t’s not a complete coincidence that the Chinese government crackdown on corruption has stymied the VIP business in the Macau casinos. For years, the Macau government has been urging the casino companies to de-emphasize the VIP market and focus on the mass and premium mass (the visitors that fall between middle class and “whales”) by developing non-gaming attractions.
But it proved difficult to convince casinos to turn their back on 70 percent of their gaming revenues. So when a Chinese edict to reduce corruption on the mainland spilled over into Macau, the casino companies had no choice but to sharpen their focus on the mass market.
In reality, however, the Cotai casinos have always featured more than just gaming. The first, the Venetian, offers massive MICE facilities and retail. Later, Galaxy and City of Dreams added entertainment and other features like upscale hotel suites and innovative pools.
But there has been nothing in Macau like Macau Studio City, a property largely owned by Melco Crown Inter-national, which also owns City of Dreams and Altira in Macau. Studio City is poised to redefine what it means to develop non-gaming attractions.
Just a few years ago, Melco Crown rescued the dormant project, which ground to a halt because of financial roadblocks in the first frenzy of Macau development. But outside of the foundation and the projected entertainment theme, Melco Crown Co-Chairman Lawrence Ho changed the original plans for Studio City, and transformed the project into a glittering $3.2 billion Hollywood movie set.
“Since Melco Crown Entertainment became involved with Studio City, we have ambitiously planned and developed the property to engage the much broader group of leisure entertainment seekers who want emotionally engaging experiences that they can share with friends and family,” says JD Clayton, the president of Macau Studio City. “This vision of Mr. Ho has brought a new life to Studio City.”
Gary Goddard’s Goddard Group was named the lead design firm, and along with the architect of record, Leigh & Orange, the two companies collaborated in bringing Ho’s vision to life.
“When Melco-Crown became the majority owner in the project, Lawrence Ho decided that the previously designed ‘contemporary steel and glass building’ did not really communicate the idea of a destination that was to be about entertainment, nightlife, recreation and fun,” Goddard explains. “As a fan of cinema in all its many forms, Mr. Ho decided the new resort should be iconic in a way that would create excitement for visitors to Macau. He wanted a destination that would draw its inspiration from the world of motion pictures and entertainment. And he wanted a new resort that would become Macau’s next ‘must-see’ destination.
“The only thing we were asked to retain was the basic foundation, as the steel was already being installed on site. So we kept the foundation, but then set about creating an all-new approach to the design. Our goal was to create something that would be immediately iconic, meaning that it had to be different than anything else in Macau, and ideally, anything else in the world. So we looked to classic motion pictures and decided to create something that would, like the greatest movies in history, be an epic and larger than life in every way.
“We set about creating a design for Studio City that would recall the power and energy of the silver screen with a number of unique elements that would echo our memories from event movies of the past and present.”
In what would have been heresy a few short years ago, Ho decided to forgo the VIP rooms that had been standard in every casino in Macau.
“We steered away from the VIP market a long time ago,” he told the Macau Daily Times. “I think we are the second least reliant on VIP customers out of the six concessionaires. The VIP contribution to our overall group, even before Studio City, was less than 10 percent, so that is not that important to us at the moment.”
The thorny question of how many table games would be granted to Studio City was resolved just days before opening when the government approved 250 tables at the property. While it fell short of the 400 that had been requested, it was 100 more than was granted to the second phase of Galaxy when it opened last May (Galaxy was granted an additional 100 tables at the same time the Studio City allotment was announced). However, Ho will be forced to renegotiate loan terms, which required 400 tables.
“It’s no secret that for a long time the rumor was we were going to get 150 tables,” said Ho. “Were we flipping out? Of course we were flipping out. But we never went out publicly. There’s no arguing with City Hall. There’s no arguing with the government. There’s only begging and lobbying and more begging.”
Clayton says gamblers will be pleased with the selection of games.
“With an array of choices of gaming tables, slot machines and electronic table games, Studio City offers an exciting and dynamic gaming experience on the main gaming floor,” he says. “It is worth noting that when walking into the retail space, casino visitors will be favorably impressed with the expertise and attention to detail that was given to interior design. The cinematic theme is very evident in the space, and provides a warm and engaging atmosphere in which to be entertained.”
But Ho believes that the non-gaming focus of Studio City is crucial for not only the success of the property but also of the city.
“What has been going on with the Chinese economy, especially the anti-graft campaign, has made the VIP environment more challenging in the near term, as fear has been driven into the hearts of many of the middle-to-upper class,” Ho told Fairfax Media. “However, the gaming market, especially the mass-market segment, still has much potential for development.
“Melco has tailored its investments and market strategy towards attracting a diverse clientele from both gaming and non-gaming sectors. Diversification and innovation are paramount to overcoming the challenges and ensuring sustainable success in the city.”
Clayton echoes his boss.
“We are confident that all these elements found in Studio City can take Macau’s entertainment destination proposition to new heights and help position Macau as Asia’s top leisure and entertainment destination,” he says. “Melco Crown Enter-
tainment has tailored its investments toward attracting a diverse clientele other than gamblers. Diversification and innovation are paramount in overcoming the challenges and ensuring sustainable success in Macau. We are well prepared to bolster our presence in the mass market to grasp the growing opportunities in the segment. This is demonstrated through substantial and innovative enhancements to our assets.”
Location, Location, Location
One of the main reasons Melco Crown felt Studio City was the right acquisition target is its location. Situated adjacent to the Lotus Bridge border crossing connecting Macau and Hengqin Island, China, it also is close to one of the proposed light rail stations in Cotai that will transport people across Macau.
“The strategic location provides convenient access and traffic flow from key transportation gateways and thoroughfares,” says Clayton. “Studio City is therefore geographically well positioned to serve Asia’s increasingly important mass-market segment.”
The target market for Studio City confers upon it a “make-or-break” proposition when it comes to Macau. Clayton has no doubt that Studio City will deliver.
“Our entertainment attractions, rooms, food and beverage and leisure activities are all aimed at appealing to a broad customer base,” he says. “As much as we would like to attract people who will enjoy the most technologically advanced and stunning casino in Macau, we also have the facilities for family visitors on holiday, as well as casual travelers visiting Macau for the entertainment, shopping and food. With our new ballroom and adjoining meeting rooms, 5,000-seat event center and multiple gardens and Pacha nightclub, we are also targeting the business sector for large corporate events and parties.”
Goddard explains that the design of Studio City was crucial in conveying that entertainment theme Ho believed was essential.
“The Art Deco style was a deliberate approach that I felt best suited the goals as Mr. Ho outlined them,” says Goddard. “First, the Art Deco style best captures the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ in an epic manner, delivering an iconic destination that we associate with the world of motion pictures. This was accomplished in an elegant and powerful way.
“Second, because this is a major resort destination, we want to assure that the design would deliver an upscale image, and people associate Art Deco as an elegant, clean and inviting form of design.
“Third, where Art Deco buildings remain, such as in Shanghai, they are as beautiful and engaging today as they were in the year they were built. This sense of classic and timeless design was another reason that we chose this direction. Studio City Macau will never appear dated because its design, lines and special features are all classic and timeless.
“Finally, from every angle, Studio City Macau is a photographer’s dream, meaning that visitors will find this a multi-faceted place to send messages to friends and family around the world, and we designed the entire site with social media in mind.
“I should point out that in addition to the Art Deco design for the main building, this resort is based upon the world of motion pictures, and we took care to offer several unique entry points beyond the main front entrance. The Adventure Gateway faces the border entry from China and provides a spectacular entrance to the Studio City complex. But here we chose to create something that brings to mind exotic adventure epics like the Indiana Jones movies and many of the Bollywood action films. The design here emphasizes a sense of high adventure and a royal welcome that hints at the wonders that lie beyond the great doors.”
Clayton says the combination of design and entertainment options makes Studio City unique.
“Studio City’s cinematic theme and mass-market-focused entertainment offerings are clearly differentiated from our company’s existing portfolio of assets, as well as from our competitors’ facilities in the Macau market,” he says. “This Hollywood-inspired resort will take best-of-class, entertainment-fueled leisure offerings to a whole new level in Macau, redefining the territory as a world-leading tourist destination.”
Let Us Entertain You
Clayton reels off the entertainment options at Studio City and points out that each has a special attraction.
“Batman has become an internationally renowned household portrayal of justice, with a collaboration of great filmmakers in featuring the enduring icon in a new cinema production to global audiences every few years,” he says. “As previously announced, the latest Batman v Superman episode will be shown in cinemas by the end of the year. So we expect that the world’s first Batman Dark Flight ride will become the talk of the town with a screening of the latest Batman feature, and also will attract the focus of the Chinese audience to our Batman attraction at Studio City.”
Clayton points out that with Franz Harary’s House of Magic, the property is banking on the success of magic shows all over Asia.
“Taking over two years to develop, the House of Magic, Macau’s first and only permanent magic extravaganza, is an incredible live magical experience,” he says. “Franz Harary first brought his ‘Masters of Magic’ world tour to the City of Dreams in 2020, turning Macau into center stage of a global magical phenomenon with amazing feats never seen before in this part of the world.
“The show was a dazzling extravaganza that challenged your senses, and was well-received by audiences. Given the big success of the previous show, we are truly pleased to have Mr. Harary to once again host the amazing performance at the House of Magic.
“The House of Magic is home to magic acts performed by leading magicians from around the world. It is a one-of-a-kind multi-theater attraction unlike anything seen in Asia or elsewhere in the world. It is set to become the premiere performance venue for magicians globally. Featuring four live magicians in a three-theater magic complex, it amazes visitors with an array of mind-bending shows that include Harary’s spectacular resident show Mega Magic, offering incredible live magical experiences showcasing the world’s greatest magicians.”
Studio City lives up to its name by presenting Studio 8, the only live television production facility in Macau available to all comers.
“In terms of television broadcast facilities, Studio City’s Studio 8 is a 300-seat live-audience TV broadcast studio for reality and game show productions distributed in the Asia region,” says Clayton. “It is the only TV studio facility in Macau to provide open access to plug-and-play facilities to create a fully operational television recording and broadcast studio. Studio 8 is a state-of-the-art studio with the necessary infrastructure to support the portable specialist equipment required for world-class TV production. It is set to become a broadcast entertainment hub used for filming, recording and watching Asia’s top television programs.”
Setting the Standard
Clayton says Studio City has upped the ante for what guests expect in an integrated resort, starting with the hotel rooms and suites.
“To deliver the ‘Live Like A Star’ experience to visitors, Studio City hotel offers the finest in luxury accommodations with 1,600 rooms and suites in two adjoining towers, the Celebrity Tower and the premium Star Tower,” he explains. “The Star Tower delivers the ultimate in lavish facilities and service for more discerning guests, while our Celebrity Tower provides a deluxe hotel experience for group travelers including access to all of the entertainment that Studio City has to offer. Star Tower features spacious suites of 65 square meters, VIP and executive private check-in service, an exclusive indoor pool, the Star Club private lounge, and the luxurious Zensa spa, for an all-around glamorous experience reaching the highest international five-star standards.”
Another bar-raising development at Studio City is the pool deck, where RiverScape, a lazy river concept, is combined with adventure.
“RiverScape is where the adventurous want to glide in the water for more than 260 meters, which will be a showcase attraction for hotel guests on the Studio City Podium Deck. RiverScape and swimming pool Aqua Play offer visitors the ultimate yet relaxing adventure experience for all ages. Spreading over 21,800 square meters, the recreation facilities include an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, a white sand beach, contemporary sun lounges, private cabanas, a pool bar, and the adventurous RiverScape ride.
“Studio City’s water and recreation facility set the standard for landmark family attractions in Macau, and offer the best and most sophisticated, adventurous-yet-relaxing experience for all guests.”
MICE business has also been optimized at Studio City.
“To capture opportunities from the booming MICE industry, Studio City offers a wide range of unique thrilling event experiences inspired by Hollywood-style glamour,” says Clayton. “Our dedicated MICE team can provide totally personalized, outstanding services for events of any size. MICE visitors are set for a spectacular experience at Studio City unlike anything currently offered anywhere in Asia. Studio City offers over 4,000 square meters of indoor event space which can be configured, allowing meeting and event planners to host anything from an exclusive banquet to an international conference with everything tailored to create the theme of their choice.”
Like all other aspects of the property, the Studio City shopping area combines retail and entertainment.
“Since immersive entertainment experiences are at the very core of the Studio City proposition, our new resort retail area, The Boulevard, innovatively combines high-energy immersive entertainment with the very best in fashion-forward retail offerings. Our retail offering is a totally new concept for Macau and Asia, and brings an exciting dynamic shopping experience and a further world-class non-gaming attraction to our thrilling mix of entertainment-inspired leisure destination attractions,” Clayton says.
The retail area gives a nod to great American entertainment centers, as well.
“Unlike any retail offering found in Asia, this unique 35,000-square-meter, immersive retail entertainment environment brings shopping to life by transporting visitors to high-energy streetscapes—entertaining them at every turn with featured streets and squares inspired by iconic shopping and entertainment locations including New York’s Times Square and Hollywood’s Beverly Hills. Moreover, at the Times Square Macau, The Boulevard at Studio City presents a variety of entertainment activities, from virtual musicians to film stars shown through holographic projections,” he says.
Fixing the Holes
Clearly, the most striking element of Studio City is the iconic figure-8 observation wheel, the Golden Reel, emerging from the center of the building itself.
“As a new iconic landmark in Macau, the Golden Reel is a totally unique entertainment offering in Asia, and indeed the world,” says Clayton. “Towering 130 meters above Cotai, the Golden Reel is majestically located in the center point between the twin Art Deco towers, and will offer visitors a thrilling ride experience found only at Studio City.
“The Golden Reel was formed in traditional Hollywood blockbuster movie fashion when not one but two flaming asteroids crash through the building in tandem to create an almost perfect figure 8 (hole). With the Industrial Revolution-themed loading platform 23 floors above the ground floor, the Golden Reel has a total of 17 ‘steam-punk’ themed cabins each comfortably accommodating up to 10 people on the 15-minute jaw-dropping journey around the distinctive figure-8 track.
“Blending the romance of the golden age of travel with Melco Crown Entertainment’s unprecedented ability to provide world-class entertainment experiences, the Golden Reel showcases the company’s commitment to leading the market with one-of-a-kind, industry-redefining attractions.”
Goddard says his company spent many hours and days concentrating on getting this element correct.
“The Golden Reel was inspired by Lawrence Ho’s suggestion that a meteor might have crashed through the center of the towers creating an open space,” he explains. “From this idea we created the idea for an open space, and then, realizing the power of the number 8 throughout Asia, we doubled the opening and Mr. Ho immediately embraced the concept. We then suggested that activating the area with a Ferris wheel, creating what would be the world’s first figure-8 wheel Ferris wheel, could be quite spectacular. Mr. Ho agreed, and we set about designing what became the Golden Reel.
“From that point on it was a team effort, with the internal Studio City entertainment team, and the ride manufacturing company, and the construction company, all working together to ensure the Golden Reel would be realized. Challenges included figuring out the styling of the cabs, the engineering of the structure and ride system (carried out by Vekoma Rides), and ultimately, the total guest experience from the time they purchase their ticket to the time they board, to the time they disembark.
“As the creators and designers for this incredible achievement, our goal was to create something so incredible and so fantastic that it would inspire everyone who sees it—whether in the news, or social media, or photos online.”
