will pass in time.
MOSLEY: I read the newspapers every morning to see what’s going on. I believe there are some international markets that are still going strong. But domestically, gaming is very, very slow. Even if you wanted to expand or start new projects, money is so expensive that it is cost-prohibitive.
ETHAN NELSON: Asia remains strong. We anticipate the continued emergence of South American economies.
RIZZO: Native American projects are strong—particularly in California and Florida. Lots of discussions are going on right now, and expansion plans are defiantly moving forward. Native American opportunities in New York are also likely to move forward. States will aggressively pursue gaming work now to offset their budget deficits.
MICHAEL STEWART: There is potential all over the world for future gaming and hospitality projects. Gaming is obviously restricted in numerous areas. However, that is changing on a daily basis, and you need to stay aware of where potential new markets are opening up.
TOM SYKES: The reduction in scale of casino-oriented hospitality projects, the mandate of regional identity, quality design and superior service may very well lead to more projects, but smaller scale, clustered for critical mass, individually owned and operated for market protection, cooperative in their marketing program and vicious about their amenities versus their neighbor’s.
How important has it become to work closely with other companies, such as design consultants, builders or competitors, to make sure that you get a share of the business that still exists?
DIKE BACON: Success in this business is often a direct result of relationships and intelligence sharing. We have many vertical (non-competitor) and horizontal (competitor) business partners in the industry that have been and will continue to be critical to our success. The aggressive and strategic leverage of the right partnerships will define the industry leaders of the future.
CAGLEY: We believe it’s more important to have a great reputation than great connections. We have served our core customers well, and produced designs that have stood the test of time and utility, and the business that is starting up again will go to those who can deliver originality without sacrificing practicality.
FRIEDMUTTER: The nature of our industry and the philosophy of our company have always been to embrace teamwork and collaboration in order to produce the most successful project outcome. We provide everything from core and shell architectural design through interior fit-out to providing a singular service, such as executive architect, and coordinating with a variety of additional designers. It has always been very important to work with our consultants and colleagues in a cooperative fashion, and we have found great success and satisfaction in forming these relationships, thereby providing the client with the most comprehensive, knowledgeable and proven team available. In today’s climate, it continues to be vitally important to work together to ensure our collective ongoing success.
HERETAKIS: I believe that it is very important to maintain open relations with fellow companies/consultants and competitors. Budgets for projects have become limited, and they force architects and builders to be on the same page, working closely in order to maintain the budgets. We all must be partners in order to make projects successful.
KULAS: Developing trust with your colleagues that share the same industry is very important. We have always maintained the philosophy that a cohesive and proactive team that works well with each other will create a better product that the client/owner can appreciate and be proud of. Additionally, other businesses that know of your capabilities, and vice versa, allow recommendations for work to be voiced confidently. In looking to the future, we project that budgets and timelines will become even tighter. Because of this, we think owners will want to put together a design/build team that has either worked together in the past or has a reputation of working well with others to carry out the design goals of the project.
STECHSCHULTE: Active networking and maintaining strong relationships has always been of high priority, regardless of the financial situation; our future work is fully dependent on these relationships and the success of each project. Specifically with MGM’s CityCenter project, IC’s role as executive lighting consultant has allowed us to work at a level with the owner, architects, contractors and designers that is far from typical. Responsibilities such as peer review, design coordination, value engineering and procurement direction have resulted in IC achieving the confidence of our clients and collaborators, which we hope will lead to more widespread consideration for future projects, including those that require a cost-conscious but high level of design.
SYKES: For so long, we all preached the focus change of casino development to the broader venue of entertainment. Entertainment is ever refreshing, continuously creative and, while familiar, always in change. It worked. The casino industry is truly the entertainment industry today, which is exactly why we are all suffering together. While casinos are somewhat recession-proof, entertainment venues are the first to fall. We should not regret the victory of entertainment, but we should mature with wisdom, magnitude and quality of our investments. As such, we have all learned collaboration cooperation. Empowering each other with the opportunity to contribute our particular talents always enriches a project, always allows the client to get the best of what we all have to offer, humbles all of us and can result in some really great work. Profits will follow a healthy process.
Any prediction you would like to make about when this business cycle is likely to improve?
BRINKERHOFF: When lending begins to loosen up. We are also in dialogues with gaming clients that are working at starting initial designs again before the end of the year.
HARMAN: Stimulating the economy through government agencies is a bit like putting out a fire with a hose that is riddled with holes. No matter how much water goes in the one end, only a small fraction actually comes out the other. Government is a non-producer of GDP. Funds are wasted on bureaucracy and trickle into the economy where the real work gets done. The gaming and resort industry relies on disposable income. People need jobs and confidence to part with disposable income. Small business accounts for some 80 percent of employment in this country. The government’s stimulus efforts have concentrated on big business and government so far. Nothing is working its way to the real employers in the economy, small business owners. (Which includes most design firms.)
HOSKENS: The business cycle tipping point will vary with each region. Some markets are starting to see the first signs of life. International emerging markets will re-energize first; U.S. emerging markets will continue their slow climb out of the recession. The last markets to resume development beyond renovations will likely be Las Vegas (still overbuilt) and Atlantic City (a perfect time for reinvention for those with perseverance).
MECCA: Regardless of the economy, people still want to have an enjoyable experience, and if a corporation has carefully managed its capital investment, then the project should still be in a position to deliver a suitable ROI, even today.
MOSLEY: I think that the leisure business will lag somewhat before the vacation travel will kick in again. Once things pick up economically, people may loosen their pocketbooks. For now, people are still saving their dollars and have a “wait and see” attitude.
NELSON: The current economic downturn has highlighted the complexity of the global economy. We are noticing multiple economies emerge. In some regions, the downturn has been modes, and recovery is already in sight. In others, the downturn has been more structural. While we anticipate that it will be some time before there is a consensus that the current economic challenges are behind us, there are ample opportunities for those who are willing to seize all available opportunities.
Dike Bacon is a principal and director of planning and development of Hnedak Bobo Group, and is focused on influencing and aligning the firm's expertise, multi-disciplines and national presence with client objectives and vision. His experience spans 30 years and supports his leadership balancing dynamic programmatic objectives with market-focused economics. Clients leverage his extensive industry knowledge to make sound strategic and tactical decisions from concept to completion. Bacon's project experience includes major hospitality/entertainment resorts throughout the U.S.
Joel Bergman, co-founder of Bergman Walls, began his career with the legendary architect Martin Stern, Jr., who defined the Las Vegas skyline with such projects as Hilton International, the Sands Resort Hotel, Sahara Hotel Casino and MGM Grand Hotel, among others. Bergman worked as Steve Wynn's in-house architect, creating the Mirage, Treasure Island and the Golden Nugget properties in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Laughlin. Bergman has successfully proven to be a leader in architectural master-planning and design with projects like Fontainebleau Las Vegas, Caesars Palace Las Vegas, L'Auberge du Lac Louisiana, Barona Valley Ranch San Diego, Snoqualmie Casino Washington, Paris Las Vegas and many others.
Chuck Bragitikos, principal with Vibrant Development, has worked with gaming companies, REITs, private developers, professional sports teams and the public sector on conceiving and developing retail, dining and entertainment destinations. Bragitikos' current gaming work includes acting as strategic adviser and owner's representative for Revel Entertainment and Morgan Stanley on the development of a $2.5 billion resort in Atlantic City. Bragitikos has a passion for creating strategic partnerships for the implementation of development projects. He has worked with a wide range of development companies and is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Don Brinkerhoff, as chairman and CEO, guides Lifescapes International's award-winning landscape architectural design team on virtually all projects worldwide. 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). Brinkerhoff received the American Gaming Association's Sarno Award in 2006.
Lee Cagley is one of the principals of Cagley & Tanner, an award-winning Las Vegas-based interior design firm specializing in hospitality, leisure, wellness and resort design worldwide. Cagley & Tanner's work for the Flamingo Las Vegas was recently rewarded as the only gaming hotel worldwide listed in Travel and Leisure's book of The World's Greatest Hotels, Resorts, and Spas. Cagley has been a practicing interior designer and industry leader for over 30 years, and was recently appointed as the director of the interior design curriculum for the College of Design at Iowa State University.
Kimberly Daoust is principal and partner at Tandem, a Las Vegas-based interior design firm she co-founded in 2005. Daoust oversees client relations and serves as the team's visionary, creating architecturally exciting interiors and well-planned spaces with thoughtful, imaginative finishes that incorporate clients' creative concepts. Daoust offers more than 13 years of industry experience. Prior to founding Tandem, she oversaw and executed an array of interior design projects while working as creative director of interior design at Steelman Partners, and before that as senior project interior designer at Friedmutter Group.
Brett K. Ewing is a partner with Thalden Boyd Emery Architects. Prior to joining the firm, Ewing served as president of architecture and interior design for Marnell Corrao Associates for over seven years, and has worked on impressive projects on the Las Vegas Strip. Ewing complements Thalden Boyd Emery Architects with his more than 25 years of experience in the gaming, hospitality and entertainment industry.
Brad Friedmutter, AIA, is founder and CEO of Friedmutter Group and a graduate of Cooper Union School of Architecture. In the hospitality industry for more than 35 years, Friedmutter worked as vice president of design and construction for Steve Wynn and Mirage Resorts, Inc., and as vice president of design and construction for Bally's Entertainment. Friedmutter Group was incorporated in 1992, and provides architecture, themed design, master planning, interior design and branding services, for hospitality and gaming projects throughout the United States.
D. Kirk Harman is president and managing principal of the Harman Group. Harman leads the operation of the company which he co-founded in 1984 as Cagley Harman & Associates. The Harman Group provides full structural engineering services for a variety of building types including gaming, hospitality and entertainment. The firm also has an in-house parking design team, providing full-service planning and design for parking structures. Recent projects of note include the 5.5 million-square-foot Revel Casino Resort and the 42-story Chairman Tower at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
Paul Heretakis, RA, vice president of WESTAR Architects, has over 15 years of experience overseeing hospitality design and mixed-use, master-planning projects throughout the world. WESTAR Architects is a key player in the hospitality design field, and has worked with some of the largest gaming companies in the industry-Las Vegas Sands, MGM Mirage, Harrah's Entertainment, Penn National Gaming, Trump Entertainment and others. His portfolio includes over 1,000 casino, restaurant, retail and hotel projects.
Tom Hoskens, a principal with the Cuningham Group, 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.
Ken Kulas was a part of the MGM Mirage Resorts in-house design team for almost 10 years. In 2000, Kulas partnered with Ann Fleming to form Cleo Design. Right out of the gate they completed two Seminole Hard Rock Casinos within just a few years. This experience, combined with the knowledge from MGM Mirage, set the pace for the successful completion of Indiana Live! Casino, The Rivers Casino, and the 2008 G2E award-winning MGM Detroit Grand Casino.
Michael Mecca is president and chief operating officer of Galaxy Entertainment Group, which operates casinos in Macau. He was previously president and chief executive officer of OpBiz, which has operated Planet Hollywood Casino Hotel in Las Vegas since May 2003. Mecca has over 30 years of experience in the hotel and gaming industries, including leadership positions at Green Valley Ranch, Greektown Casino, Mandalay Bay and others. Mecca managed the development of the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia, one of the largest casinos in the world.
Allen F. Mosley is chief executive officer for the Pueblo of Pojoaque in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mosley received his bachelor of arts degree in Business Administration from New Mexico State University. He has almost 30 years experience in the areas of accounting, management and financial planning, obtaining loans, budget preparation and implementation and investment banking. In 1996, Mosley was hired by the Pueblo of Pojoaque to oversee the financial operation of all business and development, including a horseracing track in Santa Fe.
Ethan S. Nelson, AIA, is president of Steelman Partners, overseeing project delivery, business development and operations. He is also responsible for implementing many aspects of the firm's strategic plan. Nelson's varied expertise has contributed to the successful execution of numerous projects for a client list that includes MGM Mirage, Station Casinos, Hard Rock, the Venetian and Harrah's Entertainment. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Haverford College and a master of architecture degree from Columbia University.
Dick Rizzo is vice chairman of the Perini Building Company. He 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.
Kelly Stechschulte is a design director at Illuminating Concepts, a full-service lighting and multimedia design firm located in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Stechschulte is currently leading IC's design team in its massive role as executive lighting consultant for MGM Mirage's CityCenter Project in Las Vegas, which is scheduled for completion in December. During Stechschulte's 15 years with IC, she has led the design of a wide range of award-winning projects nationally and internationally for top brands such as Audi of North America, Saks Inc., Nike and Westin Hotels.
