Technology that is changing the way we live may soon change the way casinos are designed
So one would argue that technology has changed the nature of the slot machines that cover casino floors. However, despite all the changes in the way slots look and are played, the basic design of a casino has changed little over the decades.
Until very recently, that is. The advent of multi-game and multi-denomination slot machines has lowered the number of physical machines needed to satisfy play requirements—the newest casinos and re-designed floors have wider aisles and a more comfortable environment for slot players than the factory-floor setups typical of casinos designed more than a decade ago.
Electronic table games are another development creating new types of spaces in casinos. The new Revel in Atlantic City has a “digital pit” comprised completely of multi-player electronic table games; other casinos are making way for the electronic table games as well, devoting less space to the live versions.
Even with these changes, the basic design of the casino floor remains relatively unchanged. However, the casino industry’s premiere architects agree that as technology marches on, the new generation of players and operators may require that the look of a casino be different.
“The casino floor 10 or 20 years from now will certainly look different than it does now,” says Brad Schulz, vice president of Bergman Walls and Associates. Schulz, who has been designing casinos and resorts for 30 years, says the nature of slot play will probably dictate a significant change in casino design in the coming decades.
“If we were to jump ahead 20 years, I think you’re going to see a definite change in the casino floor layout, especially when it comes to slot machines,” Schulz says. “You’re probably not going to see the endless banks, rows and rows of machines, that we see today. A definite generational change that’s happening is that the younger people today are much more accustomed to their hand-held devices. They are much more accustomed to mobile technology than the older generation.”
The new Hard Rock casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma, contains what may be a harbinger of how casino design could change with technology—a mezzanine section with e-games surrounding a “media bar,” a casual seating area with graphic and interactive displays, all centered around social media.
Spaces designed like this may become commonplace in the coming decades, predicts Schulz. “As (today’s young players) get older and start gaming more, they’re going to want the immediacy and intimacy of doing it on their own device,” he says. “The technology is already there, but certainly, 10 or 20 years from now it will be something we take for granted.”
Schulz says one way this type of gaming will affect design is with more intimate gaming areas. “The casino of the future is going to have more of a lounge feel,” he says. “It’s going to have people being able to play their games on their hand-held devices in much more intimate settings. They will literally be able to gamble anywhere on the property. You’ll still have slot machines, but the atmosphere of rows and rows of slot machines is going to go away.”
Longtime casino architect Paul Steelman, founder of Steelman Partners and 2010 recipient of the Sarno Award for lifetime achievement, points to Wynn properties like Encore in Las Vegas and Wynn Macau, and former Wynn properties like the Mirage, to demonstrate how these intimate spaces are likely to be accomplished—“structures within structures.”
Casinos will be “designed smaller” in the future, he says, or, “if big is required, it will be designed to look small and personal.”
The Social Aspect
While there may be more subdivisions of casino space in the future, none of the gaming will be done in isolation, notes architect Brad Friedmutter, another Sarno Award recipient who has long been known for casino projects.
Friedmutter says social interaction is important to the younger generation of gamblers, even if hand-held devices are in play. “The nature of people is the same as always,” he says. “Formerly, if someone hit a jackpot on a slot machine, there were bells and whistles. It was loud, and you would hear the coins coming down. What that did was attract attention. Here’s a winner—and everyone sees and hears that, and comes running over to see who won. Everybody likes to see a winner.
“Tomorrow, or 10 years from now on hand-held devices, people are going to tweet that a jackpot was hit, or the casino will send the message, including where it was hit. The delivery of the message is going to be different, but the (social) nature of people is always there.
“People want to be around the winners, and where the good luck is, and where the action is. The energy. It’s the (message) delivery system that technology is going to advance, but there are still segments of people who want to be together.”
Albie Colotto, director of design for the Friedmutter Group, adds that the social aspect is perhaps more important to the younger generation of gamblers than to today’s majority of players weaned on huge slot floors where everyone minded their own business. The X and Y generations and beyond, who spend a lot of time in nightclubs, need a “see-and-be-seen” atmosphere, Colotto says.
“The X and Y generations are the same gamer, going to nightclubs and similar kinds of entertainment venues,” says Colotto. “You’ll still find those kinds of entertainment venues to be very open. Even in clubs, when they try to close them off too much, you don’t get that social interaction people still want when they’re doing entertaining kinds of things—of which gaming is definitely a strong part.”