Macau Studio City’s Entertainment Options
Whether they are gamblers, millennials, business travelers, leisure visitors or MICE participants, Studio City has a vast array of
choices to entertain them.
• The Golden Reel: With an Industrial Revolution-themed loading platform 23 floors above the ground floor, the Golden Reel has a total of 17 “steam-punk” themed cabins, each accommodating up to 10 people on the 15-minute jaw-dropping journey around the distinctive figure 8 track.
• Frank Harary’s House of Magic: A three-theater complex featuring master illusionist Frank Harary and his Mega Magic show, along with other renowned magicians, for a truly immersive experience.
• Warner Bros. Fun Zone: A 40,000-square-foot indoor play center packed with rides and interactive fun zones, featuring all your favorite characters from Warner Bros., DC Comics, Hanna Barbera and Looney Toons in a secure child concierge environment.
• Studio City Event Center: A 5,000-seat multi-purpose entertainment venue featuring live music, theatrical shows and top sporting events.
• Studio 8: The only television studio in Macau to offer open-access, “plug-and-play” facilities to create a fully operational recording and filming studio.
• Batman’s Dark Flight: A simulated ride aboard Batman’s unique vehicles, taking advantage of the long-standing popularity of the movie series.
t was a classic humid June night in downtown Cleveland, but the scene was anything but typical. The clock had struck midnight at about the same time streams of mostly ecstatic Cavs fans began pouring out of “The Q” (Quicken Loans Arena). Native son Lebron James had just put the finishing touches on a brilliant performance that had propelled Cleveland to a 2-games-to-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
The many indoor-outdoor bars that surround the arena quickly swelled beyond capacity, while seemingly endless waves of millennials, adorned in Cleveland Cavaliers gear, just kept coming. There was singing and dancing in the streets—much of it influenced by approachable inebriation. For a city beaten down by decades of hard times, the guarded optimism hanging in the air was as blissful as it was distinctly foreign.
For those not inclined to partake in what had the potential to slip into a display of marked public lunacy, but were also not quite ready to call it a night, there was only one other obvious available option: the Horseshoe Casino, located just across the street from the arena.
The Cavs are owned by magnate Dan Gilbert, who made much of his $5 billion fortune via his ownership of Quicken Loans. Gilbert’s entrepreneurial success with that not-so-sexy form of commerce allowed him the opportunity to get into two comparatively flashy entertainment businesses vis-à-vis sports and gambling. In Cleveland, Gilbert’s two flagship businesses are his NBA franchise, the Cavaliers, and the Horseshoe Casino, which is physically connected, by “sky-bridge” walkway, to Quicken Loans Arena.
On that unusual night one group of attendees, making their way from the arena to the casino, particularly stuck out. They appeared to be in their early 30s and only a few of them were wearing NBA apparel—of the visiting Golden State Warriors. Amid a backdrop whereby the crowd and the increasingly rowdy atmosphere was markedly Midwest-American-white, the other distinguishing characteristic of the group was even more distinctive: they were ethnically Chinese.
The casino floor, like the surrounding streets outside, was jam-packed with a mix of mostly voyeuristic curiosity seekers coming from the arena, casual gamblers and traditional slot players who may have forgotten about the big game that night and were now dealing with the consequences.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, the Horseshoe Cleveland has baccarat tables. It will come as a surprise to few that this group of Chinese guests had found them. As they saddled up to positions 1-2-3-5-6, one of the women in the group reached into her purse, pulled out a stack of money and pushed it across the table toward the dealer to exchange for playing chips.
In baccarat there is usually no position 4, because that number is homophonous with “death” in Chinese; the nuances of superstition and luck within the mindset of the Asian gambler are seemingly endless.
Several octaves below the ambient crowd noise, slot machine clamor and John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good,” the young Chinese woman tapped her cash and rather firmly said to the dealer, “liǎng wàn” ($20,000). In short order a casino host, also of Asian descent, appeared and engaged the group in some light Chinese banter. It was just another Tuesday night in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Future is Asian
For some regional casinos, a few observed baccarat tables and a handful of Chinese-speaking staff may currently suffice. But for businesses located within geographic zones containing larger numbers of Asian residents and those situated in destination markets, this type of customer—specifically the Chinese millennial leisure traveler—will soon become increasingly important.
Chinese outbound tourists are already the world’s most numerous and most high-volume spenders. In 2021, a record 109 million Chinese outbound tourists spent $164 billion. By 2023, these numbers are expected to balloon to 174 million people spending an incredible $264 billion annually on outbound tourism. Nearly all of this growth in foreign travel has come over the past 10 years; in 2000, there were only 10 million Chinese outbound tourists.
The driving force behind this new wave of leisure travelers is Chinese millennials—especially those between 25 and 34 years old, who are in many ways different from both their parents and their peer groups in Western nations. This group of Chinese, born between 1980 and 1989, comprise more than 200 million people, or about 17 percent of China’s 1.3 billion total population.
With China’s economy being among the largest in the world, the income levels of many of its citizens are now high enough to be able to travel abroad. Unlike their American counterparts still mired by the aftereffects of the Great Recession, Chinese millennials have seen their incomes rise nearly 35 percent over the past three years. In just the past year, the number of Chinese outbound travelers has increased by an astonishing 20 percent. This has not gone unnoticed by hoteliers, with nearly 60 percent of U.S. and 80 percent of AsiaPac destination-market businesses noting discernible increases in visitation by Chinese millennial guests.
Fully 90 percent of Chinese millennials surveyed recently by Hotels.com’s Chinese International Travel Monitor stated that “leisure” was their main reason for international travel.
Gambling overseas is also a very popular vacation activity for Chinese tourists. In the last five years, the number of Chinese nationals traveling to Las Vegas has jumped by 80 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. In a recent survey of mainland Chinese millennials, Las Vegas was cited as the most popular outbound destination for a leisure travel experience.
Two of the gaming industry’s leading markets, Macau and Las Vegas, are facing a similar challenge, whereby demographic trends in particular are disrupting traditional business models.
In the case of Macau—which has seen historic gambling revenue lows this year—there is a shift toward diversification, largely via government mandate, away from a near total reliance on the VIP market and toward a broadening of amenities that have a better chance of appealing to China’s growing middle class, which McKinsey China forecasts will constitute 630 million people by 2023.
In Las Vegas, an aging population of slot players is being replaced by younger consumers, including Chinese millennials, who by and large have thus far shown a marked lack of interest in traditional casino games compared to generations past.
Shopping is perhaps the most popular activity of Chinese outbound tourists. China’s import and consumption tax rates have resulted in luxury goods often costing several times more in mainland China, compared to the same item sold in Western nations.
In England, Chinese tourists spent nearly $3,000 per person per trip, three times the market average. Much of this expenditure is going toward shopping, which for many Chinese is prioritized above other travel items such as accommodations.
Other popular activities among Chinese millennial leisure travelers include visiting important landmarks—though the younger generations are shunning group tours, whereby one might get off a bus to take a quick picture and then immediately get back on to go to the next stop, in favor of deeper cultural experiences.
Chinese millennials are the first generation to be born into the country’s one-child policy. As a result, they have more spending power than prior generations. Though they are putting off marriage a couple of years, on average, later in life than their parents did, Chinese millennials are twice as likely to be married than their U.S. counterparts.
A recent survey among Chinese millennials found that 65 percent travel with family and/or their significant others versus traveling with friends. This behavior obviously influences the types of experiences and activities they seek, and may partially explain why nightclubs and other places that encourage “social collisions” are generally of less interest among this group of consumers; this is in direct contrast to what American millennials are typically seeking out in a leisure entertainment environment.
As is the case with their U.S. counterparts, younger Chinese consumers rely heavily on mobile technology, social media and peer reviews when making purchase decisions related to their trips abroad. According to a recent Hotels.com survey, nearly half of Chinese millennials rely on word-of-mouth and consumer reviews online, while 80 percent within this demographic used a desktop, laptop or mobile device to plan and book their travel in 2021 (compared to 53 percent the year before). It is not surprising then that, like younger Americans, Chinese millennials rank “free Wi-Fi” as by far their most desirable amenity when traveling.
Unlike American millennials, who have transformed places like Las Vegas into a nightclub and dayclub mecca, Chinese younger consumers are generally disinterested in “clubbing” and the traditional, alcohol-fueled bar scene. They also prefer indoor pools to outdoor, perhaps partially because of a desire to stay out of the sun due somewhat to perceived social stigmas pertaining to darker skin tones that are not uncommon in emerging countries.
The United States is among the nations most visited by Chinese millennial tourists outside of Asia, along with France and Australia. Within these places, and beyond, this block of consumers is increasingly looking for something special and personalized, which they can share with friends via their social networks. When studying the Chinese millennial, one finds that this notion of prioritizing the individual self is a recurring theme; and it is also one which hints at ways to reach and retain them as customers.
With free Wi-Fi as a baseline expectation, forward-thinking leisure industry companies can look to engage Chinese millennials in ways that tap into their desire for something custom-made, such as leveraging the power of dominant social networks like WeChat to communicate with them in interesting and sharable ways.
It is vitally important for businesses within hospitality, retail, restaurant and entertainment verticals to understand the behaviors and drivers of the Chinese millennial—a different set of consumers poised to transform these industries for years to come.
Chinese born in the 1980s—also referred to within China as the “Balinghou” generation—are distinctively different. Since the death of Mao Zedong, rapid change has occurred in China, which has paved the way for new prospects and challenges that are far different from what their parents experienced at the same age. Radical disparities exist between Chinese youth and older generations.
Simultaneous with China’s swift economic growth has been a global explosion of new technology, bringing unique methods of communication and amplified exposure to other cultures. Increased prosperity, freedom and exposure to new ideas have also led Chinese millennials to socialize in new ways.
WeChat (called “Weixin,” literally translated as “micro-message” in China) is one of China’s most popular social networks. It’s part WhatsApp and part Facebook; since its debut in 2011, WeChat now boasts 450 million users in China. The mobile app’s core users are urban youths, many of whom default to the platform over exchanging phone numbers as a preferred way to keep in touch with their friends.
Similar to Twitter in that feeds are created to allow users to receive information as it is pushed out by chosen channels, WeChat is primarily a text and audio service between private users or small, privately invited groups of up to 100 people. Users can extend their reach by posting “moments” which are streams of images, text messages and links available only within their network of contacts in a way that is more streamlined than Facebook’s “wall.”
WeChat has made itself a potent tool for marketers looking to tap into tightly knit groups—such as Chinese millennial travelers. Marketing, sales of physical products and/or booking of services are all available on the platform to companies registered in China.
As Chinese consumers tend to be even more influenced by their peers than Westerners, the size, scope and functionality of the app presents a potent mix for businesses to contemplate tapping into. WeChat for Business (in China) allows B2C payments in areas for consumables such as plane tickets, hotel reservations and taxi fares. Payments are made by scanning an offline or QR code or via a payment processing platform contained within the app that links to the user’s bank account.
WeChat users average more than 40 minutes per day using the app, with more than 55 percent of users indicating they open the app at least 10 times per day. The Chinese-language version of WeChat has many additional features that make it much deeper than just a messaging platform. It also has mobile news, blogging, online storefront, mobile wallet, “people nearby” and even job-hunting uses. University of Pennsylvania researcher Jiaqi Wu makes the argument that the uniqueness of how the app works and who is using it (Chinese millennials) transcend the virtual and enter the physical world of networking, relationships and social interaction.
In many Western countries, young people socialize at cafés, bars or clubs. Although these types of venues can also be found throughout China, Chinese millennials normally favor different types of social environments. Perhaps no more universal example exists, in China and throughout Southeast Asia, than karaoke (or “KTV,” short for Karaoke Television), which is a wildly popular leisure activity across generations, including millennials.
In a nation such as China, where consumption of alcohol is less prevalent than it is in the West, karaoke provides a livelier alternative to other types of non-alcohol-related activities such as going to the movies. Guests pay hourly rates for private rooms with padded walls and sort through catalogues that often contain thousands of songs to choose from. Venues range from small and cheap to vast and ostentatious. Many have interactive gaming tables and expansive food offerings.
Opportunities exist for Western businesses that may currently, or in the near future, seek to attract Chinese millennials by integrating karaoke itself and also—perhaps more importantly— by extracting the compelling and applicable fragments of a karaoke experience into other business units.
Just as a Westerner traveling in China, perhaps reluctant to embarrass himself in public and/or feel overwhelmed by the vast cultural differences, the Chinese millennial may change his tune (pun intended) and start belting out verses when a Bon Jovi song is played. So too does the opportunity exist for Western businesses to spark a sense of nostalgia-for-home by incorporating singers such as Andy Lau into the mix, be it within a karaoke environment or beyond.
Tea Houses have traditionally been another very popular social activity in China, and are often associated with relaxation, entertainment, interaction and a forum for sharing thoughts with friends and colleagues.
In recent years, Chinese millennials have shown a particular affinity for coffee consumption. Cafés such as Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (“Xiangbinfei” in China) have become popular places for young people, influenced by Western culture, to hang out. The architecture in these cafés often combines historic and modern styles in ways that appeal to a demographic with one foot in each era.
For businesses attempting to court Chinese millennials, there may be opportunities to convert physical environments that are static at certain times, such as a bar or lounge in the early afternoon, into transformable modules that can be converted for different types of consumers throughout the day.
Wildly popular among Chinese millennials, hot pot chain Hai Di Lao competes in a very difficult space. The company describes its physical environment as an ideal place for social gatherings—for customers with some extra time to spare.
A “hot pot” style of eating basically involves dipping a seemingly endless variety of meats and vegetables in simmering broth. The cooking concept is simple and easy for competitors to replicate. Hai Di Lao has become one of China’s most successful “hot pot” brands largely by focusing on experiential components of the dining (and pre-dining) environment. The restaurant chain has a strong reputation for customer and employee loyalty, which are both atypical for Chinese hospitality businesses.
The experiential element of Hai Di Lao undoubtedly plays an important role in the chain’s success. Customer satisfaction is actually increased while patrons are waiting (sometimes hours) for their tables because the restaurant has so many entertainment and leisure options available. This type of creative queuing system opens many possibilities for other types of leisure and hospitality businesses to tap into the unique phases of a particular experience, beginning with the wait for the experience to begin.
American millennial views on the correlation between money and happiness overwhelmingly lean toward spending money on experiences over things. Chinese millennials seem to want both.
Chinese Millennial Mindset
Over the course of the next several years, Chinese millennials will be the demographic force behind revenue growth for businesses in leisure verticals.
The demands of this consumer set are complex and steeped in juxtaposition with their parents, thousands of years of history and the outside world they are so eager to explore. For global corporations doing business in China, there is added opportunity (and risk) in attempting to woo Chinese millennials.
Attracting Chinese millennials to a physical product, or a physical space, requires an acknowledgement that what has worked in the past will likely not work with them.
It would be a significant miscalculation, for example, to assume they will respond to what (and how) their parents consume. Chinese millennials definitely want material things. But they also want to express themselves in ways they are comfortable with, which appeal to their desire to really know who they are hanging out with in their quest for deep and meaningful relationships with other people.
Investment in a consumer insights study geared toward the specific goals of a development project that seeks to attract Chinese millennials would be a worthwhile investment for any business looking to tap into this enormous potential revenue stream.
