Things were simpler back in the days when casino patrons arrived in Las Vegas to gamble. If they shopped, slept, ate meals, danced or were otherwise entertained, it was secondary to the thrill of the game.
The world of gaming has grown much more complex as casinos have become resorts, and then mega-resorts and now meta-resorts. Visiting a casino is now more than just about playing cards or slots: ItÆs an experience.
Some casino patrons never even touch a gambling chip or a slot machine. And they donÆt have to. There is a plethora of non-gaming amenities in the gambling meccas of the worldùexquisite hotel rooms, high-end retail stores, celebrity-driven restaurants, concerts headlined by the biggest stars in the world and much, much more.
But, of course, gaming operators cannot abandon their original audience: gamblers. So the goal of a 21st century casino is to be all things to all people. Luckily (or skillfully), this goal can be reached with the help of interior design.
When architects and designers meet with a client, the first and most important step in the design process is to determine the propertyÆs market. Destination resorts on the Las Vegas Strip require a different aesthetic than a locals casino or off-Strip property, because theyÆre catering to separate segments of casino patrons.
Some casino operators, like the legendary Steve Wynn, design properties that reflect their own concepts of style. WynnÆs resorts are the very essence of luxury, with his figurative signature on every inch of the space.
Larry Rafferty, vice president of Yates-Silverman, Inc., headed up the design team for the newly opened Eastside Cannery in Las Vegas. Rafferty says his design process is more reflective of his customer base than of himself.
“Some of the properties are about the taste of the owner, and a shrine to how much money they can spend,” Rafferty says. “TheyÆre shrines to egos. In our case, the major thing we were concerned about was: What can we do to make our customer comfortable? These people are regulars; I have to make them feel entertained. Everybody put their egos outside.”
The Eastside Cannery customer is typically a local Las Vegan looking for a casino to woo him with Benny BinionÆs famous mantra: good food, good whiskey, good gamble. The Eastside Cannery provides that and more, which is evident by its classy yet comfortable design theme, a theme that harkens back to a 1960s canning factoryùfamiliar and friendly. Rafferty was also attempting to incorporate design elements from the original Cannery, located in North Las Vegas.
“Basically what we were trying to do with the design of it was keep all the familiar elements and contemporize them,” Rafferty says. “Casinos that are designed for neighborhood properties are different than those designed for the Strip. We have clients who are coming over and over and over again, and they all have their favorite machines that they play or dealers they like.”
For Strip resorts like Caesars Palace, interior design draws different patrons to different spaces, as in the case of the casinoÆs nightclub, Pure. George Bergman, principal designer and co-founder of Bergman, Walls & Associatesùand a contributor to PureÆs designùsays the club brings in a segment of the population that may have never entered the casino were it not for PureÆs presence.
“(Pure) brings an outlet for a younger demographic,” Bergman says. “ItÆs a demographic that has money. TheyÆll go out and eat at the restaurants and then go to Pure. Even if theyÆre not staying at the hotel, theyÆll use all the aspects of the hotel and eventually end up at Pure.”
The nightclub, which is slinky and luxurious, uses design to create a sense of exclusivity. The clubÆs rooms and pathways connect to one another, and Pure patrons can see and be seen. Or, for the ultimate elite retreat, they can escape to the roof or a VIP room for even more privacy.
Young partygoers crave what Pure has to offer, while food connoisseurs visit Caesars Palace to dine at celebrity chef Bobby FlayÆs Mesa Grill, and travelers pick Caesars for its elegant suites. Replicating the philosophy behind Caesars and its success is a priority for many gaming operators.
Resorts play host to all kinds of amenities and attractions, and linking them together to create a cohesive destination is the challenge of a design team. Some designers link spaces by color, others by theme (though this strategy has become less popular as time has gone by). For Eastside Cannery designer Rafferty, the 1960s offered a canon as well as a color palette from which to draw.
“The lounges, the delis, the 24-hour restaurant, Snaps, the high-end steakhouse: everything played off the casino,” Rafferty says. “Everything had a thread to the overall theme of the vertical industrial. Everything had a tie to it. ThereÆs a common thread of color. YouÆll get the feeling that one collective mind was at work.”
For other designers, linking the amenities and attractions in and of themselves is preferable to tying everything together with similar colors. With connections that stretch beyond decorations, the casino patron knows where he isùand he wonÆt mistake that place for anywhere else in town.
“The theme is not necessarily the driver anymore,” says BLT Architects principal Eric Rahe. “What is the essence of the resort? What are the five reasons you would visit the resort? Then, we try to create those features as a means of bringing people into the resort. Programming is a big part of the effort.”
Casinos host millions of people per year, each seeking something different. The foundations of a resort, therefore, must be able to withstand the elements. While designers are contemplating what patrons will enjoy, they must also take into account what patrons will do to a property, and plan accordingly.
“Materials in a casino have to be built like steel,” says Floss Barber, founder and principal designer of interior design firm Floss Barber, Inc. “You canÆt have anything thatÆs not going to hold up to intense public use.”
Above all, a casinoÆs design must make guests happy. No matter who the audience is or what the owner likes, a design that doesnÆt please the majority of visitors will lead to a propertyÆs downfall. Tom Hoskens, principal designer of design firm Cuningham Group, says the design of a multi-use complex like a resort must always evoke emotion.
“Designing spaces inside of a casino is a very complex combination of destinations, focal points and impulse points combined with energy nodes, and a combination of paths and flows that make a design of a casino maybe one of the more complex design challenges, because what weÆre doing is weÆre entertaining and exciting and creating all these emotions as youÆre moving through a casino,” Hoskens says. “Because of that, itÆs not and should never be monolithic.
“ItÆs a series of exciting points, itÆs a series of flows, itÆs a series of experiences as you go through. ItÆs sort of that combination of experiences that make the guest experience that much better.”