David Stewart is the president and chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Entertainment, LLC, the wholly owned tribal company that manages and operates the gaming, retail, hospitality and entertainment enterprises of the Cherokee Nation. CNE operates seven casinos and a racetrack, and has completed expansions totaling more than $250 million at the various locations. Recently, the company brought the Hard Rock brand to its flagship resort in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Stewart also acts as the chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Businesses, LLC, which is charged with economic development, business diversification, and providing shared services across the Cherokee Nation's business entities.
Michael Stewart, AIA, is associate architect and director of Asian operations for YWS. He is an award-winning designer who has extensive experience with large-scale projects including Bellagio, Treasure Island and M Resort in Las Vegas; Borgata in Atlantic City; and the Sandia Hotel & Casino in New Mexico. Among his many national awards are Global Gaming Expo's 2003 Best Design Project over $250 Million and Hospitality Magazine's 2005 Hospy Award for the Best Suites and Best Spa.
Thomas J. Sykes, AIA, PP, has over 30 years of experience in hospitality design. In 1979, he founded the firm that has since grown into SOSH Architects, and his vision has taken the firm from a solo practice to a firm of more than 75 design professionals and support personnel. SOSH has extensive experience in hospitality and gaming design, and has served major hospitality companies worldwide including Caesars/Harrahs, Trump, MGM, Seneca Nation, Revel Entertainment, Hard Rock, Disney ESPN, Sofitel, Novotel, Storm International, Mohegan Sun, Isle of Capri and many others.
Spurred to Success
In October 2008, Delaware North Companies of Buffalo, NY won the rights to build and operate a casino at Aqueduct racetrack.
That deal fell through in March, a casualty of the recession. But when the bidding reopened a few weeks later, half a dozen companies lined up to vie for the rights-including Delaware North, back for a second go at the lucrative concession.
Aqueduct may be the most prominent racino project in the pipeline today; located in Queens borough, it would be the first casino smack-dab in the middle of New York City. But with 44 racetrack casinos in 12 states seeing double-digit growth despite an economic slump, half a dozen states in the U.S. are now considering these hybrid operations, which are also multiplying in Canada.
For gaming operators and their host states, racetrack casinos are a way to use space already assigned for wagering to expand the gaming menu and generate potential millions in annual revenue. For horsemen, racinos are seen as a way to save a flagging industry and turn a perceived competitor-the casino-into an ally.
'Racing in its heyday could attract 10,000 people on a Saturday afternoon, but those days are, for the most part, gone," says Joe Emanuele, vice president of Friedmutter Group Architecture & Design of Las Vegas, which is working on the Coronado Park racino project in New Mexico. "When you add a casino to a racetrack, it's racing that benefits, with more revenues, more races, better purses. In every jurisdiction I can think of, when a casino comes to the facility, it's sparked the industry."
But how to take an existing venue-one that may be decades old, or older-and add space for gaming that makes sense, aesthetically and from a practical standpoint?
"The challenge," says Emanuele, "is to integrate the two sides so people feel they're coming to a new place, an integrated entertainment facility, and not the same old racetrack."
But in this race, the track doesn't want to be perceived as coming in second. Though the racing season is brief and most casinos run 24/7, track owners-usually diehard horse people-want to maintain the sport of kings and the loyalty of horse bettors, who may have patronized a facility for years before gaming came along.
"It's an expansion of the base, not a shift from one to the other," says Emanuele. "In addition to the benefit for racing of casinos and slot machines, people on the casino side are getting an introduction to the kind of nostalgic leisure activity their grandparents enjoyed-the tranquility of horses and green spaces."
Old Meets New
The balance between racing and gaming has been achieved with notable success at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The venerable century-old racetrack raised its purses twice this year for a total of almost $16 million, and even added a $500,000 "participation incentive." The racing handle is up 3 percent, and track attendance over the 54-day meet is up too-to more than 625,000 people.
This fiscal renaissance, which has been clearly linked to gaming, started modestly. In 2000, Oaklawn equipped two small rooms under its grandstand with 50 electronic "historic racing" games. Spurred by the success of those rooms, in 2003 track owners added a 37,500-square-foot space with 500 more games. And in May, Oaklawn completed a $40 million expansion with 650 games including electronic poker and blackjack. Another addition, to be complete next year, will include up to 1,100 total gaming positions, a buffet and restaurant, and a poker room in a total of 90,000 square feet.
The architect for the recent expansion is Hnedak Bobo Group of Memphis. At Oaklawn, designer Shawn Hobbs and principal Craig Conrad found obstacles galore, both literal and figurative: a venue built to obsolete code; a long, a linear grandstand with "a lot of columns where you don't want them;" and little of the technological infrastructure needed for gaming.
To integrate all-new casino space with an aging structure required "a lot of calisthenics in terms of moving electrical services and building firewalls," as well as installing hidden systems (surveillance, air quality, sound), Hobbs says.
Though the design team at one point considered a freestanding hall, operational efficiencies demanded that everything remain under one roof. A buffet, kitchen and other amenities were tucked under the grandstand; the formula for a traditional casino floor required some tinkering too.
"Casinos are usually rectangular or square, with retail and restaurants on the perimeter to activate and energize the floor," says Hobbs. But at Oaklawn, new gaming space was "plugged onto one end of the existing space and wrapped around" the long, four-story grandstand.
To match the new wing to the older structure (which was built in three stages from 1958 through 1979), the Hnedak Bobo team employed "a simple aesthetic with simple materials" for a streamlined look, says Conrad.
"Our building is designed to be a little more austere, with the excitement and 'wow' factor on the interior."
Shared space is accessed from two different entryways for two different sets of patrons-a necessity, as the legal age to gamble in Arkansas is 21, and racing for many in the state is a family affair. The visual transition between racing and gaming areas is made through the use of design features overhead and underfoot.
"We continue strong planes or elements in the ceiling, repeating them from the old space to the new" for a cohesive look, says Hobbs. "In the floor pattern and carpeting, we also carry ideas visually in the field of view from one place to the other to make it look seamless."
Though there is no overt nod to horse racing in the gaming section, he adds, subtle references can be found by anyone who looks for them.
"Not many people pick up on it, but the floor pattern of the casino includes an abstract theme, a series of galloping horses," he says. "What we tried to do is conceptually integrate ideas of speed, of dynamic movement, without being obvious."
As for rebranding the facility to reflect new gaming options, the Cella family, which owns Oaklawn, emphasized tradition.
"Oaklawn is the oldest privately owned track in the country; that name has far more brand recognition than any other name they'd come up with," says Conrad. "This game room has essentially become an amenity, an additional offering that's evolved over time."
Hence the name Oaklawn Racing & Gaming.
SOSH Architects of Atlantic City and New York faced a unique scenario when they took on the design of Harrah's Chester, a racino on the Delaware River outside Philadelphia. Unlike other racinos, Harrah's Chester was built from the ground up, on the site of the former Sun Shipyards.
Casino officials selected the site "because they felt that when gaming was passed in Pennsylvania, track licenses would be cut loose first," says SOSH founding partner Tom O'Connor. "Harrah's proposed a site with neither part of the development in place, in hopes that they could jump-start their chances of opening and have a year of operations before slots were approved. And they were dead-on."
The look of the facility was inspired by the area's industrial past; the configuration was dictated by its riverfront locale.
"We took our cues from the industry we replaced," says O'Connor. The result is "a kind of retro industrial chic in terms of building materials. We maintained the steel frame of the existing building, kept the structural bones, and built a new outer shell. And we dropped the track along the river."
But with just 60 acres at their disposal-racetracks typically require 180 to 200 acres-"that left a pretty minimal area for the casino, which led to different architectural solutions," O'Connor says. "We had to stack everything."
The result is a four-story, 400,000-square-foot facility with 3,000 slot machines joined to the racing oval by a pedestrian bridge. The ground level is the entranceway with valet parking; 20 feet up is the racing level with grandstands, simulcasts and some dining; 20 feet above that is the 150,000-square-foot casino.
Harrah's Chester "has a very long, linear feel, and the challenge there was to create attractions to pull you," says O'Connor. "You don't want to feel like it's a hike-it should feel like a quest, where you discover things along the way. A lot of the food venues are a magnet to pull people through the space. There's a diner, a 24-hour buffet, a sports restaurant and a fine-dining clubhouse."
Construction of the 5/8-mile track presented its own difficulties. The onetime shipyard included old shipways that, for environmental reasons, could not be filled.
"We are not racing people," says O'Connor. "So we went where people know how to design racetracks-Lexington, Kentucky."
To complete the track, they bridged the shipways and then screened them, so horses would not realize that in the banked second turn of the race, they are actually running over water.
Advice from the horsey set is indispensable during the design phase, observes Hnedak Bobo's Hobbs. When the firm's designers were developing Oaklawn, they were told to avoid the colors blue and green.
"Most people speculate that horses are color blind, but they do see color values, and bright or highly contrasting shades can startle them," says Hobbs. "You don't want a horse like Smarty Jones getting scared and running off the end of the track."
Vegas at the Track
Hailed in Global Gaming Business magazine as "Vegas at the track," the Meadows racino near Pittsburgh, a Cannery Resorts property, opened with a bang on April 15. Even on tax day in the middle of a recession, 10,000 patrons flocked to the racino, jamming the highway for hours and setting new records in the Keystone State.
The transformation of a 45-year-old standardbred track into a multi-purpose destination cost $175 million-a modest investment considering the result. With multiple restaurants and bars, retail spaces, a banquet hall and even a 24-lane bowling alley, the all-new Meadows is an artful fusion of gaming, racing and entertainment that transitions logically from one sector to the next.
"Integrating the racing and gaming components maximizes the synergies in all of the facilities," says project architect David Climans of Climans Green Liang of Toronto, specialists in racino design. "It was one of our main objectives to make the racing and gaming somewhat seamless."
On the casino side, designers went for a true Las Vegas vibe, with subdued lighting, high ceilings and oversized color portraits of the Las Vegas Cannery casinos. CGL and interior design firm Yates-Silverman Inc. also evoked "a subtle equestrian image" within "an exciting timeless design and sophisticated atmosphere," according to Climans.
Though there has not been much overlap between the racing customer and the gaming customer, "positive cross-traffic can be encouraged with an open flow from the gaming floor to racing, while respecting the individual needs of the distinctly different customers," says Climans. "By having restaurants that overlook the racetrack, the excitement of racing will hopefully be felt by the patrons who originally came to play slots.
Casino vs. Racing
But variations are inevitable in the two spaces.
At Oaklawn Park, it was not economical to upgrade finishes in the grandstand: "It's only used 60 days a year," says Craig Conrad, "and it doesn't pay to spend a whole lot of money to renovate."
Finishes in the casino, however, had to be lustrous, he says. "Gone are the days of putting gaming machines on a concrete floor. Mainstream customers are going to expect what they see in other gaming environments."
"It's hard for racetracks to justify putting in higher-level amenities for a finite operation that runs for such a short period," agrees Larry Tombari, president of business development for the Friedmutter Group. "But gamers coming in with higher budgets can invest in them."
Because racetracks and casinos attract different customers at different times of the day and night, it's vital that the casino side "announce" itself with an entryway that is more formal and glamorous, says Friedmutter's Emanuele.
"Whether that is a porte cochere or not, the access, the first impression of the facility is one of the most important statements."
As columnist Joe Bob Briggs wrote in 2003, "The only racetracks to really thrive are the ones that have slot machines. In many cases their live handle has continued to decline, but their revenues have shot up so fast that they're able to offer the biggest purses, and thereby attract the best horses."
Six years later, Tombari echoes that sentiment. "In virtually every state that's tried it," Tombari says, "racinos have basically saved horse racing."
Building to Spec
Two years ago construction companies had more casino projects than they could handle. They were in clover, four leafed clover.
A year ago the clover dried up. The bottom dropped out. Several projects are half completed in Las Vegas. Indian gaming projects nationwide have halted in mid-stride. The biggest gaming companies have cut capital budgets as much as 90 percent.
Companies that once turned away clients are scrambling in a market where financing has evaporated. They are looking overseas. They are competing for public works. They seek to become as lean as possible for a protracted dry spell. They are getting creative.
If financing were not almost unavailable, this would be a great time to build. Contractors and subcontractors are hungry. Raw materials are cheaper and easier to obtain.
Tough as times are, some things casinos MUST do. Like maintain hotel rooms.
Purchasing Management International, L.P. is the leading purchasing agent. Since its founding in 1993 by Bill Langmade, it has sourced, purchased and installed over $1.5 billion in hotel, resort and casino furnishings. PMI works with a designer or architect to install designer-oriented products, including specialty lighting fixtures and millwork.
Langmade calls the market "pretty grim. Many projects are on hold. Some are on a slowdown. Most of our projects with major corporations have stopped."