For leisure and interconnected businesses, this means developing beyond a small, singular localized element within a designated environment. The larger experience—driven by a desire for something different, unique and genuine—should also be contemplated in ways that reflect end even encourage the blurring of cultural lines to that place where discovery of something “new” is likely always the experience for someone in the room.
Each year, Casino Design magazine gathers a group of experts in the field to talk about issues that impact their discipline. For this year’s edition, moderator Julie Brinkerhoff Jacobs, the president and chief financial officer of Lifescapes International, Inc., focuses on the crucial subject of non-gaming amenities.
With gaming revenues flat or declining in an increasingly competitive industry, casino resorts are struggling to decide what non-gaming amenities their guests would prefer and what brings the biggest bang for the buck. So sit back and learn how your property can tap into this lucrative market.
The faculty for this year’s roundtable includes:
• Dike Bacon, Principal, Development Leader/Director of Planning and Business Development, Hnedak Bobo
• DeRuyter Butler, Executive Vice President of Architecture, Wynn Design & Development
• Rich Emery, President & Design Principal, Thalden Boyd Emery Architects
• Paul Heretakis, Vice President, Westar Architects
• Tom Hoskens, Vice President, Founding Principal, Cuningham Group
• Bob Kelly, Senior Vice President-Pre-Construction, Roy Anderson Construction
• Andrew Kreft, Executive Senior Principal / Director of Design, Lifescapes International, Inc.
• Patrick Murphy, President, Pechanga Development Corporation
• Stephen Ranck, Southwest Hospitality Practice Area Leader, Gensler
• Richard (Dick) Rizzo, Vice Chairman, Tutor Perini Building Corp.
• Paul Steelman, CEO, Steelman Partners
How can casino operators increase the proportion of non-gaming revenues using the amenities that already exist?
HERETAKIS: Consider other uses for the spaces during hours they may be closed. More focused marketing to specific age groups that don’t currently frequent those amenities can expose them to new customers. Re-invent, re-focus and re-introduce is the key.
HOSKENS: One of the most important ways we help our clients succeed is by creating a mindset of realizing the potential of every space. We design spaces within the resort that can serve and function in a variety of experiences so that lobbies, pools, patios, gazebos, cabanas, pre-function spaces, convention spaces and the like are designed for multiple configurations. Engaging these spaces and making them “rentable” increases non-gaming revenues and diversifies the resort’s amenities to guests and the larger community. In the end, it’s about casinos creating multi-use spaces.
KELLY: The hotel room has always been a place where the gamblers could sleep in between all the excitement of the casino floor and the showroom. No more. In today’s competitive markets, guest rooms are as much of an attraction as the rest of the casino and hotel. We will be exploring current trends that have proven to be successful in increasing guest satisfaction with room accommodations, and especially those that create the desire to come back again for more.
MURPHY: One of the keys to our success has been the constant refreshing and reinventing of our existing facilities. Whether it is hotel rooms, restaurants or meeting facilities, we are regularly renovating the property in order to keep it new and exciting for our guests. In 2021, we unveiled a major multimillion-dollar renovation of our 22,000-square-foot hotel lobby, two restaurants and the addition of two new dining outlets. We saw immediate improvements in the performance of these renovated outlets.
RIZZO: Management needs to be continually aware from customer feedback of upgrades and modifications that would increase revenues. This can be in the number and variety of food and beverage options as well the local and regional competition. Recently, we have seen a trend in adding and upgrading food court offerings and incorporating coffee, dessert and wine tasting to their venues.
STEELMAN: Every casino maximizes the amount of non-gaming revenue for every tandem used space. Simple techniques of advertising (specials, etc.) can increase revenue and attendance. The idea is to develop non-gaming attractions that enhance the casino gaming experience. If that occurs, the activities will be made for one another and the non-gaming and the gaming areas will all be energized with people and profits.
What are some of the factors to consider when adding a hotel to a stand-alone casino?
EMERY: One of the biggest mistakes we see in the addition of hotels adjoining casinos is a lack of connection. Generally speaking, the entry sequence of the casino and hotel should have a “WOW” moment and allow the guests to make choices as to where to go. We always try to have a visual link between the hotel front desk and part of the gaming floor.
HOSKENS: Hotels are not just rooms. Hotels are market differentiators, and it’s critical to use them to that end. Having the ability to vary the room choices within a resort for the clientele desired is the most advantageous.
We work with our clients to understand these four fundamentals:
1: The ratio of rooms to slots. It’s important to size a hotel based on anticipated occupancy and market potential.
2: The need to differentiate your hotel from the competition. A solid market analysis will enable clients to make smart decisions about how they can fill a void in the marketplace and attract guests from the surrounding market or even become a destination magnet.
3: Position the hotel as a core component of the casino resort. An integrated resort works when all the building types complement one another and there is a core purpose and design intent unifying the resort.
4: Create hotel amenities to complement resort amenities.
KELLY: The weakest model we see, and the one to avoid, is the hotel that was not planned. The hotel with no narrative—the hotel that is not marketed to a defined group of guests. Do that and you end up being nothing to anybody rather than something for everyone. As you evaluate options and make decisions, put yourself in your guest’s place. Imagine walking into your room, putting away your clothes, washing up and having a snack. A design and amenities that satisfy you will likely do the same for your guests.
KREFT: We have, from time to time, worked on properties that started out with just a casino. When this occurs, we meet with the team, which usually includes ownership, the architect/planner, general contractor and other operations-oriented team members, to discuss how the overall property will be “master-planned” moving forward. All sorts of conditions need to be addressed early on when considering the addition of a hotel. The significance of a well-functioning porte-cochere (for guests, valet, bus drop, etc.) is as significant as the entry drive approach, access to the pool area within the hotel, its convenience to your hotel guests and the amenities at the pool area that make most sense for a particular property and its guest profile.
We know that your guests’ first impression will be made as they arrive off the main thoroughfare into the casino property. The entry drive would likely need to be upgraded to demonstrate a fresh, new property image. We are only one of several consultants that need to be included at a kick-off meeting to ensure that the site plan is maximizing the best aspects of a property and its marketing intent.
MURPHY: From a tribal gaming perspective, there are a host of factors to consider: market and financial feasibility, how a hotel would fit in the tribe’s long-term business strategy, and regulatory considerations. There are a lot of costs associated with hotel operations, so a threshold question to ask is whether or not a hotel will result in enough increased guest visitations and spend to warrant the expense.
Recently, we announced plans for a non-gaming expansion at Pechanga. The project is designed to meet customer demand for more rooms, a true resort-style pool experience, a luxury spa and more A-list concerts. For us, our decision was rooted in the fact that our existing hotel has been at capacity for several years. Like everyone else, we were affected by the Great Recession, but in recent years, our occupancy rates have rebounded strongly. Just a few months ago, in fact, our team celebrated 365 consecutive days of 100 percent occupancy.
STEELMAN: The adding of a hotel is absolutely a must. There is not one hotel expansion that has not increased the gaming win. The casino’s best customers stay in that hotel.
What does a hotel do for a casino, both in terms of visitations and revenue?
BACON: A hotel speaks to the notion of a resort experience more than any other amenity (golf not withstanding) and is often the primary component of a true integrated resort, which is fancy term for mixed-use development. No other amenity contributes to longer length of stay than a hotel. F&B patronage is significantly stronger with an overnight guest. The fundamental key for success, however, is recognizing that you’re not in the hotel business but the gaming resort business.
EMERY: Properly sized, a hotel should add an incremental drop of 20 percent to 40 percent on the gaming floor. Our historical data from properties shows that an empty guest room on a gaming property loses $50 a room night. The goal of a hotel is to provide a stay-and-play option for that “getaway” guest. Guests will enjoy the amenities more, food and beverage sales will increase and the gaming floor will become more dynamic.
RANCK: With the right mix and critical mass of amenities, hotels within an integrated resort provide the best opportunities for brand loyalty by setting the level of service and providing a unique guest experience. Hotels can connect to guests with authentic local experiences and engage guests with technology to personalize the visit.
Meetings and conventions are a fast-growing part of most resorts. What are the secrets of adding a successful meetings and convention business?
BACON: The meetings and convention business have become extremely competitive, but can be a great non-gaming revenue generator. The average meeting attendee will book an early week room night and use an expense account to spend generously on F&B. One of the biggest contributors to incremental revenue success is the proper promotion of the space to the right groups. It’s no secret that the typical meeting attendee is an average gamer, so it’s critical to market to the right meeting planners in order to land the right demographics.
KELLY: Do the analysis! Meeting space is costly to develop and needs a great business plan to make it successful. Know your market and it will increase hotel visits and increase F&B business; make it too big and you cannot get a return on investment. A great sales staff can fill your meeting space many months in advance; this will mean your hotel rooms on Monday through Thursday will be occupied and create increased room revenue. The analysis will direct you to the right business plan.
KREFT: When we get involved with designing convention centers, we focus on several aspects. We are concerned about accessing parking structures and/or parking lots, providing access for taxi dropoff, guest dropoff and safe walkways from the structures to the convention center (if not integrated directly into the hotel). We also encourage hotel owners and their architects to make sure that there are some areas provided for private, exterior garden areas and patios for special event guests.
RANCK: Technology and ease of access are important for meetings and conventions. Guests are also increasingly looking for sustainable facilities in which to hold their future events. We’ve seen a trend for small to mid-sized hotels to provide flexible meeting centers that can be broken out to service individual clients or combined with larger ballrooms for bigger events. Likewise, larger convention centers are looking at new ways to program flexible ballroom spaces or to make full use of smaller breakout meeting rooms.
RIZZO: Recognize the size, needs and type of conference the convention/trade/professional convention business you are targeting is wanting. Also, the same is true for regional and local community groups/functions.
STEELMAN: Timing is the most critical factor. If you desire to be in the convention expo business, the lead times are very long. Banqueting and small meetings can immediately become successful. Conventions energize the casino and the non-gaming attractions during the middle of the week, when casino traffic is lighter.
Nightclubs are very lucrative but difficult to operate and control. What are some of the factors when considering adding this amenity?
BUTLER: Nightclubs, if done properly, can bring in a whole new source of energy and revenue potential. They also bring a myriad of problems that can be solved, but require special considerations. Factors to consider are crowd management, the crush of peak-time partygoers on other amenities, noise and vibration on adjacent spaces and flexibility to enhance and upgrade as competition shifts or tastes change. Patrons are always looking for the best new thing, so they tend to migrate to the next newest club, making competition stiff and constantly changing.
HERETAKIS: In Vegas, go big or go home! The entry fee is well over $50 million. If you spend less, you are a non-existent B venue with no real attraction or draw. You will be closed within weeks, not even months. The mega-clubs do well, but the days of high profit margins have been given away to DJs and live acts. If you’re up for it, a highly visible club will give you credit among a group of millennials whose true spend value in the long run has yet to be determined.
HOSKENS: The club experience has really exploded onto the scene in a good way, but when you don’t take the time to create a comprehensive plan from design to management, it can go wrong really fast. Not only do you need to think about designing a space that is captivating and one where people want to get energized, you must consider how the club integrates with the entire hotel, resort and casino functions. And don’t forget the importance of the club’s management. Hiring experienced managers and promoters who are part of your resort’s management team will enable close coordination of efforts to give your guests a seamless nightclub and resort experience.
KREFT: We have been involved with many interesting nightclubs inside and outside of the casino areas, having designed many of the “beach club” venues that are really nightclubs for hotel guests and visitors such as Tao Beach, Surrender/Encore and Harrah’s enclosed pool area, which converts to a nightclub venue at night. We have also designed pool areas that are adjacent to primarily indoor nightclubs (for example, XS at Wynn) so that a portion of the pool area at night (and in good weather) can open up some additional exterior seating and bar areas, enhancing the guest experience.
STEELMAN: All nightclubs are not lucrative. Fifty have closed in Las Vegas since the beginning of the craze. We always suggest they should be designed in a place with a secondary use such as a pool, since they are infrequently utilized.
What non-gaming amenity gives the most return on investment? And is that always the wisest choice?
BUTLER: Of the higher return-on-investment amenities, the nightclub scene has quickly become one of the highest potentials as a top lucrative option. Margins can be very high, operating costs can be relatively low (depending on the entertainment policy), and operating time commitment can be as low as two nights per week at four to six hours, or if successful, can be multiple nights. Spillover to other amenities in the facility can boost those operations as well and create an energy buzz.
EMERY: Oddly enough, our experience has shown us that the addition of close covered parking is the best return on investment. It takes the worst weather day—too hot, too cold or raining—and makes it one of the best. Additionally, it moves more guests closer to their first gaming opportunity. Accounting for the expanded parking capabilities, the extended playing time and the inclement weather; the ROI of a parking structure is above 49 percent.
What variables should be considered when a shopping experience is contemplated?
EMERY: There are many variables to consider: the correct mix of stores, the proximity and the demographic. A well-placed series of stores and unique offerings can bring the occasional gamer to your facility. Providing food and beverage offerings that shoppers want, that complement the casino offerings and do not compete, is critical. Proper infrastructure is critical to ease the movement between the resort and shopping.
HERETAKIS: Retail is a very tough offering. Once again, size matters. People want a full mall experience with lots of offerings at all price points. Most of the smaller mini-mall offerings in casinos historically have not done well. People expect their everyday typical stores (Victoria’s Secret, Bebe, H&M) as well as the special treat spend of a luxury brand. Las Vegas retail has also done well because of international tourism. Does your casino have that draw?
HOSKENS: It is not about shopping, it is about creating experiences that excite the guest and allow shopping to happen. It is about placemaking, creating nodes and paths to destinations. It’s not enough to rely on a series of shops to generate a buzz or build your resort’s brand. Our goal for our clients is to design a retail experience that is centered on placemaking. Retail is not just about shopping, it’s about designing a place for people to gather.
How do bars and restaurants complement the casino experience?
BUTLER: Bars and restaurants serve as an amenity to complement gaming by providing a bit of a respite, a pause from the gaming excitement for social interaction with friends to refresh and socialize. They can provide a variety of environments, commensurate with the casino or contrasting, differing cuisine to suit different tastes, maintain the energy level or a time out, and can become a destination in and of themselves with gaming becoming the amenity.
RIZZO: Experience has shown the food and beverage offerings can be both a source of revenue and a way to retain customers in the casino for longer periods of time. Obviously, this greatly depends on the quality and variety of offers, as well as how entertainment offerings are incorporated in them.
Design by Evolution
The needle of finance has moved.
Optimism sprouts from rising new gaming structures. Born from the world of architectural plans, optimistic chatter and concrete pours, they denote tribal expectation for growth.
Slowly, the industry walks further away from the Great Recession. Steadily, tribal entities ponder aggressive, not defensive postures. Should they expand or merely refresh the property to attract more attention? Where do the concepts of restaurants and entertainment venues fit? Where and how should tribal themes be expressed?
This question range is far more attractive than “How should jobs be saved?” Yes, some larger companies battle massive debt, but gaming in general has a launched a comeback.
A tentative, but widening grin dots gaming’s multibillion-dollar terrain.
A Chief Asset
The tribal market remains bullish, according to Chief Boyd, CEO and principal of Oklahoma-based Thalden Boyd Emery (TBE) Architects. Boyd recalls several financial cycles in more than 50 years of design experience, and likes the one he sees now.
“Many tribes are coming in, basically improving their projects and facilities,” he says. “We have got a few things going most of the time. You’ll see a situation in which the tribe may have grown, but in an awkward way, where perhaps they have expanded the casino a bit and now they need more amenities to balance the situation. Or perhaps they have a casino, but now they need a hotel.”