Friedmutter cites the newest electronic hybrid table games—systems linking one live wheel or table to hundreds of individual, slot-like wagering terminals—as examples of what combines the solitary and social aspects of the casino experience that are important to younger players. “What they’ve done through technology is to give what counts as two or three games the ability to have perhaps 150 people playing,” he says.
Adds Colotto, “What we’re starting to see even on the slot machines is that the younger generation, even when they’re gaming at home, like the social aspect. The younger generation wants to be on games together. In China, you’ll see one dealer but 200 people playing at a time. That will change design, in that more people will be playing a game at one time.”
Friedmutter sees the social aspect of gaming extending to future hand-held play as well. “People say that communicating on hand-held devices means less face-to-face interaction, and yet, on the game side, people play against each other around the world,” he says. “They might not see each other face-to-face, but they’re used to playing against each other. So there is, on the one hand, isolation, yet at the same time there is interaction.”
He says this will translate into a casino design that allows social interaction along with game play. “The whole notion of coming to a casino, in addition to the gaming aspect, was always the social aspect,” says Friedmutter. “Coming to the casino, hanging out at the bar, having dinner, going to a show—a whole nighttime experience.”
He says future design will reflect this basic fact, but Friedmutter is not ready to say the current casino model is going away. “I don’t have a crystal ball, and as they say, everything old is new again. I don’t think there’s a straight line of technological progress. It’s an evolutionary process. Things are going to develop in technology and in the social interaction of people that might be hard to trend.”
Schulz also is hesitant to predict the demise of the current casino model, but says a change is definitely in store. “There are so many things that happen in a casino today, with the more traditional lights and sounds that have always been there,” he says. “You’re going to have to keep those for a number of years. However, the more comfortable people become with their hand-held devices, the more the game itself may be changing.
“Until the older generation is gone, there will be those who feel more comfortable sitting in front of a slot machine. But certainly, 20 years from now, the majority of players are going to want to play on their individual hand-held devices, or devices issued to them by the casinos, instead of these floor-mounted machines.”
He stresses that the table game element of casinos, unlike the slots, is likely to remain relatively the same as it is now. “Most people who play table games like the atmosphere that surrounds the tables themselves,” Schulz says. “A craps table is fun because of the atmosphere—the excitement of the game, the crowd. I think you’re going to see table tames around for a long time. But slot machines are headed for much more intimate lounge areas; it won’t even necessarily feel like you’re in the casino itself.”
Like Friedmutter, Schulz stresses that his predictions assume an evolutionary process that may or may not happen within the next few years. However, he notes that a basic principle of casino floor design is adaptability.
“As architects, what we try to do is create spaces that will lend themselves to flexibility,” Schulz says. “We minimize the amount of things that are intrusive into the space—columns, structural braces—which, as things progress, would make it difficult to renovate a space. We try to leave the gaming area as open as possible, to allow for as much flexibility as possible—in the physical layout, in how the electronics work.”
That includes going wireless, which Schulz sees as a probable trend. “As we see wireless progressing, 20 years down the road, even the hard connections may be going. The technology will be there to make everything wireless if the gaming companies choose to do that. How that changes in the next 20 years is anybody’s guess. It could fundamentally change how we look at casinos altogether. That’s the part nobody knows for sure—how far this could go.”
Steelman stresses that that regardless of whether or not casinos go wireless, or how many lounge-style areas may evolve in the modern casino, or whether or not the rows and rows of slot machines will remain a staple of the casino floor, the focus of the casino space will remain the same—gambling. “There may be lots of new ideas and attractions, but casinos will always be focused on gambling,” Steelman says. “Throughout the history of casino design, when unusual entertainment attractions were placed on a casino floor, they did not work. I can cite 10 examples of Disney-like attractions that have come and gone on casino floors.”
As far as the gambling, Friedmutter adds that casino floors will adapt to a mixture of the old and the new. Referring to Aristocrat’s new slot based on the 1978 Superman movie, he says, “Interestingly, here is modern technology, and here they are talking about Superman! I think there will always be this mix of the old and the new in the future. People try things, and some of them stick. And as they mature, people naturally evolve with it.”
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