The concept of sustainability is hard to nail down to a single definition, especially within the casino industry. Incorporating eco-friendly construction and design elements admittedly hasn’t always been a top priority among operators—indeed, if you asked all the gaming executives in the industry to give you their definition of sustainability, it would probably involve business models and margins.
However, that tide is beginning to turn, thanks to a shift in consumer expectations as well as operators’ desire to differentiate themselves and provide unique experiences while also forming connections with the land and communities they serve.
Dike Bacon, principal of HBG Design, has seen this transformation gradually unfold over the years. The first thing that has helped the progress of sustainable design, he says, is cost-effectiveness. Sustainability in design has numerous benefits, but if it comes at an extremely high cost, it’s much less likely to be implemented.
“Mechanical systems have gotten so much more efficient and so much better from the standpoint of energy consumption and operation, and they’re cost effective,” Bacon says. “For years, the high-efficiency systems were installed at a substantial premium, in which an owner/operator had to do a math equation to figure out a payback. Now, the design of those systems has become much more efficient and much more cost-effective.
“And so consequently, they get installed. But, at the end of the day for most operators, the bottom line determines everything. Sustainable practices that work financially, they’re pretty well embraced. But if it’s at a substantial premium, it’s a hard argument.”
The beauty of sustainability is that it can manifest itself in many different ways, and sometimes it doesn’t take much planning or investment at all. For example, one of Bacon’s favorite sustainable trends is daylighting, or incorporating natural light into casino floors that are usually dark, gloomy and smoky. Not only do patrons enjoy the brightness and airiness of the design, it’s also cheap and simple, two of the best words in business.
Bacon notes that there has been a “continuously evolving design goal of bringing daylight into the casino environment,” which has “certainly been very successful with Covid.” Sometimes, he says, daylighting isn’t even the result of sustainably focused design; it’s just an attempt to create unique spaces, which in turn results in “a decreased load for lighting.”
He notes that the indoor gardens in the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Boston Harbor are examples of this, having been created to show off the greenery while also coincidentally cutting back on energy consumption. Even traditional lighting systems have improved with regards to sustainability, thanks primarily to improvements in results—early LED setups “just looked like crap,” Bacon says, which made them undesirable for both patrons and operators.
However, now that there’s been “a concerted effort by the lighting industry to manufacture LED energy-efficient lighting that actually just looks good,” it’s become increasingly popular.
The other big sustainable shift for casinos, according to Bacon, has been the emphasis on locally sourced products and materials. This is also partly due to supply chain hiccups and the Covid pandemic, but nonetheless, it’s been a pleasant change that appears to be gaining momentum. Numerous casino projects in the last two years, both commercial and tribal, have unveiled local collaborations with regards to retail, dining and more.
Now that economic uncertainty appears to be here to stay for the foreseeable future, things like shipping and fuel costs have become considerably more important for operators, and local options represent a more convenient and a more sustainable option.
“Operators have implemented the goal of using more local supplies, more local products—the cost of shipping and certainly that of diesel fuel for what you are trying to ship from, say, China,” Bacon says. “But a result of sourcing products closer to a facility is a lessened demand for energy consumption.
“We are, and have been for quite some time, very acutely focused on specifying healthy materials that are off-gassing. That sort of thing is minimized by healthier carpets and healthier wall coverings and healthier paints, those types of things.”