One illustration of smart growth features the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe in Idaho. TBE is helping the tribe replace a casino and connect it to the hotel. About 100 yards separate the hotel and casino now. Closing that football-field-sized gap will put prominent financial points on the board.
“Typically, if you are in a casino and the weather is not right, the tendency is to get up in the morning, check out of the hotel and leave,” Boyd says. “But if you get up and the casino is right there, figure for a big chance that the customers will game before they head out.
“The value of attaching the hotel to the casino is huge for another reason, which is why we encourage a lot of tribes to do it. If players are big gamers, just comp them for the room. Let’s say you determine that the value of a hotel night is $150. You comp that player, and as far as he is concerned, that’s free money. The first thing he is going to do is game for $150. Attaching the hotel to the casino extends the stay of the gamer.”
Blaine Edmo, chairman of the Tribal Council for Shoshone-Bannock, says his property embraces two trends. One is great geography. His competition is several hours away in all directions. Second, he believes the tribes have benefited from wise growth.
“They are a little more responsible in maintaining a certain level of business,” he says. “The tribe tries to keep it at a reasonable level, not the type of extravagance you see in many other places. I know many of them are lavish and impressive, but expensive. People who come to gamble come for the atmosphere, and as long as you have a clean facility and you are not overly congested, people will come. What you have to avoid, however, is a casino that looks run down.”
While broad expansion strokes may be apparent, the subtleties of when to build and how expensive to go remain tricky forecasts. Boyd says his company will double the size of a hotel at the Indigo Sky Casino for the Eastern Shawnee in Oklahoma after watching its initial suggestions rejected.
“We are building another hotel tower and a convention center, along with expanding some of their food venues,” Boyd indicates. “We built the first one for them four years ago, and they are turning people away. We recommended a bigger hotel in the beginning, but they wanted to go at it cautiously, which we certainly understand.”
A cautious buildout is usually smart; most businesses err in the opposite direction. They overbuild, inflate the perceived market and suffer huge losses. The fact that some officials may later kick themselves for not building sooner is a nice problem. This boom would have been hard to forecast in the midst of the Great Recession.
Thalden Boyd Emery already lent a creative hand in building the property.
Indigo Sky graces the rolling, wooded hills of northeast Oklahoma. An economical way to give the site a natural feel was to level the site, which was a rocky hill. TBE blasted the site and brought in a heavy-duty crusher. Major pieces of the rock were used in bank stabilization, and made 45,000 tons for the rock base for parking and building pads.
The tribe also wanted the swan (symbolic of the tribe’s grace and dignity) and panther (symbolic of the tribe’s strength, courage and prowess in battle) in their project. The symbols are incorporated into the water feature at the porte cochere.
“The market shows a combination of renovation and addition,” says Brett Ewing, associate principal for Minnesota-based Cuningham Group, which has specialized in tribal gaming since the 1980s. “As gaming has expanded and proliferated everywhere, the customers have become more savvy,” Ewing says. “Gaming is still strong in the Native American market and continuing to grow.
“Renovations are, by design, messy. There are surprises when you open up the old walls, things the drawings don’t generally tell you. Yet, your operators want to run the business while they are working on it. You are, in a sense, doing surgery on somebody and keeping them alive while you are doing it.”
Some of Cuningham’s recent projects reveal different elements of flexibility. One of them is the new luxury hotel for the Yavapai-Apache Nation’s Cliff Castle Casino in Arizona. Cuningham will do the architecture and interior design on a project slated for 2023. The existing business model is a two-story hotel about half a mile away from the gaming space. A Dreamcatcher hotel will be built, the casino will be connected to the hotel and there will be a parking structure and multi-purpose room.
Flexibility is one aspect of casino design. Volatility, and its ramifications, presents another. The Cypress Bayou Casino Hotel in Charenton, Louisiana, belonging to the Chitimacha tribe, has officials crossing their fingers, holding their breath and proceeding with faith. The casino renovation, with Cuningham providing architecture and interior design, unfolds with uncertainty. Oil prices substantially affect this property, which taps the southern Louisiana and Texas markets.
“When oil prices plummeted, it raised concerns regarding employees of the companies in that area,” Ewing says. “If they lose their jobs, the casino may lose customers. Fortunately for all of them, oil prices are coming back at this time.”
The dilemma indicates the power of precise planning. If oil prices plunge mid-project, the company must usually live with the consequence.
The Little River Casino Resort renovation and expansion in Manistee, Michigan, offers another lesson. Cuningham provided master planning, architecture and interior design for the renovation of the main lobby, casino and buffet and the addition of a new sports bar, steakhouse and spa/salon/pool area. The client is the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.
“We probably spent close to a year and a half finalizing that plan,” Ewing explains. “What we can tell clients is that the best use of your funding is during the planning and paper phase. That’s when you can turn over everything and can eliminate potential problems. Once you start digging and pouring concrete, that’s when the money is going to be spent. Those that can afford to be patient—carefully studying potential pitfalls—benefit in the long run.”
Ewing says tribal philosophies vary regarding cultural expression. Most want some form of it, many will reserve it for their museum and others will weave accent pieces like art or a basket pattern into the carpeting. Hotel rooms and lobbies provide the best vehicle for cultural expression.
“Something always fun and interesting is knowing that a family comes with these projects,” Ewing says. “In the non-tribal world, MGM can go buy Wynn, but a tribe is always a tribe. They are never going to be merged. They are creating their projects for generations. We always have a liaison between the tribal family and ourselves.”
“For many gaming tribes across the country, a challenge is not trying to figure out what to new-build next (unless market opportunities and demand warrant), but how to aggressively maximize or reinvent every square foot of existing space,” says Dike Bacon, principal for the Memphis-based Hnedak Bobo Group, which has a rich tradition with tribal gaming projects.
“Many larger, older facilities were designed and built during times when excess or underutilized space was of no consequence,” Bacon says. “Public spaces, lobbies, casino floors, guest rooms, and many backs of houses were huge simply because they could be, and they got financed. There are always plenty of opportunities to renovate and refurbish, but often the biggest opportunity to directly affect the bottom line is to adaptively repurpose these kinds of inefficient existing spaces into new non-gaming revenue generators and entertainment experiences.”
The changes don’t always have to entail bells and whistles. They can be subtle.
“Things don’t have to be overcomplicated,” Bacon says. “Maybe inject some old-school glamour and turn an oversized lobby into an elegant, multi-dimensional entertainment space. Or turn an underutilized back-of-house space adjacent to an existing kitchen into a cutting-edge, chef-driven fast-casual. Move poorly located and off-trend bars to higher-profile, more socially interactive locations or reposition and redesign retail outlets for maximum storefront and product exposure.
“If gaming revenues stay relatively flat, the bottom-line impact of reinventing or discovering new non-gaming amenities that are properly positioned relationally inside an existing building envelope can be significant.”
An evolving trend in the regional gaming industry is the whole notion of not trending out, Bacon contends. This can be accomplished by capitalizing on the experiential travel economy in unique ways.
“A classic problem is that virtually everything new or on trend at some point becomes stale and has to be reinvented,” he says. “The best success is often found by tailoring the new offerings to the local guest in an aspirationally classic way, while not delivering something unfamiliar or out of bounds.
Residually, this locavore-type product can be a draw and can often dramatically extend geographic reach.
“This is the sort of thing an experiential traveler seeks out—a contextual, localized experience that can’t be found or easily replicated somewhere else. It’s actually the exact opposite of a replicated brand standard, and can be a great way to expand a customer base. Indian casinos, because they are often individual and authentic anyway, are tailor-made for this.”
The Seneca Buffalo Creek casino expansion illustrates a property knowing what works. A $40 million expansion, modest but meaningful in today’s market, includes a two-story expansion project, a new high-limit game room, 360 additional slot machines and 10 game tables, bringing the total number of slot machines to 1,200 and game tables to 32 after construction.
The expansion also will create a new retail area and add a small performance stage for live entertainment at the Stixx Sports Bar. The existing Buffalo Savors Grill will be upgraded, and a second floor will house a new restaurant, the Western Door Steakhouse, which is one of the most popular restaurants at Seneca Gaming’s other New York casino properties. Construction will be complete in early 2023.
Getting to Yes
“There seems to be cautious optimism among tribes, along with an understanding of their market and a desire to evolve their properties accordingly,” says Mike Stewart, the global director of design for YWS Design & Architecture, with offices in Las Vegas and Singapore.
“To that end, we are seeing master-planning of non-gaming additions such as retail, dining and entertainment expansions on the rise,” he says. “We are seeing a carefully thought-out approach to expansion rather than a ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy. We have a client who is cautious about executing on a hotel, restaurant and gaming expansion we’ve completed the design for, but at the same time, are starting to consider a large retail expansion for their property.”
Stewart believes cautious optimism slowly shifts the market. The shackles of the recession have come off. Properties want to re-grow market share, first by drilling down to its origin.
“While loyalty programs provide a lot of information on their customers like age, income, location, etc., they don’t offer qualitative data that dives into ‘why’ their customers make certain choices,” Stewart indicates. “The research we focus on requires conversation, focus groups, shopalongs, etc., and furthermore, explores customer preferences, behaviors and desires. Using these findings, our designers can create spaces the desired customer is looking for.”
They have been plentiful. YWS completed a Midwest project that reaped dividends for its property and has launched another in the Southwest.
At Kansas Star, YWS helped the property, an integrated resort casino, achieve the widest possible appeal. Result? A venue that enjoys 33 percent more of the market and contributed to a 22 percent jump in the stock value of Boyd Gaming, the company behind Kansas Star, company officials say. The leisure destination offers an array of dining and entertainment options, plus an events center, all strategically placed around a gaming floor.
Locally reclaimed wood and quarried stone bring in the beauty of the Kansas plains and create a rustic, relaxed Western environment. All artwork on display is from local artisans, helping fulfill a Kansas Star priority to support its local community.
At Sandia, a distinctively New Mexican resort transforms the Albuquerque hotspot into a major regional destination. Phase one of the casino expansion included a spa/pavilion building, expanded casino and 1,682-space parking garage. The resort is located in the sacred Sandia Mountains, and the design and expansion honors its natural surroundings by telling the story of the native Sandia Pueblo people, Stewart says. The phase-one size of the expansion was more than 700,000 square feet.
The recession may be over, but for designers of tribal casinos, the recent economic downturn has resulted in a more thoughtful, efficient design process. The “wow” is still there, but tribal clients these days are getting much more bang for their bucks.
Everybody Into the Pool!
In the early 1950s, when Las Vegas had more sky than skyline, the pool at the Sands Hotel was considered an oasis in the desert. Vintage postcards show a classic kidney-shaped pool ringed by palm trees, with lounge chairs under striped umbrellas.
Guests could grab a snack or do a cannonball off the high dive, but otherwise, there wasn’t much to do at the pool. In the pre-air conditioning era, it was simply a place to cool off, slap on the Coppertone, and take a nap.
Compare that to Hakkasan Group’s Wet Republic, the day club and “Ultra Pool” at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The 54,500-square-foot venue features 6,000 square feet of salt-water pools, dedicated valets, a sun deck that doubles as a dance floor, and king-sized beds that can accommodate up to 10 of your closest friends. Upgrade to the “VIP experience,” and you get your own bungalow with a flat-screen TV, oversized Jacuzzi and controllable misting system.
Nowadays, resort operators understand the value of the pool space. It has become a “Fantasy Island” for patrons, a critical component that often serves as a day club, a nightclub, a dance club and sometimes even a casino, all in one multi-purpose paradise.
Some say the Big Pool Era originated with Rehab at the Hard Rock Las Vegas. When it debuted in 2003, as former Hard Rock President Kevin Kelley has said, the typical casino pool was “a slab of concrete with lounge chairs and 55-year-old cocktail waitresses slogging drinks.”
Rehab changed all that—and how. It opened with a splash, winning raves for its waterfall, water slides and real sand beach. Guests could loll in draped cabanas and on upholstered daybeds, and be served by bikini-clad cocktail servers. Celebrity DJs provided the soundtrack, and made Rehab the place to be for party-loving young adults.
The club’s success was a light-bulb moment, and helped turn the pool from an afterthought to a pivotal part of the destination.
“In a lot of ways, the pool is really the center of the experience,” says Andrew Kreft, executive senior principal and director of design for Lifescapes International, Inc., which has designed waterscapes for Encore Las Vegas, the Wynn and Red Rock Casino Resort, and is now working on Genting’s upcoming Resorts World Las Vegas. “It’s the heart of the resort—the dance floor of the club.”
For resort operators, it is also the gift that keeps on giving. A successful pool can keep patrons on property longer, generating revenues, buzz and a thousand online selfies, along with positive reviews and “likes” that make everyone else want to dive in.
“Properly used, it can be a revenue center with day passes in nearly all markets,” says Rich Emery, president of Thalden Boyd Emery Architects. “It’s a necessary draw for some non-gaming companions and spouses—the more reasons to stay longer, the better the incremental drop on the floor. A first-class pool is a requirement to a resort property.”
Stephen Ranck, project leader and principal with Gensler Architects, agrees. “As revenues continue to trend toward non-gaming components, a trend that started in Las Vegas in the early 2000s and is now over 60 percent, casinos are investigating a variety of entertainment, food and beverage,” and other non-gaming amenities like pools. “They bring a social connection to the casino experience”—a vital component for millennial customers, who number 80 million in the U.S. alone, with $200 billion in annual buying power, according to a January report in Forbes.
While pools like Rehab clearly target the millennial demographic, an artfully designed pool can attract patrons of many ages at different times, maximizing the value of the space.
“What makes a resort pool special is its appeal for a wide range of guests,” says Shannon McCallum Crawford, executive director of hotel operations for Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. “We have the luxury in Las Vegas of having large pool spaces. At Aria, we’ve used that to our advantage by creating a number of smaller, more intimate environments—some that appeal to a high-energy crowd, some that appeal to those looking for a little more rest and relaxation.”
Day clubs tend to attract mostly millennials, Crawford says, “but our pool is a beautiful location for all types of special events: meetings and conventions, private soirees and weddings. Events after-hours are particularly inviting in the warm summer months, after the sun sets and the city lights up.”
High Water Mark
Resort guests tend to spend two to three days on average at the property, observes Kreft. The well-designed pool will offer activities that will grab and hold their interest for the duration.
Take the indoor Pool at Harrah’s Atlantic City. Reportedly modeled after Privilege, the world’s largest nightclub in Ibiza, Spain, it features a 90-foot-high glass dome and 82,000-gallon pool amid lush foliage. By day, it’s a sumptuous retreat where guests can lounge in private hot tubs and even order up a poolside massage. But at 10 p.m. every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, it becomes the Pool after Dark, the city’s most popular nightclub, with a revolving cast of reality TV guests, and music by resident DJ Pauly D of Jersey Shore fame. In 2009, Harrah’s added the Loft, a $1 million upper-level gaming area where guests can play blackjack or roulette while looking out at the party.
“The Pool has three faces,” says Howard Weiss, regional vice president of nightlife operations for Caesars Entertainment’s Eastern Division. “It’s a resort pool seven days a week, a nightclub three nights a week, and a banquet facility on dark nights, where we cater to large companies and convention groups. If it’s January and there’s snow outside, you still feel like you’re on a tropical island. And the great part, from the resort perspective, is that it’s 82 degrees every day.”