The market shrunk 60 percent "overnight." "There are signs of life-but most companies don't want to fix up big areas. But they do want customers to stay in the nicest suites as they can."
A "soft" renovation replaces carpets, bedding and drapes. A complete renovation would be everything, including lighting. "The big hotels constantly upgrade room by room," Langmade says.
For the countercyclical players, "it is a great time because the cost has gone down so much. But it is difficult to get affordable or in fact any financing," he says.
Materials are cheaper but often harder to acquire. "The price has dropped, but lead times for fabrics for custom-made goods have increased. The recession has hit China and everyone else. In China 20,000 factories closed. Instead of five companies supplying furniture there might be one."
That requires more advance planning.
PMI has gotten creative. "You've got to get out of your chair, get on a plane and go meet with every client and say, 'We are still here. We want your business.'"
They cut everywhere-except marketing. "We started this before the downturn. That's when you need to advertise to get a share of the shrinking pie.
"Most of our clients are budgeting for next year and after. You've got to be flexible enough to go away for a few months but be ready when they are ready.
"Our goal is to break even and not lay anyone off. Most gaming companies had serious personnel cutbacks in construction, design and purchasing. They must outsource, so we have opportunities for more work-and we'd better be ready!"
Identifying New Financing
Perini Building Company is the largest builder of hospitality and gaming resorts in the U.S. It is building CityCenter, the largest privately funded project in the country; and the Cosmopolitan Resort & Casino, both in Las Vegas.
Vice President Dick Rizzo says this year will be the company's very best in its 115-year history, due to its backlog. "Unfortunately to replace that backlog going into 2010 is our challenge now. Most of our work is negotiated and designed two or three years before construction. A good 80 percent is stalled because our clients are having difficulty identifying financing."
Perini is proactively identifying funding sources. "We have always had contacts with financial resources but that has never been a focus," says Rizzo. "Now it is. We hired a consultant to make a list of people we have worked with. We interview them to find out their appetite and how interested they are."
Along with bond and legal associates, Perini is preparing a white paper on the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus legislation, including Build America Bonds (BABS) and Tribal Economic Development Bonds.
"Such funding is good for hotels and convention centers, everything except the casino," says Rizzo. "BABS are also appropriate for private hotel developers.
"If you have the financing there could not be a better time to build. Prices have significantly declined-at least 10 percent. But someone would have to have money in hand," says Rizzo.
Subcontractors are more flexible and cost-competitive. "Where the project has been put on hold- after it is taken off hold and we ask the same subcontractor to re-price it to current conditions-99 percent of the time the cost comes down," says Rizzo.
Equally important are payment terms. "If we can offer an incentive to sharpen their pencil we convince our clients to pay more frequently," i.e. let subs bill in the middle of the month for labor and for the entire job at the end of the month.
Another way to get money flowing is through public-private partnerships. Perini is working with one private investor on an arena on Indian land.
"That will become more common. It's one of the few ways to overcome a lack of financing by the tribes," says Rizzo.
KHS&S Contractors has lost half of its revenue from Las Vegas, where it is based. "We lean towards hospitality, gaming and medical. Those projects tend to be large," says Senior Vice President John Platon, who, when we interviewed him, had just returned from Singapore.
"We saw what was happening a year ago and ventured overseas," says Platon. "In Singapore they are well under way with the Sands and Star Cruise Lines is building a casino."
"The economy in Dubai has made headlines but Abu Dhabi is pretty busy. There's a light at the end of the tunnel in that Macau is going to be back online."
Many contractors seek overseas suppliers for lower prices but Platon warns, "You have to qualify people more. Before using somebody we put a quality control manager in their factory."
KHS&S has become creative. "We purchased a company that developed software to promote forward thinking. It identifies problems before they happen," says Platon. "You have to come up with a better mousetrap. Right now that is technology-based."
San Diego-based Roel Construction has customers in Indian gaming, and Boyd Gaming in Las Vegas. According to CEO Wayne Hickey, "Revenue is off considerably. We are making adjustments to overhead and staff. Looking into markets where traditionally Roel has not been." Those include military, public works and health care.
"We do design-build-something the industry is going for. Design-build can be more economical if the tribe, and the decision makers, define the project well and the design-build team does a good job of providing the needs to match the program."
Hickey doesn't see much change in the price of materials, although they are easier to get. But he sees labor prices declining.
Roel is also deploying software programs that help one do the work of two. "When there is a lot of work you concentrate on executing it. But when it slows down you look at your systems," says Hickey.
Florida-based ROI Gaming & Hospitality is not just surviving, it's thriving through a program where casino and hospitality customers are handed a turn key hotel business-at a discount.
Their credit must be pristine. They need to be well capitalized and they can't be heavily leveraged.
ROI founder Tim Rose worked with both Bally and Trump for many years in property development. He started ROI in the 1990s.
In his most recent partnership with the Three Rivers Casino and Hotel in Oregon, he created the turn key hotel development model.
"Five-hundred-million-dollar casino deals are not going to be done anytime soon," he says. "I knew of plenty of well-capitalized mid-size casinos that didn't have lodging but were ready to go the next level."
ROI stands for "return on investment." "My philosophy is if I focus on my client's return, I will be taken care of. We can put in an oversized, four-star hotel room at 25-35 percent less than the competition," he says.
"If the capital market was more open we would be swamped. We spend more time identifying credit-worthy clients. The universe of people who need a hotel is large but the universe of people who could afford one is much smaller."
ROI works with major lenders to get affordable financing. A typical client has operated two to five years, has 700-1,000 slots, a good EBITA and is a day-trip casino that wants to broaden its market. "We can deliver an oversize four-star room, complete turn key for $100,000 a key." That's 30 percent lower than the industry average.
"A hotel's benefits are well-documented. You get higher-value players. Your geographic region expands. You have hotel revenues and increase food and beverage revenues. EBITA increases 30 to 40 percent. That is our niche."
Rooms are 400 square feet (industry average is 370 square feet). Furnishings are designed for high turnover. Bathrooms are spacious with an extra vanity.
"You build during a low construction cycle. Now is a good time. Recovery will probably be in 2010. If someone gets into the process today they will open into that recovery."
Rose and his contractors have been in the business 25 years or more. His preferred architects' designs are part of the price. They specialize in the medium-size hotel, 100-400 rooms.
"We design it, build it, train the people and put the soap on the counter, so they don't have to think about it," he says.
PENTA Building Group is a general contractor based in Las Vegas with projects in hospitality, gaming, retail, commercial, and institutional. A recent project is Aliante Station.
During 2006-2007 PENTA turned away work in Las Vegas, which was 80 percent of its customer base. "We had talked about diversifying. In hindsight we should have put more time into diversification," says Vice President Ken Alber.
They saw the train wreck coming last summer. They were in the third phrase of the Hilton timeshare project, ready to start foundation work, when in May of 2008 Hilton said it was going to slow the project until September.
"September came and went. They indefinitely suspended. This happened to other projects. A year ago we thought we had a nice backlog. That quickly evaporated as credit dried up." Available work shrank and what remained was very competitive.
"We're competing beyond hospitality," says Alber. "Many contractors are bidding on government contracts. Some take it with zero fees and negotiate with subs to make them go lower. In the public sector a library was publicized for $50 million. Fifteen contractors bid the job, which then went for $32 million."
Alber adds, "Companies are reducing general conditions, of which a good portion is staffing. They are staffing jobs leaner than before, which can be a detriment if you are not careful.
"We are getting out there and meeting and forming new relationships. We won't aggressively pursue a job and cut staff to zero. We would rather pay three or four people to sit around playing cards than do a risky job."
PENTA is looking at military projects in the Southwest and establishing design-build relationships with architects to collectively sell services.
It seeks out public sector projects where contractors are pre-qualified through alternative methods employing predetermined fees and general conditions. "It avoids the down and dirty bidding process which sometimes results in a bad project," he says.
"We have had a few layoffs. We are bidding more competitively. Our fees have declined. We are re-evaluating benefits. We have always treated our employees fairly but we are tightening our budgets. We are thinking more regionally and getting our people into the concept that travel beyond Las Vegas may be required."
The economy has made materials costs more realistic, he says. "Back in '07 and '08 structural steel and concrete costs escalated until projects wouldn't pencil." That has changed. Prices are falling. Projects can be built for 20 percent less than a year ago.
Someone who well knows that situation is Jay Allen, executive vice president of sales and engineering at Schuff Steel Southwest.
"We've had to reinvent ourselves," he says. "We started adjusting a couple of years ago. Las Vegas was a big part of our revenue. 2007 was a big year for us. A large part of it was Las Vegas casino hotel work." Then things slowed down.
Schuff does strategic planning. According to Allen, "Everybody in the company is a salesman, especially in hard times." Schuff anticipated the slowdown and sought other markets. It opened an office in Chicago, where it has a project. There is another in Pennsylvania. Both were new markets.
"That has softened the blow," says Allen. So has going after government and military work. There's no limit to where the company can go, since it has 11 steel plants nationwide and is acquiring others.
It cut unnecessary costs, trimming and centralizing. "During the down period there are a lot of ways to prepare for the next up-tick. We are doing a lot internally to make us more streamlined, more efficient," says Allen.
Innovation is a company hallmark. It is one of the few steel companies with a research and development budget.
"We are always looking for new things, new patents," says Allen.
One factor that unites all of these companies is that they are all forward-looking and optimistic about the future-even though the present is a bit dicey.
Tough times weed out the inefficient. What remains will be companies positioned to take advantage of better times, whenever they arrive.
The Ultimate Fixer-Upper
Virtually every American industry is confronting harsh economic realities this year. Unable to easily circumvent the fiscal damage, smart gaming industry executives have developed a new operating mentality. Rather than construct or expand existing facilities, many are opting to renovate. They believe that despite a shortfall in funding for major overhauls, cosmetic changes that increase their venues' versatility will still appeal to customers.
Do Different Regions Face Different Problems?
The American Gaming Association's 2009 "State of the States Survey of Casino Entertainment" reports revenue losses in five of the 12 commercial casino states in 2008. These statistics are widespread because one corporation may own multiple locations in several states.
What affects one jurisdiction may affect the profitability and available capital of the entire chain. For example,Las Vegas Sands opened its new Sands Bethlehem casino in Pennsylvania on May 22. However, the resort's plans for a full-scale hotel and retail plans are on hold because LVS has confronted economic issues at its Nevada headquarters. Many other large and smaller corporations have had similar scenarios across the U.S.
Following the housing and banking crises, coupled with travel costs, Las Vegas and other Nevada cities have suffered severe repercussions. Unlike other jurisdictions built on diverse businesses, Nevada depends on a vital gaming industry.
Kimberly Daoust, principal of the Tandem interior design firm in Las Vegas, believes the reality is just starting to hit home.
"Last year we still could cross our fingers and hope," she says. "This year, 2009, is when reality set in, but we can still only shake our heads and sigh. As casino and hospitality interior designers, the federal Stimulus Package was a box we were expecting, but was delivered to the wrong address. No credit means no projects. It's as simple as that."
The Effect On Interior Designers
Sagging customer budgets have forced many interior design companies to trim their own expenses and conserve cash as they attempt to meet their customers' expectations.
One downside has been the resulting price wars.
William Langmade, president of Purchasing Management Internationalof Dallas, says, "The hardest thing to control is the sudden drop in our competitors' fees. Many will drop prices in half for expedient cash flow, resulting in not only a huge drop in business, but also a huge reduction in fees for the business still there."
Daoust states operators are running the gamut with their renovations, and unfortunately, interior designers do not always receive a clear direction.
"There are property owners who see this as the ideal time to renovate and expand, knowing that materials and services are available for less. There are owners who are visionaries and optimists. They believe their properties should be in tip top shape and ready when conditions improve. Other owners aim to reinvent and rebrand themselves-a metamorphosis from their dark, smoke-filled casino spaces-to a level of hip and cool," Daoust says.
She states that some operators have chosen to purchase materials themselves to cut down on contractor mark-ups. They have used in-house millwork and framing rather than employing outside subcontractors. These operators bought used hotel furniture that may be refurbished and reupholstered. Although using substitutes, quality renovations can get the same fresh look as those new designs.
Little Things Make Space Flexible
Despite the terrible economy, casino operators cannot afford to let their properties deteriorate. Executives are taking a second look at their projects.
Paul Heretakis, vice president of Westar Architects in Las Vegas, says casino clients have asked his firm to consolidate and maximize the use of each space they design. These reduced expenditures affect all areas across the board, including restaurants, retail and spas.
Heretakis says, "Clients are making minor remodels or remediation as they take more conservative approaches to spending money. Minor renovations can include restaurants, bars and casino space as long as the major items stay in the same place. New finishes, service and a brand can make a big impact."