Harrah’s Pool is inside due to the resort’s location in the Northeastern U.S. Indoor pools “should be considered in any weather condition,” says Bob Kelly, a senior vice president of Roy Anderson Construction. “The indoor/outdoor experience can be wildly successful when done correctly.”
Hnedak Bobo Group has designed a number of large-scaled, atrium-oriented resorts, “two of which have almost four acres under glass” and can accommodate pools, says principal Dike Bacon. “These environments are completely climate-controlled 365 days a year, and provide a multitude of opportunities to create outdoor experiences inside that are immune to climate changes. This is a very expensive proposition, however. The key to operational success of an atrium is to provide multiple revenue generation streams inside the space.”
Harrah’s Pool, for example, is adjacent to multiple venues targeted at millennials and non-gaming customers: a party pit outside the upscale Xhibition lounge; a high-end cocktail and craft beer outlet in the lobby; and new retail aimed at the 21-to-45-year old patron, says Weiss.
The Deep End
These days, as casinos evolve into “integrated resorts,” the emphasis is on “integrated.” Ideally, the pool is part of a “progressional” guest experience, interacting with other venues—restaurants, bars, shops, specialty gaming areas—like “pavilions in the garden,” says Kreft. The destination should be easily accessed, and the excitement teased as soon as a guest arrives on property. That goal can be harder to achieve when a pool is retrofitted onto an existing property.
“The big challenge is not getting brought in early enough to deal with the planning aspects. If you can come in earlier, you can plan the pool so it’s more physically integrated to the resort—not off on a strip of land, where you have to take a covered walkway and a shuttle bus to get there,” says Kreft. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be in the middle of the resort, but it should weave itself in both mentally and physically,” with landscaping and architectural elements serving as guideposts.
Separate points of entry and clusters of small and large gathering spaces make a pool area more multi-functional for “cocktail parties, wedding events or any kind of group,” he says. “You can cover the pool (perhaps using a translucent cover, lit from below) to gain extra square footage for events and turn it into a physical dance floor. That works especially well for smaller pool areas or hotels that don’t have a lot of space inside. A pool is an open canvas.”
Kreft strongly recommends real landscaping, plantings and trees wherever possible. “We never like to have anything artificial, exterior or interior, that you can touch and feel, unless you’re going for a unique abstract environment. Everything we do is theater; this is about setting the scene.” Moreover, he warns, artificial greenery doesn’t hold up over time, especially under continuous exposure to the sun. “It might look OK for a while, but may have to be replaced at some point; the cost saving over time is questionable.”
Patrick Murphy, president of Pechanga Development Corp., acknowledges that the Pechanga Band of Indians “sorely underestimated” the importance of a first-class pool when it opened its Temecula, California resort in 2002. “That’s why a proper resort-style pool complex features so prominently in our expansion plans,” he says. The Pechanga resort’s new pool complex “will span four acres and feature three pools and five hydrotherapy pools, including a family-friendly pool and a lagoon-style pool.”
Resort pools, especially the extravagant fantasy spaces expected by many patrons today, can be expensive and labor-intensive, says Paul Heretakis of Westar Architects. “But they can also attract thousands of people to a property in an afternoon. They must offer music environments, food and beverage. The up-charge of specialty seating and cabanas is very important. Some pool areas are large enough to have outdoor evening concerts, which are a great alternate use that commands a paid admission. This type of designed area can really become a very large cash revenue resource if it has the correct offerings and is run well.”
Overlooking the power of the pool “is a missed opportunity,” says Kreft. “These venues can be such greater moneymakers. And almost more importantly, they bring in an energy and electricity I don’t think you can get elsewhere. It is a congregation space. The challenge is recognizing how can you maximize and integrate it with any other offering you might have.”
All Money is Good Money
As casinos continue to transform from gambling hotspots to entertainment destinations, tribal casinos are on the forefront of this trend, using their unique geography and regional pull to land a completely new type of guest for 2022 and beyond.
“When guests come here and see everything that we have to offer in person, it changes their perspective of what we are to them,” says Holly Gagnon, president and chief executive officer of the Pearl River Resort in Mississippi, operated by the Choctaw Resort Development Enterprise.
“We are within driving distance of Birmingham, Memphis and New Orleans, so it was important that we transformed ourselves into a doable getaway so guests can have a experience uniquely fine travel experience influenced by the Choctaw’s culture and people.”
For the Kalispel Tribe and Northern Quest Resort and Casino in northern California, a concentrated effort has been made to create various non-gaming amenities that work to both diversify and complement the gaming operation.
“We have found that what is truly important in this day and age is diversification,” says Kyndra Gamache, spokeswoman for the Kalispel Tribe and Northern Quest Resort and Casino. “To sustain ourselves the long run, we are always looking for new opportunities that provide growth in non-gaming areas. Progress is important both in the context of Northern Quest Resort and Casino and in the community at large, but always with an eye on what makes sense with current market conditions and regional saturation levels of amenities.”
Northern Quest Resort and Casino has learned how to operate smarter and more efficiently while making every amenity stand on its own in terms of sustainability.
“We have learned to look at our non-gaming amenities not just as loss leaders, but as an important and profitable part of the overall property experience,” says Gamache. “One of the guiding principles of the tribe has been to dream big, and dream differently.
“Our aim from the beginning was not only to create a profitable gaming environment, but to create a property with amenities that are best in class and present a substantial draw for guests and attract visitors to the region as a whole.”
For the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a diverse economic base includes identifying real estate opportunities and having a keen sense of business entrepreneurship to stimulate revenue. San Manuel is primarily interested in a diversified economic base beyond gaming to add direct community benefits through its business ventures.
This includes San Manuel Village, a 12-acre mixed-use development project located within the jurisdiction of the city of Highland, California. San Manuel served as developer for this commercial real estate investment project, which is located less than five miles from the San Manuel reservation. The property includes a hotel, restaurants, retail and commercial space, and professional offices.
“In the case of San Manuel Village, building a sustainable center for new businesses in the nearby city of Highland has been a process of helping existing, local businesses expand their successful business model to serve a growing community,” says Lynn Valbuena, chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. “We continue to look at new economic opportunities both on and off the reservation as part of our overall efforts.”
In New Mexico, the Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder has decided its marketplace lies in the resort and recreation sector. Located amid the dramatic scenery of northern New Mexico’s Pojoaque Valley, the property boasts Towa Golf Club, three independent nine-hole courses that challenge golfers with dramatic elevation changes, seasonal weather conditions and scenery of extraordinary beauty.
Towa Golf Club offers a top experience for golfers of all levels, allowing for even more revenue to the tribe. The golf course even offers a practice facility featuring a driving range situated so players will never find the sun in their eyes. To further enhance the experience, two putting and chipping practice greens are also located on site.
“Adding non-gaming revenue has always been a long-term vision for our property,” says Gene Stachowski, executive director of corporate marketing at the Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder. “We want to use our large ballroom for events and concerts, VIP parties and even a cigar lounge as much as possible. We make sure, when we talk to our guests and the media, they know we are not just a place for casino gaming.”
Pearls of Wisdom
For Gagnon and the Pearl River Resort, their transformation into a non-gaming destination is a sign of success and their ability to serve multiple markets to increase revenue.
“We have a large number of gaming customers from Alabama who are interested in slot and table games and want the quintessential casino experience, and we provide that,” says Gagnon. “But we also have a large base for family entertainment, which came when we built our water park. We bill ourselves as a fun getaway for the family, and our motto is that we are the ‘beach within reach.’”
The water park at Pearl River Resort is accompanied by a golf course, providing further reasons for residents from Birmingham, Memphis and New Orleans to make the short drive to the property. In July, Pearl River completed a renovation project for 300 hotel rooms, further adding to its non-gaming revenue.
“In three years, we have refinanced our balance sheet, and our future financial success is very much tied to non-gaming revenue,” says Gagnon.
As the only fully land-based resort in the state of Mississippi, Pearl River Resort enjoys a unique level of exclusivity, which inspires an even more dynamic offering of non-gaming amenities. This includes a fine-dining steakhouse and a recent renovation to the buffet. These food and beverage options are made for private guests, but also for corporate clients.
“Our long-term goal is to continue growth on the convention and conference side of the business,” says Gagnon. “We want to see our midweek hotel occupancy rates increase, while we are spending much more energy in marketing and letting people know there is something for everyone here.”
Perhaps the model of non-gaming revenue for tribes is the Seminole Tribe of Florida, owner of Hard Rock International. Hard Rock has a total of 174 venues in 55 countries, including 136 cafés, 19 hotels and seven casinos. The operator owns the world’s largest collection of music memorabilia, which is on display at its locations around the globe.
So it comes with no surprise that they opened Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park in late 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. This was the first of Hard Rock’s “Rocksino” brand, a special venue that combines the music experience with the gaming environment.
Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park offers harness racing, always a valuable commodity and interest among casino players. The property has created a buzz among the people in northeast Ohio, but giving back to the community is still a top priority.
“We have a steadfast, undying commitment to help make a difference in the community, and want our business and the community to be prosperous and thrive,” says Mark Birtha, president of Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park. “Prosperous communities are great places to do business and to attract and retain talent. We will continue to invest our dollars, time and resources to help our community partners make that happen.”
The Rocksino boasts a Hard Rock Live music venue, the fifth of its kind, which is home to unforgettable encores by acclaimed musicians and sellout crowds of over 2,500 music lovers, and also serves as a venue for variety of functions and banquets. The Rocksino also offers The Club, a 300-seat live venue featuring comedians and illusionists. It is also readily available for private parties and events. And of course, there is the world-famous Hard Rock merchandise.
For those looking for more of a food and beverage experience, Hard Rock has spent time, money and energy in marketing its Legendary Burger. They have been serving the iconic menu item since opening the first Hard Rock Café in London on June 14, 1971, and have given it the self-proclaimed title of the best burger in the world.
Making it Real
For the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the ability to purchase and develop commercial real estate has been the foundation for non-gaming revenue. San Manuel has invested in real estate across Southern California. With an eye for redevelopment, San Manuel holds parcels at San Bernadino International Airport, the former Norton Air Force Base, and in communities near the tribe’s San Bernardino reservation.
Phase two for development of the San Manuel Village began in 2011, and included the opening of Mi Cocina, a Mexican restaurant, St. Bernadine’s hospital urgent region care and the San Manuel Event Center, a state-of-the-art facility for hosting social events and business meetings.
“San Manuel has learned to find partners that are committed to long-term, sustainable growth models to our stable tenants at San Manuel Village,” says Valbuena. “Both San Bernardino’s urgent care and Mi Cocina opened as part of San Manuel Village phase-two projects, and have served the community for decades. As a sovereign tribal nation, San Manuel engages in economic development with an eye toward securing long-term, reliable and diverse government revenue streams. The tribe is finding success with business partners who share a long-term approach.”
Looking Up at Northern Quest
The Kalispel Tribe, operator of the Northern Quest Resort and Casino, also shares a dedication to provide the best experience possible for both gaming and non-gaming guests. Offering the non-gaming amenities allowed the tribe to further establish service standards, product quality and an elevated guest experience.
On the property are a AAA Four Diamond and Forbes Four Star-rated hotel resort, 14 restaurants and lounges—including a AAA Four Diamond restaurant—a Forbes Four Star-rated spa, 1,200-seat indoor and 4,200-seat outdoor music venues, and over 22,000 square feet of flexible meeting and event space.
“In addition to developing these amenities as part of our casino resort property, the Kalispel Tribe has branched out with a commercial laundry service, a Chevron-franchised gas and convenience store and a Fatburger franchise with two locations, one of which is a freestanding location away from the resort,” says Thomas.
These amenities have allowed Northern Quest to become a serious player in the heavily populated Northern California casino market.
The Santa Fe System
The non-gaming revenue system at Buffalo Thunder in Santa Fe thrives more on its outdoor experience to take advantage of the warm climate in New Mexico.
This includes having a music-festival concert on the driving range of its golf course.
Combining physical resources such as golf courses, pools, rooftops and even hotel lobbies to generate non-gaming revenue is a major trend within the entire gaming industry.
“We are constantly looking at bringing different types of events to the property,” says Stachowski. “It brings in a different type of clientele under a new circumstance for both the casino and our guests.”
Buffalo Thunder also places a heavy emphasis on food and beverage revenue, including hosting an international beer-tasting festival last spring. In May, the casino hosted a poolside barbecue event that featured a 72-ounce steak-eating contest.
“Our goal is to have people who have never been here to come, then tell their friends how much fun they had,” says Stachowski. “And at Buffalo Thunder, that could be accomplished by experiencing a variety of amenities on our property.”
Focusing on the Future
Future financial success for tribal casinos is definitely not limited to the roll the dice, the pull the slot handle or the dealing of the cards. Tribal casinos have made the transition to tribal entertainment venues and resorts, with best-in-class amenities, facilities and service domestically and even internationally.
This allows the leaders of the tribal casinos to see their role in much larger view than their predecessors a decade ago. Now they can truly position themselves as regional destinations with hotel, entertainment, dining and nightlife options every day of the year.
“What I expect in the next few years is a busier midweek with more hotel rooms sold, and that is why we renovated our rooms,” says Gagnon. “These amenities benefit us, and now all we have to do is continue to build more awareness.”
The Southern California market is extremely competitive, and has heated up recently with additions, renovations and expansions. When the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians considered who to work with for a $40 million expansion, the choice was pretty evident. JCJ Architecture has been working with the tribe since 2000, and the results have been outstanding, so the decision was a no-brainer.
The tribe’s hotel committee wanted to maintain the property’s “Best in Class” standard, and identified several areas that needed to be addressed. For the hotel, they wanted more rooms and suites. They also wanted a pool, hot tub and expansive outdoor spaces that translated into possible dual uses during the day and at night. In addition, a business center, fitness center and room service were added. And finally, 7,000 square feet were added to the property’s award-winning Harvest Buffet.
To meet these demands, JCJ developed architectural, furniture and artwork enhancements to evoke a comfortable residential atmosphere while elevating the guest experience beyond the traditional hotel room.
The hotel committee identified the hotel bathroom as a point of differentiation. Throughout, oversized glass showers visually increase the size of the bathrooms and carefully selected accent materials to create a sense of refinement without a significant cost premium. In some suites, unique built-in millwork and glass feature walls were created to hold large-screen TVs, creating a distinctly Viejas element.
For their efforts, the Viejas hotel was recently awarded the AAA Four Diamond designation.
Owner: Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians
Manager: Viejas Enterprises
Architect: JCJ Architecture
Investment: $40 million
As part of a multimillion-dollar renovation plan, Tropicana Atlantic City partnered with SOSH Architects to upgrade the property and give it a fresh, new, modern look. Highlights of the revitalization include a completely renovated casino floor, a new casino bar and lounge, and a spectacular new Boardwalk façade with a multimedia light and sound show.
Last renovated in the 1980s, the North Tower section of Tropicana’s casino floor was outdated and underused. SOSH transformed the aging space into a timeless gaming atmosphere to showcase Tropicana’s advanced gaming product while embracing the Cuban flavor of The Quarter.
Adding to the design challenge was the need to seamlessly integrate an existing sports bar. The design team set the stage for a fresh new gaming floor experience by delivering a sophisticated design, a new high-limit zone and a pedestrian pathway that visually guides visitors from The Quarter to the North Tower casino. Havana-inspired colors, textures and other visual cues were woven into the design, creating a lively and engaging place to play and be entertained.