For Terry Dougall, owner of Dougall Design in Pasadena, California, renovations may not be difficult if planned around the full range of potential events. He states that surveillance cameras and lighting present the greatest challenges, and should be easily portable or provide redundancy for a quick layout change.
Even the most superficial upgrade can improve the aesthetics. Dougall says, "Nothing changes a casino faster than the carpet. Next is the decorative lighting... chandeliers in particular. Too many casinos are dark and foreboding, or just boring. Wall covering is the third primary refresher because it adds life to a space. All three may be done quickly and inexpensively."
Daoust agrees that carpet designs can clearly date a casino. She says, "Older carpet designs have smaller repeats; the more modern carpets have larger patterns and repeats, use fresh colors and fewer 'in your face' themes. A fresh coat of paint also helps."
Piecemeal property improvements, like a mini-facelift, can also invigorate the casino atmosphere without breaking the bank, says Michael Arias, senior architectural designe of Steelman Partners of Las Vegas.
"A casino can easily be refreshed by simply updating pieces of it rather than the entire property," says Arias. "We recently did such a project at a local casino here in Las Vegas where it was both a renovation and expansion. We renovated the existing casino perimeter with a new design treatment, added a center bar, and completely re-designed the buffet and two restaurants, with a new food court added as well."
By renovating the space in a "selective and gradual way," Arias says, "the owner could keep revenue coming in by not disturbing the property much while making noticeable, effective design changes over time."
While casinos once competed by continually changing their ambiance, that urgency to renovate has eroded. However, some refurbishing cannot be avoided. According to Principal Ann Fleming of Cleo Design in Las Vegas, "Resort owners are making design decisions more carefully. They are considering improvements to the properties that are 'must dos,' such as rooms that have not been refurbished in the last eight years, or worn out casino carpet."
Another quick but relatively inexpensive solution for hotel rooms may be changing the bed linens and bedspreads. For guest rooms that truly need upgrading, Langmade recommends new beds, flat-screen televisions, drapes and oversheers, and even something as minor as higher quality amenity kits. Customers always prefer better giveaway items.
Rehabs Where Customers Eat And Play
No matter where customers choose to gamble, they all love to dine out. A casino will fail without good dining rooms. When determining the need to renovate a restaurant, location should also affect the decision.
However, for Dougall, casino restaurants are expensive and often not worth the effort. He cautions that renovation disrupts during construction, especially when rebranding and creating something totally new. The process involves too many people, from the architect to the food service consultant to the building inspectors.
If a casino does choose to renovate a restaurant, Heretakis advises introducing a new identity.
"Casinos should always rename and rebrand if they renovate. They must tell people to expect a new experience," he says.
The product is as important as the aesthetics. Rebranding or renovating may be futile without consistent food and service quality. Customers may reject mediocre meals and still ignore the aesthetics of the space.
"If a renovation is required, the best solution for keeping a restaurant fresh is to give it a facelift. However, good-quality food can attract additional foot traffic. As restaurants cost several million dollars today, casino operators must closely analyze the potential return on investment," says Dougall.
Conversely, Langmade warns that minus some luck, the high costs add little to the bottom line. "I would make it last on my priority list unless the existing facility was extremely dated," he says.
An exception may be those star-quality venues. Cleo Design Principal Ken Kulas cites incredible design successes of recent casino restaurant renovations, particularly for celebrity chefs throughout the U.S. He explains that new food trends and celebrity chef recognition may create opportunities for additional specialty restaurants. Casino developers have often gambled that the remodel of one restaurant for another will update their property for the repeat customer.
While restaurants have taken their place among a casino's important amenities, it is crucial that the gaming area appeal to customers at all levels. However, an obvious problem can be one of comparison. Customers may reject the older areas if an adjacent section of the floor has undergone renovation.
Creating new spaces rather than constructing new rooms may be the answer. "Operators should designate why a specific area needs to be different, and then renovate it to be interactive and voyeuristic," says Heretakis.
Daoust says that for many projects, Tandem has used low millwork walls to create poker rooms and high-limit slot areas within an existing casino. Many operators believe poker is a trend, so Daoust has suggested altering the space instead of building new rooms. When the trend stabilizes or declines, readjusting the room's configuration will be easier. To help customers identify these spaces, Tandem has designed light fixtures that separate them from the casino floor.
Another option is to assign multiple uses for one location. Heretakis believes that restaurants that can be easily transformed into late-night hot spots always work. For example, restaurants with open floor space and adequate electrical capabilities can turn into popular nightclubs with live music and dancing. This versatility extends the daily usage of the space.
Lighting may also have a major impact on the mood of a casino floor. Fleming says, "By injecting changing colored lights, light levels, and specific highlights, a sophisticated atmosphere with more subtle lighting techniques can easily be transformed into an extremely animated environment."
Appropriate lighting dramatizes both specialty gaming areas with distinct themes and those designed to attract a specific customer. This helps a casino cater to different crowds throughout the day. Programmed lighting effects altered at specific times create diverse environments. As an example, flashy lighting may attract a younger clientele at night while brighter lighting may be suitable for a more mature crowd during the day.
However, Langmade warns against doing too much or eliminating gaming space. He says, "Slot machines and gaming tables mean more dollars per square foot than having a flexible space. Unless the new purpose will earn more revenue, operators should limit their renovations to gain flexibility to non-gaming space."
He points out that the MGM Grand Las Vegas Meeting and Convention Center can accommodate large meetings and small weddings. The building's design opens into a convention hall with drive-in capabilities. It may also be separated into ballroom or pre-function areas.
It's important to increase the value of casino space by making it multi-purpose. When Steelman Partners worked on the iconic Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco, they were restricted, for preservation reasons, from making broad structural changes. To maintain the integrity of the historic casino while increasing the usefulness of every square foot, says Arias, "We integrated security cameras into a floor-mounted lighting system that could be moved to accommodate different gaming layouts, or removed from the space entirely if needed."
Steelman Partners also create a raised flooring system "with the electrical cables running below it, which could be adjusted and modified as needed for any special events," Arias adds.
The exterior is also an important aspect to a property's appearance. Curb appeal attracts customers through design, landscaping and outside casino signage. However, the effectiveness of the exterior may prove tougher to measure since it does not generate income.
According to Dougall, "Signage can be incredibly expensive and requires perspective. A shabby, old, unprofitable venue probably has other problems. In that situation, anything is an improvement."
Despite the economic downturn, renovation work continues. PMI just completed the Mirage and Treasure Island projects in Las Vegas, plus the Philadelphia Park Casino in suburban Philadelphia. Another recent opening is the Windcreek Hotel and Casino in Alabama. The Wild Horse Hotel and Casino is scheduled for completion this year in Arizona. PMI also anticipates the future opening of the new beachfront Revel casino in Atlantic City, currently rising along the coastline.
After two years, Tandem has completed the Atlantis Resort Casino & Spa expansion in Reno and the Pala Casino expansion in San Diego.
Cleo Design also anticipates finishing its Rivers Casino project in Pittsburgh this year. The company's participation included the gaming floor, three bars/lounges, the buffet, the high-limit gaming area and an exclusive high-roller lounge. Fortunately, no major redesigns were needed since construction was under way prior to the financial crisis.
Conditions will improve, but when is uncertain. Additional issues like the environment will become more relevant, impacting renovations and design. Kulas says, "LEED certification/green building is becoming the norm in design conversations and in reaching the hospitality industry."
Still, the biggest obstacle revolves around money.
"The banking crisis has created a long term downward shift in economic growth," Langmade says, "plus a huge crash in hotel development and renovation. We may have hit bottom. However the upswing in hotel and casino revenues will remain flat for at least two years. Growth will take a long time, as people want more value for less money. Some prices must decrease to a more realistic expectation. A strong brand will always succeed, but it may need a new water mark in the industry."
As real estate prices skyrocketed, operators were under great pressure to maximize the use of their land holdings. This meant, among other things, packing as many rooms as possible into new building projects. With horizontal growth prohibitively expensive, the only way to go was up. It was, after all, referred to in Las Vegas, at least, as a Manhattanization.
The condo craze swept through the city. Following on the initial success of some residential offerings, casino and hotel operators saw an interesting opportunity. They could finance new construction through selling condo units of their own. And these condo units would largely be second homes and investment properties for the buyers; they would be unoccupied, and if the buyer was so inclined, he or she could put the unit back into the hotel room inventory.
It seemed like a good idea. In essence, new property developers were able to add rooms without footing the bill to do so. Every project being introduced suddenly had a large condo component. But, as has now been seen, there was definitely a risk.
"What this presumably was, was additional guest rooms that someone else was paying for," says Terry Dougall. "I don't know that they actually built these with the assumption that the return on investment was going to be through the condos; it's just that someone was giving you the money, so why not?
"When you have places that have 3,000 to 5,000 rooms, you can build 2,000 rooms and have someone else build the rest for you. It wasn't a return on investment as it was building a bunch of guest rooms for free."
It was a great approach, but Dougall says some clients had expressed concern early.
"Many of our clients looked around and said, 'This is dangerous,'" he says.
And, in a way, they were right. With a sizable amount of financing expected to come through these private condo sales, operators did put themselves in a precarious position. But at first, everything looked so good that it's easy to see how things ended up going so wrong.
These were times when a valet making $65,000 a year could qualify for a stated-income loan to purchase a $450,000 home. Credit was easy and the condo sales looked promising.
"The selling of the condos was instrumental in funding the program and they pre-sold very, very well, virtually selling out," says Dick Rizzo of Perini. "But the trouble came when financing for the condos became hard to fine. When the market fell apart, when financing for condos fell off, all funding became difficult."
No one is criticizing the developers for pursuing this essentially free money, however.
"I don't think it was bad thinking, per se, but maybe a little optimistic in regards to the condos," says George Bergman.
As it stands, condo components have seen a dramatic reduction in importance. The condo portion of the Harmon Hotel at CityCenter was dropped entirely. It wasn't 100 percent related to financing, there was a structural problem that was best addressed by not building the top 20 floors, but the difficulty in closing the sales probably made the decision easier. As did looking around Las Vegas and seeing the Trump tower become the Trump International Hotel after condo sales dropped off and seeing Palms Place struggling to close sales, too, and essentially converting to a hotel tower as well.
It was a great idea and had the real estate bottom not fallen out as it did, it probably would have worked and the developers would have been hailed as geniuses. But that's not how it happened, and in a way, the idea came across as looking too clever by half.
"They certainly got caught with their pants down, didn't they?" Dougall says. "but would we still be making that statement had the economy not collapsed and they opened just fine? You can't take an anomaly and predict the future from it."
Big A: One big deal for gaming operators
With the coveted Aqueduct franchise again up for grabs, no less than six suitors are standing in line for the chance to build and operate Big A gaming.
With 4,500 proposed video lottery terminals, the racino would be "more arcade than Atlantic City," smirked the New York Times in 2008, but, like similar projects around the U.S. and beyond, it was expected to prop up Aqueduct's declining racing business, provide thousands of jobs, and pump millions in revenue into the state, which is running on empty with a $14 billion-plus budget deficit.
Delaware North's initial plan for the racino included a contemporary, $250 million slot parlor, sprawling across the 192-acre site in Ozone Park, with 330,000 square feet of gaming space to abut the existing grandstand and clubhouse (which were built in 1894, and rebuilt during the 1950s).
The exterior was to be sleek and fairly unadorned-a complement to the existing track facilities, which reflect the no-frills sensibilities of mid-20th-century architect Arthur Froelich (Froelich also designed many supermarkets of the period). Inside, it would be pure Viva Las Vegas (minus the dealers): a cacophony of glitz and glamour, with all the color and buzz of a Leroy Neiman dream.
An Aqueduct operator has not yet been named, but the racino formula is certainly working elsewhere in the U.S. Though casino revenues overall are down, year-over-year numbers at domestic racinos grew more than 17 percent to $6.19 billion last year, according to the American Gaming Association.
OWNER: HSP Gaming, Inc.
PRINCIPAL ARCHITECT: Cope Linder Architects
OTHER DESIGNER: Floss Barber Interiors
CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTOR: Keating Building Corporation
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $550 million
The SugarHouse Casino will be the only slot casino on the waterfront of the Delaware River in Philadelphia. (Philadelphia's other casino, Foxwoods, was moved downtown.) As such, its design will be built to emphasize that fact, according to Ian Cope, one of the principals of project architect Cope Linder.
According to Cope, the first phase of the project-a 100,000-square-foot building to house 1,700 slots in an interim casino-has been simplified to satisfy the desire of state officials to begin generating revenue quickly, after two years of project delays.
However, he says the initial building will still be a cornerstone of the much larger permanent development, which will accommodate up to 5,000 machines and table games-which most observers expect to be legalized in Pennsylvania sooner or later.