Directly off the new North Casino floor is a warm and contemporary bar, the 10 North Lounge. The space came with several design challenges, including low ceiling heights and numerous support columns for the hotel structure above. Using innovation to overcome these obstacles, SOSH delivered a bar design that is intimate and inviting. Back-to-back fireplaces create a special ambiance in two living-room lounges. Gleaming dark marble and 24 video slot machines span the 100-foot centerpiece bar. Behind the bar is a backlit glass wall set aglow with natural minerals, crystals and semi-precious stones.
The centerpiece of Tropicana’s extensive renovation project is the transformation of the property’s Boardwalk façade. SOSH, in conjunction with signage consultants YESCO and general contractor Massett, transformed the once-unassuming exterior into a flashy interactive light and sound display. The design consists of 15 screens, each 17 feet high, linked to create kinetic lighting effects to serve as the backdrop of the show. In addition, there are five high-definition video screens with moving strobe lights and an LED light and video “column” that rises 66 feet into the air, serving as the façade focal point.
The resort’s innovative renovation also included upgrades to the North Tower hotel rooms and a new state-of-the-art fitness center.
Owner: Tropicana Entertainment
Contractor: Massett Building Company
Architect/Interior Design: SOSH Architects
Investment: $50 million
Great Golf Shot
Topgolf International, Inc. announced in May that it is building a state-of-the-art flagship location at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. The Topgolf entertainment destination is expected to open in spring of 2023.
Topgolf offers competitive golfing games for all ages and skill levels, and advanced technology to track the accuracy and distance of players’ shots. The four-level, 105,000-square-foot Topgolf Las Vegas will sit on eight acres and overlook a 215-yard outfield. There will be 102 hitting bays among the first three levels, while the fourth level will showcase VIP areas with water features. The building’s plans also include a stage for live musical performances and 3,000 square feet of private meeting space. The facility will cater to intimate events ranging from 10 to 2,000 people.
“Topgolf Las Vegas is unlike anything we have ever endeavored to build,” says Topgolf Executive Chairman Erik Anderson. “After three years of planning, Topgolf and MGM Grand are bringing the boldest new concept in sports entertainment to the entertainment capital of the world. This gleaming flagship location will host millions of Topgolf fans when they come to Las Vegas, bring our exciting new concept to MGM’s global clientele, and introduce the millions of other visitors to Topgolf who are attracted to Las Vegas every year in search of the latest innovations in entertainment and fun.”
The facility was designed by YWS Architects, and the general contractor is McCarthy Construction with ARCO/Murray National Construction acting as consultants. Las Vegas native Bryan O’Reilly, working as Topgolf’s local partner, was instrumental in bringing the deal to closure. Topgolf notes that 34th Floor Hospitality is providing consulting services on its facility operations.
“The Topgolf atmosphere features a high-energy, interactive sports and entertainment experience never before seen in Las Vegas,” says MGM Grand President and COO Scott Sibella. “Our partners have proven themselves as a successful brand in multiple markets nationwide, and we look forward to our future relationship.”
Topgolf Las Vegas is expected to serve upward of 1 million visitors in its first year of operation. Nearly half of all Topgolf guests describe themselves as “non-golfers.”
Owners: MGM Resorts
Operator: Topgolf International
Architect: YWS Architects
Investment: $45 million
The Seneca Nation was far from the first tribe to enter tribal gaming, but when they decided to take the plunge, they were all in. First, Seneca Niagara became a success near the famous falls. Then a second casino in Allegany, New York followed in that path. Finally, a small casino in Buffalo was more successful than anticipated, so an expansion plan was necessary.
Continuing its relationship with the Seneca Nation, Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG) is currently designing a $40 million expansion to the Buffalo Creek Casino. HBG also designed the phase-one casino. The two-story expansion project will feature a new high-limit game room, 360 additional slot machines and 10 game tables, bringing the total number of slot machines to 1,200 and game tables to 32 after construction.
In addition, the expansion will create a new retail area and add a small performance stage for live entertainment at the Stixx Sports Bar. The existing Buffalo Savors Grill will be upgraded, and a second floor will house a new restaurant, the Western Door Steakhouse—which is one of the most popular restaurants at Seneca Gaming’s other New York casino properties. Construction will be complete in early 2023.
Located in the former industrial area of Buffalo’s re-emerging Inner Harbor, HBG designed the phase-one Buffalo Creek Casino, which opened on August 27, 2020. Highly visible from Interstate 190 and only two blocks from the First Niagara Center, home of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, the Seneca Nation’s casino property celebrates the culture of the Seneca people while serving as a building block for the continued growth of the Inner Harbor area.
Owner: Seneca Nation
Manager: Seneca Gaming Corp.
Architect/Designer: Hnedak Bobo Group
Investment: $40 million
The San Manuel Bingo and Casino in Highland California, just outside of San Bernardino, is the ultimate locals casino. So, while customers like to be comfortable in their familiar environment, they also like to see upgrades that elevate the level of amenities and service.
The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is one of the most progressive gaming tribes in California. Always at the forefront of innovation, the tribe strives for excellent customer service and loyalty. That’s why it recently embarked on a renovation, directed by TBE Architects. The casino recently opened renovations to the Sports Watch Grill, Tutu’s Food Court, a major expansion of the Serrano Buffet and the addition of Street Tacos, a totally new food concept. Two bars have undergone a complete transformation and a third has been introduced, the Round-Up Bar.
Bar Bar Bar
The feature bar centered on the main casino floor underwent a complete makeover, expanding bar positions, gaming, entertainment and seating and transforming it into a dramatic centerpiece visible from anywhere on the main casino floor. The main focal point feature consists of layered, internally lit leaves that spring from the back bar creating a glowing overhead canopy capable of dynamic, color-changing light shows. The customizable effects transition the space from a daytime floor bar into a nighttime hub of energy and activity, as well as offering one-of-a-kind experiences during holidays or special events.
The Finish Line Bar has a new look with a bold use of color and sculptural lighting that gives a sense of energy and movement to the space you would expect to feel at the “finish line.”
High Limit Area
The newly opened High Limit area adds to guests’ extensive gaming choices, and along with a better connection to the energy of the main casino floor, offers a new contemporary elegance to the gaming experience. A floor-to-ceiling glass entry façade separates the space from the main casino and is etched with traditional tribal basket patterns to give high-limit patrons a discreet gaming experience that is still close to the action. A private high-limit bar and lounge area within is punctuated in gold through the use of mosaic tiles and metallic fabric light fixtures. Deep wood tones throughout soften the feel and add a rich warmth to the space.
A new specialty gaming space has just been unveiled as well. The entry to the dedicated space is guarded by solid Jade Foo Dogs and framed by a honed travertine façade that gives a sense of opulence along with oversized weathered timbers, which convey a distinctly Eastern flavor. The column in the center of the main gaming space is encircled with a spectacular chandelier composed of hundreds of glass spheres that seem to rise up the column like champagne bubbles.
The entire perimeter of the main casino floor has been replaced with a custom-designed terrazzo floor. The bold geometries and bright colors introduced by the design are brought to dazzling effect through the use of mirror shards within the flooring itself.
Soon to be completed is the renovation to the main entry rotunda. Guests who arrive to the property from the garage sky bridge will soon step into a new immersive experience. Guests descending the escalators to the main gaming level below view a two-story sculptural fire feature. Custom-designed lighting creates the illusion of fire rising up behind the faceted glass face.
Owner and Operator: San Manuel Band of Mission Indians
Architect: Thalden Boyd Emery Architects
General Contractor: Penta
Investment: $45 million
Gulf Coast Grandeur
After 20 years spent trying to secure a casino, the Gulf Coast community of D’Iberville, Mississippi anticipates the opening of the Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort before New Year’s Eve 2022.
The 500,000-square-foot resort destination was designed by SOSH Architects to compete with existing coastal casinos by offering various forms of recreation beyond gaming. The goal and concept of the Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort project was to celebrate the enchanting past, intriguing present and joyful future of Mississippi by creating a destination not only focused on gaming, but also on family entertainment.
The project’s core comprises an 18-story, 300-room hotel tower and a 60,445-square-foot casino with 1,350 slot machines, 45 table games and 10 live poker tables. In addition, guests can enjoy a variety of amenities such as a spa, fitness center, 10,000-square-foot event center, outdoor pool and waterfall—plus a 42,000-square-foot, 36-hole professional miniature golf course. Guests can also sink their teeth into an assortment of dining options including a 175-seat gourmet restaurant, a 250-seat buffet as well as three other signature restaurants, and a 24-hour café/coffee shop.
The iconic 225-foot-tall all-white glass façade of the hotel tower is dotted with wave patterns reminiscent of the surrounding waters, celebrating the resort’s location on the Gulf Coast. The natural views of the surrounding area create an added luxury to the resort. As the tallest building in D’Iberville, the spectacular glass structure will be visible from far distances, allowing for a sense of arrival as guests approach the destination.
While the building’s glass façade expresses a contemporary interpretation of historic Southern architecture, the interiors salute Southern hospitality with open, bright and family-friendly spaces. The design generously quotes local styles, materials and colors to ensure that visitors feel welcome to come back time and time again.
Scarlet Pearl successfully blends the importance of family entertainment destination with the glamour and excitement of a brand new casino.
Owner: Lands Holdings 1, LLC
Architect: SOSH Architects
Contractor: Roy Anderson Construction
Interior Design: SOSH Architects
Investment: $250 million
Meeting on the Bay
Back in 1929, the opening of the Atlantic City Convention Center on the Boardwalk of that famous town recognized that the city needed a place where people could attend meetings and shows in the off-season to keep the city’s hotels full year-round. Now called Boardwalk Hall, the venerable building still entertains.
In the 1980s, a second convention center was built in Atlantic City for the same reasons, and it has served the same purpose, despite the slump and casino closures in the gaming industry there.
But the need to fill rooms in the winter and shoulder seasons goes beyond one citywide center, so executives at Caesars Entertainment decided a building more focused on its properties was essential. So it was decided that the Waterfront Conference Center at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City was a good investment.
Harrah’s Resort is one of the city’s most successful properties, even during the gaming downturn of the 2010s. With attractions such as The Pool at Harrah’s, a multi-purpose space serving many needs, retail, dining and gaming, the property’s 2,000 hotel rooms needed a boost. The Waterfront Conference Center provided that boost immediately.
When it opened in September, Caesars Entertainment CEO Mark Frissora said that more than 90,000 room nights had already been booked for the next year, compared to only 7,000 the previous year.
“For Atlantic City, this is an opportunity to attract a new type of customer to the city and significantly increase hotel occupancy, as well as drive revenue for local restaurants, retail outlets and other businesses,” he says.
The Waterfront Conference Center, at over 100,000 square feet of meeting space, is now the largest conference-hotel complex from Baltimore to Boston, providing an attractive new option for the $280 billion national meetings industry that has a $16 billion foothold in the Northeast.
The Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center can accommodate up to 5,000 attendees and has the flexibility to convert from meetings, to banquets, to large assembly spaces. The 100,000 square feet of flexible meetings space offers versatile area volume that can be broken down into 56 separate small meeting rooms with up to 300 different configurations—reception, banquet and pre-function space.
With Atlantic City counting less on gaming revenue, it is hoped that the Waterfront Conference Center will inspire other of the city’s casinos to get into the meetings and conventions game.
Owner: Caesars Entertainment
Architect: Friedmutter Group
Contractor: T.N. Ward Co.
Investment: $126 million
The Asian Equation
The second phase of Galaxy Macau opened in May. Designed, like phase one, by Steelman Partners, the elements brought into the expansion are an advancement and a greater understanding of the Galaxy clientele.
Take the casino, for example.
Low ceiling heights help create an intimate, cozy, warm and sophisticated mood. Color palettes are dominated by golds, ivory and creams, supplemented with rich crimson custom-designed carpets and decorative wall panels.
The ceilings are a series of decorative coffers with indirect layers of light, gold leaf accent trim and feature suspended chandeliers. A central bar is located on a raised platform overlooking the gaming floor with an illuminated central tower supporting a peacock-inspired metal canopy and large integrated LED panels.
The premium spaces are supplemented with beautiful, rich laser-cut, water-jet stone flooring in abstract floral patterns, and custom hand-woven crimson and wine carpets. The main gaming salon features a European-inspired ellipse-shaped crystal chandelier feature located within a soft-layered coffer of light. The mass gaming floor is screened off by way of complex decorative gold metal, crystal and glass screens, framed by soft full drapery tiebacks.
Jinmen VIP Gaming
This VIP casino increases the level of exclusive elegance and luxury threaded through the refined aesthetic and brand of its predecessor in a playful and vibrant way. Rich hand-tufted carpet designs in Mandarin oranges and golds with shimmering Lurex yarn accent trim are used in the main gaming spaces, while crimson reds and mustard gold designs are located in the private salons. Walls are typically clad in natural stone slabs with decorative bronze metal studs or soft leather upholstered acoustic panels. Ceiling coffers are soft, free-form shapes with large shaped fibrous plaster moldings and draping crystal chandeliers.
This space was delicately designed to feel “soft and sheer” with intricate laser-cut metal patterning and delicate rose-inspired mosaic stone feature wall mural panels.
The reception and hostess counter in this entry lobby features a three-meter crystal wave chandelier light fitting. A series of rear-illuminated onyx wall panels act as a backdrop.
The floors are chevron-patterned Serpegiante Stone panels providing a contrast to soft waved and layered gilded ceilings.
Owner: Galaxy Entertainment Group
Architect: Steelman Partners
General Contractor: Hsin Chong Construction Group
Investment: $3 billion
Land Beyond the Mountains
When the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opened Harrah’s Cherokee casino hotel at the back door of Smoky Mountain National Park, it was a saving grace for the tribe. Long a remnant of a great tribal nation, the casino allowed the tribe to regain some of that stature by becoming the largest employer in the western end of North Carolina.
But with unemployment raging in the south-central part of the state, and the Cherokees looking for another location, the idea for Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel was born. Once again, the Cherokees turned to the Cuningham Group, which had designed all phases of Harrah’s Cherokee.
Like Harrah’s Cherokee, Cuningham Group held tightly to its motto, “Every Building Tells a Story,” with Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River.
Brett Ewing, a principal with Cuningham, says the company listened carefully to the Cherokees.
“For us, mindfully listening and asking the right questions is critical to coming up with the right design solution,” he says. “Our designers then extract metaphors from the story to find inspiration for all aspects of the project from basic forms and shapes to materials and colors. Metaphors are found in stories of context, site, history and/or culture, and our challenge as designers is to transform those into distinctive and timeless forms. Since no two stories are alike, no two buildings are the same.”
At Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, Cuningham had many stories that translated into a dramatic hotel and casino. Located near Murphy, North Carolina, and the closest casino to Atlanta, guests can enjoy more than 1,000 slots and 70 traditional table games. The property offers a seven-story, 300-room hotel tower with unique F&B experiences, as well as Harrah’s Total Rewards benefits.
Owner: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Operator: Caesars Entertainment
Architect: Cuningham Group
General Contractor: Owle Construction LLC
Investment: $110 million
The Bicycle Club card room has long been a fixture in the Southern California card room market. Founded by the legendary George Hardie Sr., the club quickly grew to become the second-largest card room in California.