Cope says his team designed the project with "two fronts and a couple of sides, but no back door." One "front" faces Delaware Avenue and Interstate 95, which will provide egress to the property, but another "front" is the river itself. "Food and beverage embraces the river," he says. "There will be seasonal concerts on the river's edge. This will be one of the only improved pieces of land on the waterfront where people will be able to walk, jog, ride bicycles. That's always been part of our project."
Cope adds that the "sides" of the project will provide paths from the city to the river. "We will be able to expand on all sides," he says. "There are elements of the layout we've had to plan in a number of expansion phases."
As far as the style of the casino itself, Cope says it is "contemporary." "Philadelphia is steeped in history, but we didn't want this to be historical," he says. "This is really an industrial area, with no historical aspects to address, so we really have a blank slate."
What will fill that blank will be a sleek, contemporary casino open to the river that will house slots, restaurants and bars on a single level (modified from a previous two-level design), surrounded by surface parking initially. The larger permanent project will include seven restaurants, an entertainment/lounge venue, a 3,300-space parking garage and, eventually, a hotel in addition to the expanded casino area.
The entire site spans 22 acres. The character of what will go on that acreage reflects the river, with a park-like setting surrounding the facility to allow locals to enjoy the waterfront as they never have.
The Reserve at Bally's
OWNER: Harrah’s Entertainment
ARCHITECT: Westar Architects
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Weatherby Construction
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $1.7 million
With striking views of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s no surprise that The Reserve, the newest restaurant at Bally’s Atlantic City, takes its color cues from the surf.
Throughout the contemporary space, designers emphasized deep electric blues and shimmering aquamarines against a sand-beige backdrop, then introduced a counterpoint of warm woods and copper tiles. The restaurant’s suede-covered walls are imbedded with a slight twinkle accent suggesting subtle movement.
Private booths line one wall at the new restaurant; wine and seafood displays flank the entryway to tantalize incoming diners. An open kitchen area “speaks to the fresh preparation of the food and the attention to detail that makes The Reserve one of the most sought-after seats in town,” says Paul Heretakis, vice president of Westar Architects, which transformed the former steakhouse into a luxe dining establishment serving equal measures of steak and seafood.
The $1.7 million renovation was part of an overall restaurant renaissance at Bally’s. It included a new bar that can serve as a pre-function space for private parties and after-conference happy hours, and can also host breakfast and lunch crowds. The Reserve has become a popular meeting place for diners and conventioneers alike.
At 4,500 square feet, The Reserve occupies the same space that once housed Prime Place, a day-one eatery that closed after 28 years in February 2008. The renovation closed the restaurant for 12 weeks; it reopened as The Reserve last summer.
In addition to its ocean view, The Reserve overlooks formal gardens with fountains that front the historic Dennis Hotel, also owned by Harrah’s Entertainment, located on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Of course, the window seats are the most coveted in the house.
Marina Bay Sands
OWNER: Marina Bay Sands Pte Ltd
CONCEPT DESIGN ARCHITECT: Moshe Safdie AssociateS
LOCAL ARCHITECT: Aedas Pte Ltd
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Arup Pte Ltd
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $5.4 billion
The design of Marina Bay Sands is dramatic and daring. Three independent towers curve gracefully skyward, linked at their summits by a wooded wing 55 stories in the air. An atrium connects the towers at their bases, its roof rising from 10 stories at one end to 23 stories at the other. Designed by visionary architect Moshe Safdie, Marina Bay Sands is out to wow leisure and business travelers from around the world.
The three towers will house 2,600 luxury rooms and suites and provide access to the complex’s restaurants, bars, entertainment lounges and 1,000-table casino.
The Expo & Convention Centre spread before the towers totals more than 120,000 square meters—1.3 million square feet. The space can accommodate 2,000 exhibition booths, 250 meeting rooms and over 45,000 delegates. A grand ballroom of more than 8,000 square meters can seat 6,600 for a banquet, 7,000 for a stage performance or 11,000 for a lecture.
Retail and dining will occupy a total of 75,000 square meters. A mix of cutting-edge, emerging labels and international luxury brands will be joined by entertainment options that include boat rides along the mall canal and indoor ice skating.
The ArtScience Museum, with a lotus-inspired design and rooftop seating for viewing events on the bay, will present exhibits from around the world.
Two state-of-the-art theaters with a total of 4,000 seats will showcase Broadway musicals, Bollywood extravaganzas, live concerts and gala events. An outdoor Event Plaza along the promenade will hold 10,000 people.
But the signature feature of Marina Bay Sands is the Sands SkyPark. Spanning the tops of all three towers with a length of 340 meters, it is longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall. With an area of 12,400 square meters and holding three swimming pools, restaurants, bars and landscaped gardens, the Sands SkyPark can host 3,900 people at the same time.
The casino and one hotel tower are expected to open by early 2010.
Jewel of the South
Wind Creek Hotel & Casino
OWNER: Poarch Band of Creek Indians
DESIGN ARCHITECT: Hnedak Bobo Group
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Cagley & Tanner
ARCHITECTS OF RECORD: Brown Chambless Architects
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $245 million
HOTEL: 236 ROOMS
CASINO FLOOR: 57,000 SQ FEET
Poarch Creek Indian Gaming opened Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in January, adding to its family of Alabama properties that already includes Riverside Casino and Tallapoosa Casino.
The $245 million resort in Atmore is designed around the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ cultural and environmental heritage. A nature theme ties together the décor, which was designed by Las Vegas-based Cagley & Tanner.
“Our design work at Wind Creek Casino & Hotel has changed the paradigm for regional gaming design and feels every bit as energetic and engaging as the best resorts in Las Vegas, without in any way losing its local focus,” said Lee Cagley, a principal of Cagley & Tanner. “The result is a casino and hotel environment that is unique to the location and provides an authentic and friendly guest experience.”
More than 1,600 electronic bingo machines reside on Wind Creek’s 57,000-square-foot casino floor. Electronic bingo is the only style of gaming allowed by Alabama law. Though Wind Creek may not be able to offer Las Vegas-style gaming, the resort still attracts guests from all over the country. Its close proximity to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico are huge selling points, though Wind Creek’s amenities are huge draws in and of themselves.
In the next few months, PCI Gaming officials plan to unveil Wind Creek’s next phase. Additions will include a 2,000-seat amphitheater, a spa, a lake and a cooking studio headed by Executive Chef Stafford DeCambra.
In addition to the culinary studio, which will unite famous guest chefs with eager learners, Wind Creek also satisfies culinary cravings with its four restaurants, Fire, Grill, Taste and Brew.
Lumière Place Casino and Hotels
St. Louis, Missouri
OWNER: Casino One Corp., a subsidiary of Pinnacle Entertainment
ARCHITECT OF RECORD: Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum
DESIGN ARCHITECT: Marnell Architecture
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: McCarthy Contractors
COST: $507 million
With its dramatic contemporary exterior, Lumière Place Casino and Hotels in St. Louis, a resort owned by Pinnacle Entertainment, was designed to reflect the geometry of its monumental neighbor, the iconic Gateway Arch, where east meets west in the continental United States.
Featuring a 289-foot “illuminated lightbox” rising out of the city skyline, the $507 million resort includes a floating casino with more than 70,000 square feet of gaming space flanked by an elegant VIP lounge. The gaming area is adjoined by a 19-story Four Seasons hotel with 200 five-star guest rooms, as well as a second hotel, the HoteLumière (formerly the Embassy Suites).
As its name suggests, Lumière Place emphasizes the interplay of light, shadow and color in every corner of its design. After dark, the Four Seasons hotel tower lights up in an arc reminiscent of the 630-foot Arch, creating a shimmering new landmark along the banks of the Mississippi River. Inside the casino, the high-limit area includes a waterfall of crystal and light.
Inspired by the sleek modernism of Frank Lloyd Wright, the resort gains warmth from the use of natural materials and a warm color palette that effectively bridge the gap between historic and contemporary.
Lumière Place was built on 7.3 acres in downtown St. Louis, literally in the shadow of the 630-foot Arch. Construction began in September 2005; the resort opened in phases, starting in December 2007.
The single-level gaming floor includes 2,000 slot machines and more than 40 table games along with a 12-table poker room.
Dining facilities include a high-end restaurant and quality buffet; the resort also includes retail shops, 22,000 square feet of convention space, a swimming pool with a view of the commanding Gateway Arch, and a pedestrian connection to St. Louis’ Central Business District, the Edward Jones Dome and America’s Centre.
Cool in California
Red Hawk Casino
OWNER: Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians
DESIGN ARCHITECT: Cuningham Group Architecture
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Baker Barrios Architects
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Rudolph & Sletten, Inc.
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $132 million
CASINO FLOOR: 88,000 SQ FEET
The recently opened Red Hawk Casino evokes the rich history of its owner, the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. The property, which opened its doors in January, tells a visual story, one that was inspired by interviews that design firms Cuningham Group and Baker Barrios Architects conducted with tribal elders.
"Three main cultural references were used," says Cuningham Group Vice President Thomas Hoskens. "The curved structure in the entry porte cochere and entry roof is representative of the typical round form of the Miwok historic Winter House; the porte cochere waterfall is symbolic of the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers where the tribe lived for many years; and the native basket-weaving patterns in the shape of a 'V,' which symbolizes a basket full of blessings."
The result is a beautiful, culturally significant property that draws visitors for both its design qualities and its gaming offerings. Red Hawk Casino features an 88,000-square-foot gaming floor. With more than 2,000 slot machines, 75 table games and a high-stakes section, it is the source of all the gaming action in its neck of the woods.
The property also offers plenty of amenities, including a buffet, five restaurants (including a high-end steakhouse), four bars, an arcade and a child care center for traveling parents.
Hotel Casino Principe do Monaco
PROJECT OWNER: ASTA-Atlantida
HOTEL ARCHITECT: Arch. Francisco Gomes de Menezes
CASINO ARCHITECT: Atelier Fernando Jorge Correia
TOTAL INVESTMENT: €32 million
The Hotel Casino Principe do Monaco will introduce the first five-star hotel to the Azores lodging mix. A project from a local partnership, ASTA-Atlantida, Principe do Monaco will also be the first casino on any of the islands comprising this Atlantic archipelago.
The Azores’ location—930 miles from Lisbon, Portugal and 2,400 miles from the Chesapeake Bay area of the U.S.—has long made the islands a meeting place for yachtsmen crossing the Atlantic. The hotel is being built on the main island of San Miguel, opposite the harbor at Ponta Delgada.
Accommodations will consist of 94 rooms and five suites, plus one room specifically designed for use by handicapped guests.
Seven meeting rooms of various sizes will be able to host seminars from 25 to 250 attendees, receptions for up to 500 and banquets for 300.
The hotel will have a full spa complete with sauna, Turkish bath, massage center, cardio fitness area, swimming pool with removable roof, Jacuzzi, solarium, a bar and a deck.
The casino is 1,600 square meters and cost €12 million. It holds seven gaming tables and 170 slot machines. Also planned for within the casino is a restaurant and performance room, a bar and a multimedia area.
The developers of the project are anticipating completion in December 2009.
City of Dreams
Cotai Strip, Macau
OWNER: Melco Crown Entertainment
DESIGN ARCHITECT: Arquitectonica
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Peter Remedios, Gettys
GENERAL CONTRACTORS: Leighton Asia and John Holland, in conjunction with China State Construction Engineering
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $2.4 Billion
One of the last of the first wave of mega-resorts in Macau opened in mid 2009 when Melco Crown’s City of Dreams debuted on the Cotai Strip across from the equally massive Venetian, owned by Las Vegas Sands.
City of Dreams is the brainchild of the talented Lawrence Ho, who envisioned a resort that would appeal to the Asian clientele that flocks to Macau. While there have been massive changes since first visualized, City of Dreams took less than one month to draw 1 million visitors to witness its splendor.
Designed by the U.S.-based architects Arquitectonica, City of Dreams consists of three separate hotels—Crown Towers, Hard Rock and Hyatt—a 175,000-square-foot retail space, the Boulevard; and an iconic entertainment experience, the “Bubble,” which features a 360-degree video show designed by the innovative company Falcon’s Treehouse.
The name of the resort, lightly themed with a water experience to reflect the surrounding bays and tributaries, is an allegory, says Ho.
“There’s a deep meaning behind the name,” he says. “Rather than us trying to force our customers to live our dreams by building a heavily themed property, we’re going to try to fulfill their dreams.”
Starting from the massive 420,000-square-foot casino in the heart of the property and radiating out, the designers used feng shui principles to escort the players with luck from any point.
The casino arrival features a huge video screen that mimics an underwater scene with turtles, whales, sharks and a mermaid. The video is meant to welcome guests to the casino and point the way to the Boulevard, which surrounds the property and serves as a conduit to the various elements. Unlike other Macau resorts where the retail is set apart from the hotel, the guest is forced to travel by the shops and restaurants to get from one point to another.
The Bubble is a 10-minute interactive video presentation for which the audience stands inside the huge dome. “Dragon’s Treasure,” the first of the venue’s presentations (shows will change every six months, according to Ho) has viewers marveling at the water creatures and visual fantasies. The arrival of the dragon is dramatic and even a little scary.
Later this year, a theater will open with a show crafted by the Dragone Group, headed by Franco Dragone, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil.
But it’s the massive nature of mega-resorts that Ho tried to minimize, as well.
“The original idea for City of Dreams came to me five years ago,” he explains. “At that time, I visited Las Vegas and other international resorts to visit the casinos and the hotels. One of the things I disliked was gigantic, 3,000-room hotels. If you have to wait 45 minutes for a cup of coffee or an hour and a half for a steak, that’s not good service. When you’re talking about the leisure business, it’s really about the total experience. Rather than make the design and construction of these resorts easier, we should really try to accommodate the customer the best that we can.”
The Rivers Casino
OWNER: Holdings Acquisition Co., L.P.
PRINCIPAL ARCHITECT: Bergman Walls & Associates, Ltd.
OTHER DESIGNER: Floss Barber Interiors
CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTORS: Keating Building Corporation & Smoot Construction
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $300 million
Slated to open in August, the sole slot casino in Pittsburgh will be a reflection of the beauty that is the cityscape near the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers.
According to Scott Walls, a principal of project architect Bergman Walls & Associates, the firm "started with a fresh piece of paper" when approaching the exterior design, because of how proud the locals are of their city and its existing architecture. "We needed to create a beautiful piece of architecture that would be another icon to the city," Walls says.
The way to do that was to make the project blend into its surroundings. "We took the contour of the rivers, the fluid lines of the water, and incorporated it into the concept of the building," says Walls. "You'll see the curves in the facade along the river, which has a flowing motion to its shape, as well as subtle lighting that will move across the facade to simulate the flowing waters."
The river-friendly design carries on inside the 100,000-square-foot casino, which will house 3,000 slots and five restaurants, plus two bars that have been tailored especially for Pittsburgh, and for native Pittsburghers. For the sports-happy locals, the Wheelhouse sports bar will feature food, TV and an outdoor terrace that overlooks the river and Heinz Field, the stadium of the world-champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Walls says his team added the sports bar only after contemplating the casino's local audience. "We've got a sports town here, and we needed to create something for them," he says. "We know the Wheelhouse is going to be a huge party element on game days, and every weekend."
Another distinctive spot is the Drum Bar, a two-and-a-half-story bar overlooking the river that is basically a glass drum with a bar at the bottom. Legendary signage vendor Yesco was brought in to build a chandelier light column that grows out of the center of the bar to simulate falling water. "It's a fascinating piece of sculpture," says Walls, "which can be seen from the river."
In the end, the Rivers Casino will blend perfectly in with the Pittsburgh skyline on the outside, and will reflect the beauty of the three rivers on the inside.
Live! And Kicking
Indiana Live! Casino
OWNER: Indiana Downs LLC
DEVELOPER: The Cordish Company
ARCHITECT, DESIGN AND PROJECT: Klai Juba Architects, Las Vegas; Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Architects, Indianapolis; Cleo Design, Las Vegas; and Westar Architectural Group, Las Vegas
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $200 million
Indiana Live! Casino, central Indiana's premier entertainment destination, opened its 233,000-square-foot facility March 13, offering 2,000 slots.
Owned by Indianapolis Downs, LLC, the new $200 million resort was developed by Power Plant Entertainment Casino Resorts Indiana, LLC, an affiliate of the Cordish Company of Baltimore.
At Indiana Live!, guests will find both a complete selection of the newest slots and a wide selection of electronic table games including blackjack, roulette and three-card poker. There also is an expansive state-of-the art poker room.
Complementing the slots and live poker are six dining and entertainment venues under one roof, with elegant and casual dining, a nightclub, live entertainment and more.
Located 20 minutes from downtown Indianapolis on Interstate 74 in Shelbyville, Indiana Live! Casino is adjacent to Indiana Downs racetrack, a 200-acre venue that conducts live racing and simulcasting for standardbreds, thoroughbreds and quarter horses throughout the year.
But it's the non-gaming amenities that set Indiana Live! apart from its competitors. The Maker's Mark-themed steakhouse caters to the VIPs, while the NASCAR Sports Grill is designed for the mid-level dining experience and provides a perfect atmosphere for watching sports.
The Live! Market, the property's buffet, combines entertainment with dining as guests pick and choose from various fares in a Mediterranean setting, creating a truly unique experience.
ARCHITECT/DESIGNER: Marnell Corrao Associates
CASINO FLOOR: 92,000 sq feet
ROOMS AND SUITES: 390 ROOMS
MEETING SPACE: 60,000 sq feet
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $1 billion
M Resort opened in March in what originally looked to be a prime location in Henderson, just south of Las Vegas. A nearby real estate development was poised to provide a built-in customer base of thousands, but that development fizzled out. It didn't phase resort developer Anthony Marnell III, however. He knew his property would be able to compete regardless of the problems with the nearby development-and any other economic problem phasing the valley.
First, his property took advantage of its unique location. M Resort is 10 miles south of the Strip and sits a couple hundred feet higher, offering a commanding view of the valley. That view is a major component of the a majority of the 390 hotel rooms, including the suites, which offer 270-degree views of the Strip and the surrounding mountains. Even the porte cochere is designed to offer a view through the building and out toward the Strip. The 92,000-square-foot casino floor itself is extremely modern in design and offerings, and features 64 table games and 1,800 machines. The 23,000-square-foot sports book, with its offering of wireless wagering, is a particularly strong draw.
The F&B outlets were another area of intense focus. From Veloce Cibo on the roof to the half TV studio/half buffet in the center of the property, everything is built to impress.
The design of the $1 billion resort is a progressive style of architecture combining rich colors with subtle lines that are designed to create a sense of direction and purpose. There are also elements of earth, fire, water and light that help blur the boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces.
As exciting as the design is, Marnell's approach to running the casino is what will really set this property apart. He is focusing on customer service more than anything else, something he thinks other operators have lost sight of. The approach seems to be working well, and a month after opening, the property announced it would not lay off workers, but was actually hiring more.
Perhaps the single most impressive thing about the property is that it was built both on time and on budget, something of a rarity these days.
Room for Growth
Pala Casino Resort
San Diego, California
ARCHITECT: JCJ Architecture
INTERIOR DESIGNERS: Tandem and Ralph Gentile Architects
CASINO: Added poker room and high-limit area
DINING: Three restaurants added, including a 20,000-sq-foot buffet
COST: $100 million
The Pala Band of Mission Indians opened its $100 million expansion of the Pala Casino Spa and Resort over Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. The expansion brings a number of new amenities to the casino floor and surrounding area.
On the floor, a 15-table poker room and a new high limit area were added. The poker room features table-side dining and runs a number of tournaments. It has its own cage, and the location off the casino floor makes the environment calmer, quieter and more inviting. The high limit area is a “casino within the casino” featuring three redesigned, feng shui-inspired rooms that raise the bar for the property’s high rollers. The three areas—a slot room, table game room and lounge—are all accessible through a separate entrance.
Off the casino floor is where things really took off. The buffet was expanded to 20,000 square feet, making it the largest casino buffet in Southern California. It was also renamed, going from the Terrace Buffet to simply Choices. With eight live-action cooking stations, an exhibition kitchen staffed by 12 chefs, more than 200 food items and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, the buffet is expected to become a huge draw. The buffet also features three LCD TVs above the foot line as well as six more TVs in the entrance area. The room was also given a new look with water features that bring it to life.
Joining Choices are Pala’s, a Mexican restaurant with views of the Palomar Mountains; and Sushi Sake, a full-service sushi bar.
The expansion rounds out what is already a successful property with 507 rooms—82 of them suites—more than 2,000 video machines, 87 table games, four entertainment venues and now, 10 restaurants. The property is a AAA Four Diamond award winner, and its 10,000-square-foot spa was voted the 2009 Best Casino Spa by Spas of America.
Choctaw Casino Resort
OWNER: Choctaw Nation
ARCHITECT: WorthGroup ArchitectS
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Flintco Constructive Solutions
SIZE: 300,000 sq feet
ROOMS & SUITES: 350
CASINO FLOOR: 3,143 slots, 48 table games & 600 bingo seats
AMENITIES: Six restaurants and one lounge
When it opens in the first quarter of 2010, the new Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Oklahoma, will be a world-class destination resort. The 300,000-square-foot facility will be one of the largest casinos in the state.
The project includes a new casino and a new luxury hotel. The casino will house 3,143 slot machines, 48 table games and 600 bingo seats. It also features a 30-table poker room as well as a designated high-limit gaming area.
A number of new dining options are also part of the project, including a 400-seat buffet, a 140-seat cafe and a 120-seat steakhouse. There also will be a smaller Tex-Mex restaurant, a coffee house, a food court and the Diamondback Lounge.
The 10-story luxury hotel will have 330 rooms, including 12 executive suites and one specialty suite. It also will include a number of amenities like an indoor/outdoor pool, a fitness center and a spa.
The expansion allows the tribe to continue to target the Texas market, according to Janie Dillard, director of gaming. Of the estimated 300,000 annual visitors the existing casino attracts, nearly 80 percent are from Texas. And with 700 acres on which to expand in the future, nothing has been ruled out for additional development.
The casino will be designed in a way that focuses on the tribe's history and culture.
"The design showcases the rich culture and heritage of the Choctaw Nation through interpretive design and tribal influences," says Bryan Hamlin, vice president of design for WorthGroup Architects.
For the people of Durant, perhaps the most exciting thing about this project is the employment opportunities it will provide. There are currently 1,300 people working at the existing casino, and the tribe hopes to more than double that number to 3,000 when the new facility opens.
The past year in the gaming industry has been unlike anything any of us have ever seen. I know it has for me. I've been in and observing the gaming industry for 30 years and never seen anything like this. Yes, we've had our ups and downs, but this economic downturn has been brutal on everyone.
Unfortunately, much of the brunt of this bad economy has been felt by the people who read this magazine: architects, designers, builders, developers, development executives and anyone interested in the world of creating unique spaces where customers enjoy themselves that present opportunities for operators to win their loyalty.
But in most cases, when a bad economy hits, the first target for cost-cutting is the capital budget. And those budget cuts impact new casinos, expansions and renovations. It's an understandable reaction to a bad economy, but one we don't like to see.
One of the responses we got from a participant in the "Survival of the Fittest" Q&A on page 34 was very interesting. While suggesting that his company had to reinvent itself during this downturn, he said, "If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got."
I think this applies to all companies, design and operators alike. Particularly in the destination jurisdictions like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, things have changed forever. No longer can these cities believe that gaming is the edge that will make the difference when people decide where to go for business or pleasure.
Today, there are casinos within an hour's drive of more than half the country. And when you add another hour to the trip, almost everyone has a "locals" casino nearby.
That's why gaming is a great amenity, but it will no longer be the be-all and end-all for decision makers. Since virtually all business and tourism destinations have some form of gaming close by, everyone must offer something above and beyond gaming to survive and thrive.
Designers need to play a role in this new paradigm, too. We already see operators and designers trying to design "flex" space that can be used for two purposes at different times of the day. That can be accomplished with something as simple as lighting or as complex as movable walls.
Despite the downturn, every casino must put aside money to maintain the public spaces. Some of that money can be dedicated to upgrades, if a design company is willing to work with the casino executives.
Creative methods to finance capital expenditures can also help. Many builders and designers have longstanding relationships with lenders. Yes, times are tough and credit is tight, but leveraging those relationships can help everyone involved when everyone is hurting.
Another participant told us that his company was not reinventing itself, just focusing on what they do best and doing it better.
I think this is an important point. Diversity is a great thing when times are good. It's nice to be able to do many things and assist your clients by narrowing the scope of contractors. But every company has a core competency. Focusing on what your company does best, and maybe bringing in another company that does something else better than you, not only helps your client but also keeps the entire industry healthy.
No, I'm not saying we should all join hands and sing "Kumbaya" and we'll get through this thing together. I'm just saying that sometimes it helps everyone when we all work together.
It's called collaboration, and it is often a misunderstood element of any casino design project. In all construction projects, you have contractors and subcontractors. It's a normal element of that process.