The facility passed through several owners in the 1990s (including the U.S. government), and it wasn’t until the arrival of Hashem Minaiy after 14 years at the Commerce Club that the Bicycle Club came alive. Minaiy is the managing general partner of the “Bike,” as it is affectionately known in the poker world, and he had a dream to transform the club into a true hotel and casino. That dream is about to come true.
The Bicycle Hotel & Casino, a seven-story, 117,907-square-foot boutique luxury hotel addition to the Bicycle Casino, will debut in December. Built by commercial luxury general contractor R.D. Olson Construction with architecture by Lee & Sakahara Architects and interior design by Hager Design International, Inc., the hotel will open with 99 rooms and suites, innovative dining concepts such as the Bike Brewery, and resort amenities including a full spa and elevated outdoor pool deck with private cabanas.
The Bicycle Hotel & Casino brings unprecedented sophistication and style to the Los Angeles hospitality/gaming sector and caters to the full spectrum of card-cutting enthusiasts, national and international guests and premier poker tours.
Located just 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, the Bicycle Hotel and Casino offers 185 gaming tables, but so much more. After spending time at the tables, guests can relax in deluxe guestrooms, designed to be tranquil retreats. Plush king- and queen-size beds are complemented by California-inspired furnishings and lavish bath amenities by L’Occitane En Provence.
Premium accommodations include 29 luxury suites ranging from the Classic Suite (648 square feet) to the signature Bike Suite (904 square feet), the extravagantly curated Governor’s Suite (1,359 square feet), and a Presidential Suite (2,007 square feet), fashioned to host and impress with its two bedrooms, formal living room and Jacuzzi tub.
Blending with the hotel’s modern appeal, the Bike Brewery hotel restaurant will pioneer a craft beer scene in Bell Gardens with 28 taps highlighted by the Bike Brew—a blonde ale by Golden Road Brewery exclusive to the Bicycle Hotel & Casino. Other food options include the Coffee House, a 24-hour snack bar and in-room dining.
Operator: Investment group led by Managing General Partner Hashem Minaiy
Architects: Lee & Sakahara Architects
General Contractor: R.D. Olson Construction
Investment: $50 million
Entertainment City, a collection of four $1 billion-dollar-plus integrated resorts, has been a dream of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) for the last decade. On reclaimed land next to Manila Bay, the dream came to life in 2020 with the opening of Solaire, a property owned by a company controlled by Philippine billionaire Ricky Razon.
In late 2021, City of Dreams Manila debuted, a joint venture between Melco Crown Entertainment of Macau and the Belle Corp., a subsidiary of Henry Sy’s SM Investments. Melco Crown bought into the project—originally designed as the Belle Grande Manila—after construction was under way, but still managed to put the Melco Crown signature upon it.
Working with architect firm Asya Design, interior design firm Arlen P. De Guzman Design Associates and general contractor Leighton Contractors, Melco Crown added and subtracted elements to present a truly unique experience for its Philippine customers.
Three hotels grace the property: Crown Towers, Hyatt and only the second Nobu hotel in the world. Nobu, whose owners include noted Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa, actor Robert DeNiro and others (now including James Packer’s Crown Resorts), is a luxury hotel that includes a Nobu Restaurant, an extensive spa and fitness center and the Nobu pool.
The casino includes a VIP Club, a Signature Club and a PokerStars card room. Several levels of dining are included. In addition to Nobu, the Tasting Room and Crystal Dragon cater to the high end. Wave and Red Dragon present casual fare, and other restaurants cater to other demographics and price points.
Dreamworks’ DreamPlay is a unique interactive play center where kids of all ages can connect with their favorite characters. Play games with Kung Fu Panda, Shreck and Donkey. Ride a dragon. Enjoy the antics of the Penguins of Madagascar. All in one venue.
Bars and nightclubs include Centerplay on the casino floor, along with the clubs Pangea and Chaos.
Two more integrated resorts are set to join Solaire and City of Dreams within the next few years, but Manila is fast becoming a major gaming hub for the Asia-Pacific region.
Owner: Melco Crown Entertainment and the Belle Corp.
Manager: Melco Crown Entertainment
Architect/Designer: Asya Design
General Contractor: Leighton Contractors
Investment: $1.3 billion
Rooms to Move
Casinos aren’t the first thing you think about when considering a healthy option. Yet, there has been a surge in interest by guests in “well” rooms, which promote a healthy stay. And they seem to be a hit.
MGM introduced 42 Stay Well rooms in 2019 on the 14th floor (really the 13th floor!) of the main tower. For an extra $30 a night, guests could rent rooms with amenities such as air purifiers; vitamin C-infused showers—which are designed to neutralize chlorine for healthier skin and hair—and circadian lighting systems, which mimic natural light, aiding the body’s internal clock by regulating melatonin production. Other elements include an all-natural mattress, a dawn simulator alarm clock that slowly floods the room with golden light, and a “light therapy” mirror.
The rooms proved to be so popular that the entire 14th floor was converted to Stay Well rooms, a total of 171 rooms, which also includes a common Stay Well Lounge.
Health guru Deepak Chopra, who created the Stay Well concept along with the Delos Company and the Cleveland Clinic, has expanded the concept to include meeting rooms at MGM Grand. Meeting areas include self-cleaning surfaces and a cleaning protocol using hypoallergenic products and tools to neutralize bacteria, acoustic elements that reduce noise from outside the room, ergonomic furniture intended to provide optimal comfort and to prevent stress or injury, a strategically placed hydration station and healthy menu options.
MGM’s approach to selling these rooms has been fresh and innovative, something that every hotelier must keep in mind in these times of Airbnb and Homeaway online services that allow people to rent private rooms, homes and apartments. Hotel rooms not only have to be a bargain, but they have to be unique, as well.
Take the La Reserva Hotel in Paris, which hired Kurt Lagerfeld to design the Chocolate Room, where everything you see is sculpted from chocolate. Also in Paris, how about the James Bond Suite at the Hotel Seven (not 007), a unique mix of futuristic chic with vintage design? Or how about the 1950s Suite at the Victoria Mansion Hotel in Los Alamos, California, complete with a Cadillac bed and car-hood bathroom sink?
In the casino world several years ago, the famous El Cortez was planning on refurbishing its hotel rooms, and conducted a “Design-a-Suite” contest. Four Nevada-licensed design firms were commisioned to create a 600-square-foot suite for $20,000. Urban Design Studio’s “Big Sleep” suite, with a mob theme, won—not surprising, given that the El Cortez was Bugsy Siegel’s first hotel in Las Vegas.
So, it takes imagination to get your occupancy rate up, but it also takes technology these days. And it all has to do with revenue management. This is one of the most critical but least understood aspects of any hotel operation.
Everyone wants to maximize your room revenue, but how about getting the highest possible profit from your best customers, over and above the room rate? In a casino, this can be a double-edged sword. Do you charge the highest possible room rate or do you comp an extra night for a customer who is known to spend lavishly at your spa, retail or food and beverage outlets?
Are your departments talking to one another about all your guests? Are you managing your inventory in a rational manner when you know certain players or groups are coming in?
Are you using revenue management to drive your marketing decisions? And how does your revenue management system interact with OTAs (online travel agents, like Expedia, Hotels.com or Travelocity)?
Keeping your hotel full and creating the most revenue per room is important, but it’s far more complicated in a casino resort than it is in a straight hotel. Not only does it take imagination and unique concepts to fill your hotel rooms, but you also have to be comfortable with the technology that can help you make decisions that benefit both the top and the bottom lines.
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The Crystal Ball
At G2E 2022, the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM) held a seminar on the “Casino Floor of the Future.” It was a very popular session because, in fact, no one knows exactly what the gaming floor is going to look like, and the vision has changed markedly within the past decade.
No longer do you see an ocean of slot machines with little islands of table games. Today’s casino floor is less orderly, more meandering. Banks of like slot machines are arranged in such a manner to welcome players. And table games are sometimes grouped together under unique architectural features, or with a theme like a Party Pit.
But competition has also shrunk the casino floor. In Atlantic City, which has seen half its revenue disappear, four of 12 casinos have closed and the remaining casinos have downsized their casino floors. At the Tropicana, former casino floor space has been transformed into restaurants, bars or nightclubs. At Resorts, a food court is now the connection between the hotel rooms and the casino floor.
So, speculation on what a casino will look like 10 years from now is only that—speculation.
But consider these elements. Players are getting more comfortable using their personal devices, like smartphones or tablets, to play games. What if a casino/manufacturer can design a smartphone game that can be played for real money on the casino floor?
Skill games are the big buzz word these days, but what shape will they take? Most likely, it will be competition between players, like an auto racing game. First one to the finish line wins the lion’s share of the money bet.
And how about attracting more millennials to the casino by combining what they like most right now—day and nightclubs—with gambling?
And how about those high-tech touchscreen tabletops? Can you imagine them as the ultimate in social networking inside a casino?
Want to watch a football game in a casino? Why not add the “in-running” element to the betting options on your mobile app?
Got a group coming with a specific theme or ethnicity? Let’s design a carousel/pit so that you recognize the group and its leaders.
Clearly, the casino floor of the future will hold some new and exciting surprises. As designers and operators, it’s time to shape that future in a way that pleases the guests—and the bottom lines.
Beginning about 1890, coin-operated gambling machines appeared in saloons, hotel lobbies, cigar stores and gambling establishments all across America. Hundreds of small companies built thousands of machines.
Some were poker machines in which rewards for winning hands were paid in cigars by the establishment. Others followed the lead of Charles Fey’s 1899 Liberty Bell (example at rght), the model on which subsequent machines with three spinning reels were based. These different styles of machines had only one idea in mind—to capture a customer’s money one nickel at a time. At the time, they were called “nickel-in-the-slot machines.” Eventually, it was shortened to the term still used today.
Everything changed in 1910 with the introduction of a heavy, cast-iron table model machine featuring three graphic reels that were engineered to stop, one right after the other. This remarkable device had a cast iron handle to activate the spin, and automatically paid out to winning combinations of fruit symbols.
Slot-machine players today always appreciate novelty, and the history of the slot machine is a subject to which they are drawn easily. For this reason, collector Ira Warren has made his remarkable stock of antique slot machines and amusement devices available to casinos.
Tapping into Warren’s collection can lead to a unique and intriguing attraction for any casino, whether they be placed in an entryway, as accents around a casino floor, or in a special exhibit room that would provide a new revenue stream from admission charges.
Among the machines available for display right now are:
• A cast-iron, table-model poker machine on a swivel base (circa 1893)
• A flip-card-style poker machine (small metal cards were arranged in deck configurations which “flipped” on a spool) forged in cast iron (circa 1897)
• A large wood-cabinet, table-model poker machine (circa 1897)
• A cast-iron floor model poker machine (circa 1905)
Other models are displayed on the advertisement featured on the back cover of this magazine.
For more information, contact Ira Warren, president, Coin-Ops, LLC, at [email protected].
he Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas… Hershey’s Chocolate World in Times Square… the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure in Orlando... the Georgia Aquarium… the Terminator 2 3-D show at Universal Studios. These are just some of the extraordinary attractions conceived and produced by Gary Goddard and his team at the North Hollywood-based Goddard Group.
Recently, Goddard has been involved in world-building—creating mega-resorts that are among the best on the planet. With the recent opening of the $3.2 billion Studio City in Macau, which attracted Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, Brad Pitt and Martin Scorcese to its grand opening gala, Goddard and his company have outdone themselves.
Inspired by the world of motion pictures, this integrated resort features a double Ferris wheel, a massive figure-8 designed into the architecture of the building itself and rising 460 feet above the ground. The resort has become Macau’s most iconic destination, earning worldwide media attention.
Studio City is Goddard’s second epic creation in Macau, following the hugely successful opening of the Galaxy Macau in 2011, which raised the bar for Macau resort casinos.
Other epic and unforgettable Goddard creations include:
• The Ring of Life monument, designed to be the symbol of an entirely new city that Goddard helped plan and design in Shenfu, China. Rising nearly 600 feet into the sky, this perfect steel circle is a breathtaking statement which the Huffington Post called simply “stunning.”
• Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, which both used Goddard and his team’s talents for overall planning and defining key attractions.
• Sanrio’s two major theme parks in Japan, Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo and Sanrio Harmonyland in Kyushu, both designed by Goddard. Shintaro Tsuji, founder and chairman of Sanrio, personally selected Goddard to oversee the creation of his first theme parks.
• The design of Electric Daisy Carnival, Insomniac Events’ transformative 2020 three-day musical event that attracted more than 350,000 people to the world’s largest EDM live event.
• The Venetian in Las Vegas, the result of Sheldon Adelson’s desire to find “the billion-dollar idea.” Goddard delivered a concept that now is valued at more than 20 times Adelson’s goal.
• Caesars Palace expansion, including the Forum Casino, Caesars’ Magical Empire with Milt Larsen of the Magic Castle, the Collesseum and the new Towers, all created at the direct request of Henry Gluck, former chairman and chief executive officer of Caesars World.
As the youngest show designer ever hired as an Imagineer at Walt Disney Imagineering, Goddard worked with the Disney legends who originally worked with Walt Disney to create Disneyland and Walt Disney World. With these men as his mentors, Goddard helped to develop concepts for Walt Disney World, EPCOT and World Showcase, the expansion of River Country at WDW and early concepts for Tokyo Disneyland.
Currently, Goddard is involved with new projects around the world: a new Marvel Superhero Park in Jakarta; several major new theme parks and resorts in China, including Polar Ocean World in Shanghai and World of Poseidon in Harbin; and several massive new projects in Southern China.
Most recently, Goddard and Goddard Group announced a joint venture with the Cirque du Soleil with the goal of creating an entirely new kind of “experience park” for the global market.
This new attraction will be the next step in the evolution of out-of-home entertainment. Part theme park, part theater, part social-media related, these new Cirque immersive parks will reset the standard for theme parks and outdoor experiences by offering truly unique destinations geared toward today’s social-media based audiences.
For more information, visit thegoddardgroup.com.
Every Building Tells A Story
Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc. exists to create beautiful places for a balanced world. Simple and eloquent, the statement embodies the firm’s passion for design and its impact on clients, communities and the world.
Founded in 1968, the full-service Cuningham Group provides architecture, interior design and planning services for a diverse mix of client and project types, with significant focus over the last 24 years on gaming and entertainment. Bolstered by a staff of 290 in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Biloxi, Denver, San Diego, Phoenix, Seoul and Beijing, Cuningham Group provides the resources necessary to explore new ways of solving clients’ problems with dynamic and innovative design solutions that add value and advance the art of entertainment design.
The company's world-class portfolio—covering the spectrum from small and delicate spaces to complex and expansive projects—includes casinos, hotels, theaters, convention centers, restaurants, retail venues, master plans and support facilities for gaming and resort destinations throughout the U.S. and around the world.
As leaders in gaming and entertainment design, Cuningham Group is on the cutting edge of imagining “casinos of the future.” Gaming continues to move through uncharted territory as technology spreads its influence over social interactions and the games people play. Shifting demographics and the younger generation’s desire for experiences that are personal, mobile and social are the challenges—and ultimately, the opportunities—facing the future of games and the facilities that house them.
Backed by a client-centered, collaborative approach called “Every Building Tells A Story,” which emphasizes one-of-a-kind solutions reflecting the vision of clients and the character of each property and site, Cuningham Group challenges clients to embrace brick-and-mortar changes that support the evolving nature of gaming and its customer base while setting new standards for the future of entertainment.