Casino design, at least for the smaller projects, has become something of a solitary pursuit, and rightly so. With the bargain-hunting that operators are pursuing these days, it's often difficult to share work on a project given the narrow profit margins. But operators are becoming increasingly savvy, and understand that bringing in more than one design team-even for a small project-can pay dividends in the long run.
Yes, times are tough and likely to get tougher in the short term. But quality always wins out. As Paul Heretakis says in his design column on page 18, change is overrated but improvement is the gold standard. Let's all strive for that. I know we have in this, our seventh annual edition of Casino Design magazine. Thanks for your support!
Improvement You Can Believe In
It's true-the sky is falling. Our political leaders are making sure of it. Wall Street, Madoff and gaming are the poster children for all that's wrong in the world. The stock market and my 401K are in full retreat. So we must fight back by retreating to our core values (gaming, personalized service and value).
Gaming started out as a value-oriented experience with 99-cent shrimp cocktails, free drinks and cheap rooms; it's time to get back to our roots. Six-star hotels, Zen spas and $500 bottles of vodka have gone the way of capitalism and Sarah Palin's wardrobe.
"If you build it, they will come." Well, "they" have tightened the purse strings and you need to adjust. Since the government won't bail us out, we must take a more realistic approach to problem solving. We're on our own-just like we wanted it. Forget about change (it has no meaning); it's about improvement. It's time to show our leaders how to lead.
The casino industry must refine, rethink, refresh and revitalize its amenities. Every space should be evaluated to maximize revenue potential. Remodels or repositioning cost money, but not as much as a stale property that loses its brand, its reputation and its core customers (think Republican Party during the last election).
How do we do it? Well, here are a few tips.
Never give core experiences away for free; people will never pay for them when times return to normal. Instead, add value to those experiences. Stay current and relevant in people's daily lives. Become an irreplaceable experience. As the only group that can offer them gaming, you're halfway there.
Gaming. It's at the core of your success and can lead people to your door. Communal gaming machines, interactive employees and updated interiors all add to the energy that defines a successful gaming visit. It could be the only form of entertainment some people enjoy on a given day, so make it special enough for them to come back. I'm working on a new ad campaign touting the virtues of slot machines over voter machines, and how you have a better chance to win in a casino than on Election Day.
Food & Beverage. People have multiple options-and one of them is staying home. Unique food concepts, refreshed interiors, memorable, personalized service and educational beverage programs can invigorate your offerings. Make sure you're giving people what they want. If nobody wants sushi, don't offer it. This is about the customer's desires, not yours.
Marketing. Reinforce your brand with core customers, and fine-tune your offerings to better focus on their needs. Then introduce your unique form of entertainment to new customers. Pursue them, show them love, spend money on them, and you might be surprised by the results. The Democrats won the election using this theory. We must all broaden our appeal.
Hotel Rooms. With gas prices rising and jobs at risk, traditional extended vacations will be limited for the next few years. This works to our advantage. Casinos within driving distances of major metropolitan areas must create "stay-cation" packages. Don't limit yourself to the local-market casino; draw from cities far beyond the immediate region by working on your message and offering value-oriented, short-trip packages. Put on your Clintonian thinking cap and reinvent yourself!
Service. It's your biggest marketing tool. Times are tough, but your front-line interaction with the customer is all-important. If your employees are depressed, make sure they are not transferring that negativity to the customer. Your customer wants to have fun, so make sure your employees are providing it. It's similar to the illusion Congress has created all these years.
The answers to our current crisis aren't in a book they hand out at fancy schools. We have to go into the street and battle every day. There's a future out there. We've got to work harder and be more creative to find it.
History repeats itself. One day the good times will return.
"Don't follow leaders, and watch your parking meters." --Bob Dylan
Bergman Walls & Associates Ltd. Architects specializes in resorts, casinos, condo-hotels, retail, dining and entertainment venues and was founded by Chairman Joel Bergman and President/COO Scott Walls. Bergman and Walls have experience working with Steve Wynn on projects such as the Mirage "mega-resort" concept, three Golden Nuggets and Treasure Island as in-house architects.
With these accomplishments as background, they formed BWA in January 1994. The BWA team now includes partners Joe Rothman, George Bergman, Leonard Bergman, Robert Fredrickson, Rene Rolin and Darrell Wood, who make up a union of experienced, energetic and diverse professionals. The team's invaluable and visionary experience influences BWA's approach to design for projects of all sizes and types. The firm has built projects in Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, Asia and the United States.
The company's headquarters are located in Las Vegas and are comprised of a staff of 112 design professionals. Recently, BWA opened a Los Angeles office, which currently has a staff of five. Services provided include architecture, interiors, theming, conceptual design, three-dimensional visualization, schematic design, design development, construction documents and construction administration. All work is completed in-house, allowing the partner-in-charge to commit personal attention to all phases of the project, from conception through construction to occupancy.
Many of BWA's projects are icons that define their genre. These include the Mirage, Paris Casino Resort, Caesars Palace (Augustus and Palace Towers), Trump International Hotel & Tower, the Signature at MGM Grand, and L'Auberge du Lac Hotel & Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Current projects include the Las Vegas Fontainebleau Casino Resort, Caesars Place Octavius Tower and Convention Center, the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Sugarcane Bay Casino Resort in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and several master plan design analyses. Expansion and renovation projects include the Golden Nugget Las Vegas, Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, and the Tower expansion for L'Auberge du Lac Hotel & Casino.
BWA's dining and entertainment venues include LAX Nightclub, PURE Nightclub and Pussycat Dolls Lounge, Payard Patisserie & Bistro, restaurants Guy Savoy and Rao's, Casa Fuente, Lucky Strike, Dick's Last Resort, Trader Vic's, the Capital Grille Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Café Ba-Ba Reeba, and Becker's Steakhouse.
The firm is proud to have several Native American clients, including Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Little Six Casino for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Casino Snoqualmie for the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, Salishan-Mohegan Casino for the Mohegan and Cowlitz Indian Tribes, Barona Valley Ranch Resort Casino for the Barona Band of Mission Indians, and conceptual and master planning designs for various California tribes and elsewhere.
International projects are located in Thessaloniki, Greece, Melbourne, Australia, and Ghana, West Africa. BWA currently has studies on its boards for Tokyo, Bucharest, Romania, and Lima, Peru.
Based upon the firm's successful past experience, the team at BWA believes its approach will continue to produce projects that are economically viable, operationally efficient and visually exciting. At Bergman Walls & Associates, the goal is simple: That its projects be remembered for their distinctive architecture, and ultimately for their financial success.
For more information, visit www.bwaltd.com.
One of a Kind
Cagley & Tanner is an interior design firm headquartered in Las Vegas specializing in resort and gaming design, as well as select residential design. Working in collaboration with many of the best architects in the world, Cagley & Tanner has been responsible for some of the most famous public spaces in the world. The firm was were responsible for the new look of the Flamingo Las Vegas "Go" rooms and suites, which have won several awards from Hospitality Design and NEWH, as well as being the only gaming resort listed in Travel and Leisure's 2009 book of the "World's Greatest Hotels, Resorts and Spas."
All of the interiors for the wildly successful new Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Atmore, Alabama were completely designed by Cagley & Tanner, from the casino itself and all the restaurants and nightclubs to the guest rooms, suites and villas. The firm's projects have included the new High Limit Salon Privé at Bellagio, the Red Rooms and suites for Paris Las Vegas, a series of contemporary guest rooms and suites at the Rio, the new Cathouse Nightclub at Luxor and a vast new nightclub at CityCenter.
Ongoing design work includes the Villas at Bellagio, the Villas at the Mirage and a wide variety of public spaces for the new Revel resort currently under construction in Atlantic City.
Cagley & Tanner's work has been profiled and praised in Conde Nast Traveler, Elite Traveler, Interior Design, Vegas Magazine and Hospitality Design, as well as Travel & Leisure. Sean Tanner, a principal of the firm, received the 2008 Wave of the Future award from Hospitality Design, and Jeremy Morse, a senior project designer with the company, received recognition from Boutique Design magazine as one of the Boutique 18-young, upcoming professionals who will change the face of design.
Cagley & Tanner has designers of long standing, with more than 30 years of experience in the field of interior design, as well as a cadre of young, talented professionals with unique and unconventional ideas. Their commitment to bespoke, custom-designed furniture, lighting, millwork, textiles and hardware assure that each project for every client is unique and original, rather than just another edited collection of the latest fads.
Their current client list includes the owners of resort hotel, residential and gaming interiors worldwide.
For more information, visit www.cagleyandtanner.com.
A combined 30 years of design experience between the two Cleo Design principals, Ann Fleming and Ken Kulas, defines the maturity of the firm's flexibility without compromising the project-be it resort hotels and casinos, entertainment complexes, commercial and office spaces or luxury residences.
The firm's mission is simple: to underscore a high level of creativity with exceptional attention to function, client needs and individual tastes. Creating a space that reflects a sense of place is the ultimate goal of Cleo Design.
Their clients provide Cleo Design with an essential portal for discovery and interpretation of enduring design. Most important to the firm is how clients envision their respective projects. Choice, flexibility and tenacity are the underlying concepts that define the Cleo perspective toward all projects. Every aspect of a Cleo project is skillfully executed, ensuring that the client's expectations are met and exceeded.
The team at Cleo Design is a seasoned group with a history of collaborating with one another in innumerable projects. Yet, each member works as an individual, bringing varied concepts and perspectives to the same project. The team's striking capabilities reflect in Cleo's highly diverse projects from coast to coast, in venues including casino and resort interiors, related public areas, bars and lounges, restaurants and retail locations.
The award-winning firm was founded in 2000, and Fleming and Kulas have overseen some of the biggest gaming design projects conceptualized this decade. From Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana to the firm's current work on the Cirque du Soleil Theater under construction at MGM Mirage's CityCenter project in Las Vegas, Cleo Design has consistently tackled the most cutting-edge spaces and given them life.
For more information, visit www.cleo-design.com.
Cuningham Group transcends tradition with architecture, interior design, urban design and planning services for a diverse mix of client and project types, including 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 story-telling to create unique environments," says Tom Hoskens, AIA, principal of Cuningham Group. "As is the Vegas of today, the resorts of the new millennium will be multi-dimensional experiences, where each guest becomes part of the action."
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 its goal, the development of green solutions for their clients and our planet is also a priority. The firm believes each project should be designed for the betterment of the community and society as a whole, and sustainability and green design seem to be a natural extension of its core ideologies.
Throughout its 18-year history of designing gaming and resort destinations, Cuningham Group's stature in the industry continues to grow. Their success in designing creative and profitable gaming resort environments has led to multiple gaming industry awards and repeat work from clients.
Recent project openings 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. Included are 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, just to name a few.
The extensive experience of the firm's professionals allows them 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 more than 200 employees, with 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 about Cuningham Group, visit www.cuningham.com.
Dougall Design is celebrating 21 years of business this year: Principal Terry Dougall founded his namesake company, Dougall Design Associates, Inc., in 1988. A casino interior design industry veteran of 36 years, he quickly grew the company's reputation and raised its profile. In 1990, just two years after opening, he was already working on major projects-among them, the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.
During the mid-1990s, the company experienced an explosion of growth. Dougall was commissioned to create the interiors for three Sam's Town casinos in 1994. By 1996, he themed the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, followed shortly thereafter with a third interior renovation and expansion of the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace and the theming and renovation of the MGM Grand.
In 1997, the company was selected to design the interiors of the next two major projects in casino interior 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. In addition to completing highly successful projects like the acclaimed Borgata in Atlantic City and THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, Dougall Design was selected to provide interiors for Boyd Gaming's $4 billion Echelon Place (though the project is currently on hiatus).
For more information, visit www.dougalldesign.com.
Designing Distinctive Destinations
For more than 30 years since its founding in 1979, Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG) has provided architectural excellence to the gaming and entertainment industry. Publications such as Engineering News Record, Hotel Business and Hospitality Construction rank Hnedak Bobo Group as a top-10 leader in the U.S. hospitality design industry.
The firm's collaborative culture and progressive designs have attracted the attention of leading industry organizations and publications-landing HBG as one of the nation's "Best Architecture Firms to Work For," as ranked by Building Design and Construction magazine and Zweig White.
The 100-person architecture, interior design and development management firm focuses its passion for entertainment design on propelling their clients' success in the gaming and hospitality markets. Understanding how design and planning influences their clients' successful business operations is the cornerstone of HBG's philosophy, and is key to its own success. That understanding comes from delivering more than $3 billion in destination gaming and resort projects nationwide, and also as developers and owners of hospitality real estate.
Walking in the owner's shoes as developers of the $40 million Westin Memphis Beale Street Hotel affords HBG the opportunity to experience design from a rare perspective, fostering a deeper understanding of the balance between operational efficiency, financial performance and design aesthetics. The firm is focused on translating its experience into practical solutions for its clients.
HBG has cemented its reputation as designers of distinctive entertainment and gaming resort destinations. In the past 10 years alone, the firm has led the design of more than 15,000 hotel rooms encompassing 10 million square feet of resort, gaming and convention space.
The firm has progressively grown its core hospitality business to include a focused specialty in Indian gaming. Today, HBG is one of the largest providers of professional services in Indian Country, with client relationships representing 25 tribal business enterprises across the country. A recent acquisition has also expanded the firm's markets to include mass-attendance attractions, large-scale arenas and family entertainment experiences.
In 2009, HBG will celebrate four of its major gaming projects entering the market with the completion of Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore, Alabama; Greektown Casino and Hotel in Detroit; the Oaklawn Jockey Club gaming expansion in Hot Springs, Arkansas; and the Northern Quest Casino expansion in Airway Heights (Spokane), Washington. 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 www.hbginc.com.
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 elements.
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.
The company is evolving from a construction firm to a conglomerate of companies that serve the construction and architectural industries. KHS&S is able to serve owners, architects and general contractors in various capacities. The company is using technology to diversify its offerings, and will continue to apply various technological advances to projects to stay in sync with how the industry progresses in the next decade.
KHS&S operates 10 domestic offices in California, Florida, Nevada, Washington, Texas and New Jersey. It is also expanded into offices in Dubai, Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. New projects include Aliante Station and CityCenter, both in Las Vegas.
For more information, visit www.khss.com.
Established in 1958 and based in Newport Beach, California, Lifescapes International, Inc. is a leading landscape architectural design firm. With more than 15 casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip alone, Lifescapes International is well known for creating successful, dynamic "destinations" throughout the United States and overseas. For more than three decades, the firm has been a significant design influence in gaming-related properties.
The firm recently completed the Las Vegas Strip's newest casino resort addition with the opening of Wynn Resorts' Encore Las Vegas. The Lifescapes International team also looks forward to the completion of the Fontainebleau Resort and Casino, located in Las Vegas and due to open the end of 2009, as well as their River City project in St. Louis, Missouri for Pinnacle Entertainment.
Lifescapes International's senior leadership team consists of CEO/FASLA Don Brinkerhoff, President/CFO Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, Executive Vice President Daniel Trust, Director of Field Services Roger Voettiner and Director of Design Andrew Kreft. They work in unison to create and manage the firm's projects. A team of highly qualified landscape architects, project designers and a strong administrative staff ably assists them.
"We have been entrusted by our clientele to assist them in creating successful projects, and are fortunate to be able to continue creating domestic as well as international destination casinos, resorts, retail centers and mixed use projects," explains CEO Don Brinkerhoff. "As a must-see city, Las Vegas is visited by millions of people annually, and many of our domestic and international clients have seen our Las Vegas work and have entrusted us to create projects in their communities-many of which are not casinos, but rather are places where garden settings of high quality make sense for their developments."
In addition to working successfully on many national gaming developments, the firm has worked on a variety of Native American assignments. These include Agua Caliente Casino, Trump 29, Harrah's Rincon Casino and Hotel, Barona Casino, Pala Casino and Resort and the Spa Casino and Resort.
"The entertainment and resort operators, including astute executives within the gaming industry, have realized for many years that stand-alone gaming activities are simply not enough to keep customers fully engaged on their properties," Brinkerhoff-Jacobs says. "We are now working on nightclubs, European beach clubs, retail and restaurant environments so our gaming clients have other captivating activities for their customers to enjoy during their stay."
For more information, visit www.lifescapesintl.com.
Perini Building Company is the largest builder of hospitality and gaming resorts in the nation. Its niche market is constructing fast-track, complex projects. Professional services offered are construction management, general contracting, pre-construction, post-construction and design/build. Perini Building Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tutor Perini Corporation and trades on the New York Stock Exchange.
The company is currently building CityCenter, the largest privately funded construction project in the U.S. The total cost of CityCenter is more than $9 billion. Also under construction in Las Vegas are the Cosmopolitan Resort & Casino and Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
Recently completed projects include Trump International Hotel & Tower in Las Vegas, Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel in Arizona, and MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut.
Over the past 25 years, Perini has built some of the most recognizable resort and gaming properties in the country, including Paris Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, the Colosseum at Caesars, Luxor Las Vegas, the Mohegan Sun expansion, Palms Casino Resort, Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa and the Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas.
In addition to Perini's construction expertise, attributes that have led to the company's success are based on Perini's philosophy of building relationships on trust. The company derives more than 80 percent of its business from repeat clients. As a leader in the construction industry, Perini is also at the forefront of implementing diversity initiatives to help foster economic opportunities for minority, women and disadvantaged-owned businesses on its projects.
Other notable achievements include Forbes magazine's selection of Perini Corporation as one of the 26 best-managed companies in America.
For more information, visit www.perini.com.
Purchasing Management International is one of the largest volume hospitality procurement agents that supplies furniture fixtures and equipment to the hospitality and gaming industries.
Founded in 1993, 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. PMI's mission is focused on providing unparalleled purchasing services while continuing to expand 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 in Las Vegas, Cancun and New Delhi, India. These offices provide a global network, ensuring seamless acquisition, project coordination and job cost control.
The company provides services ranging from worldwide sourcing to conceptual budgets, as-specified budgets, flat fee negotiation, purchasing timelines, cash flow projections, bid spreadsheets, expediting reports, job cost reports, on-site supervision, video conferencing and logistics, installation and warehouse coordination.
In Las Vegas, PMI recently completed the renovation of 2,753 rooms and corridors at Treasure Island; the renovation of 2,738 guestrooms and 200 penthouse suites at the Mirage; and theluxury resort Red Rock Casino.
In Atlantic City, PMI projects include the three phases of the Borgata Hotel Casino: the new casino, more than 2,000 guestrooms, a 300,000-square-foot expansion of gaming areas, spa and luxury suites, an expansion of 880 new rooms and the lifestyle center, the Water Club.
PMI is the leading procurement agent for Native American gaming. The company has recently sourced, purchased and installed FF&E and OS&E for the Gila River Indiana Community's Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino and the Lone Butte Casino' the Poarch Band of Creek Indians' Wind Creek Casino' and Harrah's Cherokee Hotel and Casino.
PMI is on the forefront of green business practices in the hospitality and casino resort industries. President Bill Langmade is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED-Accredited Professional. PMI assists clients in compliance with the LEED Green Building Rating System, the nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.
PMI is currently involved in purchasing management services for projects in North America, Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East.
For more information, visit www.pmiconnect.com.
Thalden-Boyd-Emery Architects comprises a group of experienced designers who have perfected their skills. Principals Barry Thalden and Chief Boyd founded the company in 1971, and Richard Emery joined the team in 1982 to contribute to Thalden-Boyd-Emery's rapidly expanding casino design business.
The firm has grown from its small beginnings to one of the top 10 design firms in the hospitality industry, according to Hotel & Motel Management magazine. With Boyd's Native American expertise (having begun his career designing spaces for tribal buildings) and the principals' focus on longevity, Thalden-Boyd-Emery is now a go-to firm for diverse architectural experience.
The firm offers services such as architecture, engineering, interior design, theming and master planning to some of the world's largest gaming operators. High-profile past projects include the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas; Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in Palm Springs, California; and many more.
Bars, restaurants, hotel rooms, pools, spas, convention centers and meeting rooms-nothing is off limits for Thalden-Boyd-Emery Architects' team of designers.
The firm also has a long history of excellent client service, which is key to the three principals' vision: to provide experience, creativity and integrity to each project. Thirty-eight years of success prove Thalden-Boyd-Emery Architects is heading in the right direction.
For more information, visit www.thalden.com.
WESTAR Architects is a Las Vegas-based hospitality design firm that has grown to become one of the largest companies of its kind in the 12 years since its inception. Founders Paul Heretakis and Patrick Klenk have worked diligently to design and develop some of the most successful hospitality projects in the world. With offices in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Macau, WESTAR Architects is quickly becoming a truly global brand.
The Las Vegas office caters to the needs of clients in the world-class Nevada gaming industry, while the Philadelphia office focuses on East Coast and regional clients. The Phoenix branch develops casinos for Native American tribes, and WESTAR's Macau affiliate is focused on the booming Chinese market. This expansion from Las Vegas outward has helped WESTAR Architects to become a diverse, award-winning company that is able to employ specialists in master planning, architecture, interior design, branding and restaurant development.
Heretakis alone has more than 15 years of experience working on hospitality projects nationwide. With his oversight, WESTAR Architects has completed more than 400 hospitality projects, included hundreds of bars and restaurants and more than 3,000 hotel rooms. As a graduate of New York's Pratt Institute, Heretakis has both academic and real-world experience designing hospitality projects. He was named one of Global Gaming Business magazine's 25 people to watch in 2009.
When working with clients, WESTAR Architects operates according to three principles: passion, creativity and service. Driven by passion, the architects at WESTAR apply their expertise to every space within a resort, including casino floors, rooms and suites, theaters and convention centers, retail areas, spas, bars, lounges, restaurants and nightclubs.
The firm's use of a client-driven vision studio, innovation laboratory studio, operational branding and service studio, alternate revenue-generating studio and a restaurant development studio help to implement the creative vision that develops from a partnership between a client and a designer.
According to WESTAR Architects, the foundation of service is what truly drives success. The company believes that by providing consistently exceptional work, long-term relationships with clients and their properties are built and nurtured. WESTAR has worked with some of the biggest names in gaming, including the MGM Mirage Corporation, Las Vegas Sands, Harrah's Entertainment, Trump Entertainment and Resorts International.
For WESTAR, the key to longevity and success is developing quality products and incorporating the client's ideas and vision into the project. From the recent remodeling of the New York-New York Hotel and Casino to expansions in Asia, WESTAR Architects continues to display its creativity and show its dedication to developing some of the finest hospitality projects the world has ever seen.
For more information, visit www.wagnarchitects.com.
Founding principals Jon Sparer and Tom Wucherer established Las Vegas-based architecture firm YWS in 2001. Over the years, they have built the company into a leading design and architectural firm focused on the serious business of leisure, including hospitality, gaming and dining.
YWS has extensive experience designing casinos, hotels and resorts, restaurants, nightclubs, lounges and entertainment venues across North America and around the globe. The firm's design expertise has been called upon for world-class, trend-setting integrated resorts such as Bellagio, Mirage and Treasure Island in Las Vegas; Borgata in Atlantic City; and MGM Grand in Macau.
From its 10,000-square-foot design studio just minutes from the famous Las Vegas Strip, the team at YWS includes many multi-state licensed architects among its staff of 35.
Drawing from years of experience on a wide variety of projects of varying scope, YWS has developed a sophisticated response to market demands, land utilization, operational efficiency and construction costs. Past projects prove that good design can improve a client's bottom line. In addition to paying close attention to the visual details, the firm is intensely focused on how a building performs functionally, and brings to any project special knowledge of sustainability and energy efficiency. Aside from superior design sensibilities and technical knowledge, YWS understands the importance of treating its clients as assets and makes client satisfaction a priority.
The team at YWS has a simple goal: to approach each project with passion and enthusiasm, deliver the highest level of service and provide a finished product that is creatively designed, architecturally distinctive and financially successful.
YWS services include master planning, concept innovation, design development, architecture, programming and scheduling.
For more information, visit www.ywsarchitects.com.
A Work in Progress
Creativity and innovation cannot be limited by a clock, although the failure to adhere to a schedule is often more costly than valuable. At Encore, there were several last-minute changes that radically altered what Wynn Resorts' Encore Las Vegas would become.
From the groundbreaking, where Steve Wynn described a property that was quite unlike the finished product, through the early stages of construction and even upon entering the homestretch, there were changes at Encore that finely tuned its appeal to customers and its final form.
Encore was dramatically impacted by the company's first resort outside the United States, Wynn Macau. The designs for the rooms and the two-story suites influenced Steve Wynn and company executives so much that they implemented changes in design as the building was under construction.
According to chief architect DeRuyter Butler, the revelation about the two-story suites was implemented in such a manner that it did not impact the construction schedule; the drawings, permits and layout would be completed in time to start the concrete pours on the 21st floor. And the transformation from modestly larger rooms (compared to Wynn Las Vegas) into mini-suites was just as dramatic and timely.
Roger Thomas, the company's chief designer, describes last-minute changes in the restaurants Society and Sinatra that complied with the requests of the chefs/operators who were only chosen as the property was nearing completion.
The changes overall make Encore one of the most intimate large hotels in the business, able to impress the VIPs and the common man alike.
But the changes were dramatic and risky, proving two old adages: Where there's a will, there's a way; and look before you leap.