Cuningham Group is consistently ranked among top firms, and the firm’s work has been honored with more than 145 industry and market awards.
Recent projects include the LEED Gold, 19-story hotel for Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee; the newly opened Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel near Murphy, North Carolina; the renovation of Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada; the renovation and expansion at Little River Casino Resort in Manistee, Michigan; and the new Rhythm City Casino in Davenport, Iowa, opening in mid-2023.
For more information, visit cuningham.com.
A Million Ways to Dazzle
Most chairs are designed to fill a space. Gasser chairs are designed to elevate it. For nearly 70 years Gasser has been designing, building and perfecting the art of commercial seating, using only the highest quality materials. When you buy a Gasser chair, you’re making an investment in style, innovation and durability that will be a better value over the long run. Artfully designed, beautifully executed and built to endure, Gasser chairs don’t merely perform, they dazzle.
Artisanship that Runs Deep in the Fabric
The beauty of a Gasser chair is more than skin deep. Look closer and you’ll discover that it runs through the entire company. From design to construction to customer service, it’s a forte that’s been nearly 70 years in the making, and runs deep in our fabric.
Critically Acclaimed Design and Workmanship
You make them feel welcome. Gasser makes them feel comfortable. Beyond just looking good, Gasser chairs offer unparalleled comfort and support. It’s this fusion of form and function that ensures a virtuoso performance every time.
A Flair for Design that Defies Wear and Tear
More than just standing out, Gasser chairs are designed to stand up to virtually anything that can be thrown at them. Made from only the highest quality materials and built to last, Gasser chairs retain their panache long after others have fallen from grace.
Custom Solutions to Let Your Imagination Soar
Your rooms come in all different shapes, colors and sizes and so do Gasser seating solutions. Gasser does not provide cookie-cutter solutions to complex challenges. Let your imagination soar and let Gasser custom-design something specifically to your needs.
Many companies market themselves as industry leaders; Gasser Chair is one of the few that can back up that claim. From the earliest days of the business, product development and improvement were the constant challenges. And, not surprisingly, it was simply listening to customers that provided the opportunity for many of Gasser’s successful innovations.
For more information, visit gasserchair.com.
Hnedak Bobo Group takes design to the next level, because great design elevates clients’ business success. Working for a five-time G2E Casino Design Award winner and one of only a few architecture firms working in gaming and hospitality design today that owns, operates and develops its own four-star hotel, HBG designers have a distinct edge in understanding what it takes to operate and differentiate in a competitive market.
By approaching design from the perspective of both guest and owner/operator, HBG makes design work for its gaming clients.
HBG is constantly rethinking the guest experience, because market demographics are evolving. The firm capitalizes on new opportunities for innovation in casino resort design through more diverse amenities, integration of technology and design aesthetics often grounded in the authenticity of cultural and local context as the catalyst for discovery and experience.
HBG designers translate market influences into inspired, memorable design that, combined with carefully crafted details, built-in efficiencies and well-planned execution, generates the perfect balance between beauty and functionality. The result is elevated design that fully engages guests in the gaming experience and performs for clients.
In creating smart hotel designs for the entertainment and leisure markets, HBG’s work has taken it across the country and around the world, with current engagements in Dubai and Southeast Asia for several international theme park resort developments. HBG is developing design strategies that seamlessly integrate hospitality and related amenities into the entertainment experience.
Visit hbginc.com to see how HBG is elevating design for its clients. Projects currently include the contemporary tribal hotel design for the Point Casino in Kingston, Washington; the West Valley Resort in Maricopa County, Arizona; multiple branded projects for Ho-Chunk Gaming in Wisconsin; and the expansion of Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, New York, which will add more gaming space, new retail and F&B amenities and a new performance area to the Seneca Nation’s casino property, also designed by HBG.
For more information, visit hbginc.com.
The Art of Casino Chair Design
Patir Casino Seating is an internationally renowned seating specialist that has been active in the gaming market for 25 years, delivering premium seating solutions for gaming and hospitality areas. Founded in Munich, Germany, in 1991, Patir has influenced the casino seating industry with its original innovations and capabilities.
The secret of the company’s success always has been a proprietary design of exceptional quality while maintaining high standards in both comfort and ergonomics.
Patir's philosophy always has been focused on ultimate chair quality. Player seating is subject to wear and tear, and therefore must be manufactured according to the highest quality standards; the fabrics used must be exceptionally robust. Patir chairs are built to last, and are quality-approved by the highest German testing institute, the TUV Rheinland.
Design and comfort
The Patir credo also encompasses creating original chair designs. The company strives to highlight its innovative style and design, and as a result has earned an excellent reputation as an industry trend-setter for casino seating. Patir also understands that casino guests and operators expect comfortable chairs. After all, comfort has a direct influence on a player’s length of stay at a gaming machine.
With in-house production, Patir is able to manufacture individual seating solutions that are custom-tailored to clients’ needs. The company can satisfy all customer requests in terms of design and technical features.
It is not uncommon for gaming machines to be in constant use. Casino operators appreciate the availability of a full inventory of spare parts and the simplicity in replacing them. Patir’s Easy Change System, coupled with extraordinarily fast delivery times, assures every part of any Patir chair can be replaced quickly in just a few simple steps.
Patir is the supplier for many major players in the international casino and entertainment industry. Although Patir’s permanent technical and design innovations have revolutionized the seating habits in casinos worldwide, the company does not rest on its laurels. Instead, it continually pushes product development and optimization through initiatives and consultation with major industry players.
Full-service branch in Las Vegas
Patir now has a U.S. base of operations in Las Vegas, offering full-service capabilities to ensure customers receive exceptional pre-sale and post-sale support.
For more information, contact Patir at 209-915-9032, [email protected] or visit patirseating.com.
The WOW Experience
Established in 1958, Lifescapes International Inc. is an internationally renowned landscape architectural design firm based in Newport Beach, California. Having designed the landscape of more than 15 casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, as well as an additional 80 casinos and resorts across the United States, Asia and Europe, Lifescapes International continues to create successful, dynamic destinations that delight guests every day.
For more than five decades, Lifescapes has been a significant design influence for gaming-related properties, including Native American, commercial and riverboat gaming properties, as well as destination resorts, mixed-use developments, commercial, retail centers, entertainment-driven projects and residential.
Lifescapes has had a relationship with casinos starting in 1984 with the Cascades Hotel in South Africa, and with Las Vegas as far back as 30 years, designing for Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Paris, Red Rock, Venetian/Palazzo and Wynn/Encore, just to name a few.
Recently, Lifescapes International worked on the newly opened Golden Nugget Lake Charles in Louisiana, and completed designs for Wynn Palace on the Cotai Strip (opening 2023) and Paradise City in Incheon, South Korea (opening 2023). Currently, the company is designing Resorts World Las Vegas, the Pechanga expansion in California and casino resort projects in New York and Massachusetts.
The senior principal leadership team consists of Chief Executive Officer/FASLA Don Brinkerhoff, President/Chief Financial Officer Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, Executive Senior Principal/Chief Operating Officer & General Manager Daniel Trust, Executive Senior Principal/Director of Design-Horticulture Roger Voettiner and Executive Senior Principal/Director of Design Andrew Kreft. They all work in unison to create and manage the firm’s projects, with assistance from a team of highly qualified landscape architects, project designers and a strong administrative staff.
“The landscape is about the ‘WOW’ experience. We design for those who will be immersed in the surroundings, creating captivating amenities such as nightclubs, pool bars, beach clubs, retail and restaurant environments for our clients’ guests to enjoy during their stay, encouraging them to stay longer, play longer,” Brinkerhoff-Jacobs said. “The entertainment and resort operators, including astute executives within the gaming industry, understand that stand-alone gaming activities are simply not enough to keep customers fully engaged on their properties.”
For more information, visit lifescapesintl.com.
Accuracy, Integrity and Buying Power
Purchasing Management International is the leading FF&E and OS&E purchasing company in the gaming industry. With extensive experience in large luxury gaming projects, working with the leading designers, architects and owners, PMI offers owners the accuracy, integrity and buying power necessary to successfully work on the most demanding gaming projects.
The company has purchased and installed more than $2 billion in hotel, resort and casino furnishings, operating equipment and systems worldwide. PMI’s services include FF&E and OS&E purchasing for renovation and new construction, operating supplies purchasing and advisory services for capital budgeting, inventories and due diligence for acquisitions and valuations.
In Las Vegas, PMI recently completed the renovations of the 800-room Bellagio Spa Tower, the 400-room Bellagio Suites Tower and the 1,100-room Tropicana. In the past, PMI has completed major works at Caesars Palace, Trump International, MGM Grand, Harrah’s, Treasure Island, Mirage, Hard Rock and Station Casinos’ Red Rock Resort. Outside of Las Vegas, PMI has worked on casinos from the East to West Coast including Revel, Borgata, Harrah’s Cherokee, Wind Creek Casino, Wild Horse Pass Casino and Sandia Casino. PMI expertly advises Indian gaming clients, tribal associations and native nations as part of their economic development activities.
PMI uses a unique purchasing management system to deliver the speed and accuracy required by gaming projects. PMI’s experienced staff is the best in the industry, and has deep vendor knowledge plus the creativity to keep projects moving forward under the pressure of a gaming project’s requirements. PMI’s system of checks and balances includes a separate expediting department to control the custom approval process, project deliveries and final delivery costs. Time and again, PMI saves clients money and time.
PMI’s mission is to provide a select number of clients worldwide with its proven purchasing, renovation and technical expertise at the best quality and pricing obtainable in the industry.
For more information, visit pmiconnect.com.
Innovative Hospitality Design
SOSH Architects was founded in 1979 on the core conviction that quality design continually rewards the community, the client and the design team. The firm has steadily grown from a company of four partners to its current size of approximately 50 design professionals and support staff engaged in the execution of major master planning, architecture and interior design commissions worldwide.
The company philosophy drives a design process that values exploration, visualization and the contributions of multiple voices consistent with the belief that the best design solutions are the result of thoughtful collaboration.
SOSH’s principals—Thomas J. Sykes, William A. Salerno, Nory Hazaveh, Kimberly McCarron, Mark Petrella and Christopher Menchin—continue the commitment of personal involvement in each project. With offices in Atlantic City and New York, SOSH Architects has established a worldwide reputation for master planning, architectural design, interior design and strong project delivery achievement.
For more than three decades, SOSH Architects has had the opportunity to work on an impressive array of hospitality design projects. From master planning to restaurant renovation, from new tower construction to resort expansions, SOSH has handled every aspect of hotel and casino design on multiple properties in the major urban markets of New York, Philadelphia and Atlantic City, as well as in California, Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana, Connecticut, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.
Gaming floors, hotel rooms, restaurants, nightclub and entertainment venues, ballrooms, retail stores, lounges, pool and spa retreats, administrative support space, food service facilities and day care centers all can be found on the same property, and each use brings with it a unique set of challenges and technical requirements.
Ongoing or recently completed projects include Tropicana Casino & Resort North Tower casino renovation and Boardwalk façade in Atlantic City; Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort in D’Iberville, Mississippi; Resorts Casino Hotel conference center in Atlantic City; Brew Brothers at Scioto Downs in Columbus, Ohio; Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park in Northfield, Ohio; Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pennsylvania; and Resorts World Bimini in the Bahamas.
For more information, contact SOSH Architects at 1020 Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City, NJ 08401, 609-345-5222; or 145 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019, 212-246-2770; [email protected] or visit sosharch.com.
Timeless, Extraordinary Design
Established in 1987, Steelman Partners has positioned itself as a leader in the industry, boasting some of the most talented and acclaimed architects, designers, planners and artists, all working in-house. This international, Las Vegas-based firm specializes in the multi-disciplinary facets of hospitality and entertainment architecture, interior design and lighting design.
Steelman Partners has international office locations in China, Vietnam, Amsterdam and Cambodia, and owns and operates several affiliated design companies: Dalton, Steelman Arias and Associates, shop12 Design, Inviro Studios and MARQI Branding Studio.
DSAA is a full-service interior design firm specializing in the creation of engaging interiors for the high-end hospitality, resort and gaming industries. DSAA has created entertainment-based, profitable interiors for thousands of restaurants and lounges, casinos and VIP gaming salons, spas, retail and performance venue projects across the globe.
Shop12 Design is a full-service lighting, visual feature and theater design studio specializing in creative collaboration on cutting-edge performance venues, custom visual and interactive environments and all facets of high-end hospitality lighting.
Inviro is an international animation studio creating content for the film, television and architectural industries, as well as collaborating on complete ride experiences. Responsible for original-character design, scriptwriting, 3D space visualization and product merchandising, Inviro brings imagined ideas and concepts to the screen.
MARQI is an international branding studio focused on identifying the energy and identity behind every project. The studio specializes in creating universal stories that make an experience memorable. Naming, branding, storytelling and visual communication provide the catalyst for innovative concepts, unique services, signature products, themed environments and iconic structures.
Steelman Partners believes extraordinary design is timeless. With more than 4,000 completed projects in its 34-year history, the firm’s impressive client list includes Genting Group, the Venetian/Las Vegas Sands, MGM, Harrah’s, Swiss Casinos, Sheraton, Hyatt, Plaza/El-Ad, SDJM, Melco, Caesars Entertainment and many others.
Steelman Partners is headed by recognized visionary designer Paul Steelman, a native of Atlantic City, New Jersey. He was honored with the 2010 Sarno Lifetime Achievement Award and received the 2006 HOSPY Lifetime Achievement Award. Steelman has been featured in many publications and visual media, including Forbes magazine “Designing for Dough” and the Oceans 13 DVD (“The Opulent Illusion”).
For more information, contact Steelman Partners at 702-873-0221, email [email protected] or visit steelmanpartners.com.
All Hospitality, All the Time
During the past 40 years, the Native American-owned firm of TBE Architects has become one the best-known casino hotel architects in America.
Empowered with the tagline “All Hospitality All The Time,” TBE Architects has a depth of experience like no other Native American-owned architecture firm. Its passion in architecture and design has led to working with more than 109 tribes and First Nations, designing more than 200 casino projects and more than 400 hotels.
TBE Architects’ portfolio includes work with some of the most recognized companies in the industry. Past clients have included Harrah’s, Hilton, Holiday Inns Worldwide, Hyatt, Marriott, Radisson, Trump, Churchill Downs and Delaware North Companies Inc., to name a few.
Hotel & Motel Management magazine ranks TBE Architects a “Top Design” firm in the hospitality industry in the United States. It is a company with extensive experience designing destination resorts, gaming floors, atriums, hotel rooms, entertainment venues, convention space, multi-use space, retail, restaurants and parking garages for Native American tribes in the United States and First Nations in Canada.
The firm, with its highly experienced staff of professionals, combines the Native American background and design expertise of Chief Boyd, chief executive officer and principal, with the creative hotel and casino design expertise of Rich Emery, president and design principal, plus the management talents of Nick Schoenfeldt, vice president and principal.
Since 1971, TBE Architects has been designing resorts, hotels and casinos for the hospitality and gaming industries. The firm’s approach of creating “ordinary to extraordinary” is based on developing unique and exciting visions and bringing them to life.
The firm has built a reputation for delivering projects on time and on budget.
TBE Architects provides full architectural services including master planning, engineering and interior design. TBE Architects is an active associate member of the American Institute of Architects and an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association.
For more information, visit tbearchitects.com or contact Linda J. Roe, vice president, business development at 602-321-6207.