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Growing Green

How concern for the environment has impacted the gaming industry

Growing Green

Going green is an all-encompassing ideal. It concerns sustainability, energy, technological innovation and design. It runs the gamut from city buildings to private offices and casinos.

The green concept has many layers. It sounds dignified, like support of world peace and the end of poverty. Yet the green route must often surpass altruism and be economically sustainable.

Architects, environmentalists, city planners and gaming operators have turned the ideal into ideas. In the gaming world, they have reached sophisticated levels of application.

MGM: The Green Machine

MGM Resorts International has practically written the book on green technologies and big business. The company “green-lighted” its approach on the largest American building stage, the $9.2 billion CityCenter. This futuristic array of hotels, condos and shopping facilities in the desert is the largest privately funded construction project in U.S. history.

According to company statements, CityCenter, at 18 million square feet, is the largest LEED Gold-certified development in the world.

Since 2007, MGM Resorts has saved a cumulative total of over 420 million kWh, enough to power 37,000 average U.S. homes for a year. It has saved approximately 2.5 billion gallons of water in the past five years, the equivalent of more than 3,700 Olympic-sized pools. It has increased its recycling rate by more than 355 percent in four years, achieving nearly 45 percent diversion in 2012.

More savings may emerge when the effect of its 20,000 solar panels at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas are tabulated. The project is scheduled to be complete in June.

Chris Magee is the executive director of sustainable facilities for MGM Resorts International. He also serves as the co-chair for the national Department of Energy’s Better Building Alliance steering committee and as vice chair for the Conservation District of Southern Nevada. From varied perspectives, he watched MGM become a pioneer in this area.

“All green is good, but when it comes to this area, we like to believe we have been operating with a stacked deck for many years,” says Magee, “even before the recognition and awards for this company had been piling up, and we are very proud of that.”

The LEED Gold certification to Aria Resort & Casino’s hotel tower, convention center and theater, Vdara Hotel & Spa, Mandarin Oriental, Veer Towers and Crystals, the mall, is granted by the U.S. Green Building Council. In 2009, the Forest Stewardship Council honored CityCenter as the best commercial project of that year in Designing and Building with FSC Awards.

CityCenter’s use of sustainably harvested FSC-certified wood products resulted in a significant market transformation, including multiple wood suppliers receiving their FSC chain of custody certification to supply wood to its development.

Magee says the company breaks its green philosophy into many components, including water and energy, recycling, green building, supply-chain procurement, education and outreach.

Three of its major accomplishments include a co-generating plant at the corner of CityCenter, the education of from other cities and the implementation of solar power.

The co-generating plant is an 8.5 megawatt natural gas facility, providing efficient electricity on site, reducing emissions and using “water heat” to provide domestic hot water at CityCenter. Highlights from the co-generating plan include hot water supplying pools, kitchens and showers coming from the exhaust from the two units. The plant is powered by natural gas to produce electricity and heat water.

The hot water is produced by two natural gas-fired co-generation turbines that also produce electricity. Each will produce 4.6 megawatts of power, roughly one third of the total annual electricity needs at Aria. Excess heat from the electricity-making process is captured to heat water.

Heating water through co-generation, rather than using traditional boilers, means using less energy—the equivalent of the typical usage in about 3,000 U.S. homes, according to the company. Magee was instrumental in several reclaimed-water projects, including one that involved the cooling towers on the roof of the Monte Carlo, another MGM Strip property, a hot-cap storage container and a tank that fed 2.3 million gallons into dust-control efforts that would normally have been serviced by fire hydrants. This occurred during the construction phase of CityCenter.

A solar revolution may have occurred at Mandalay Bay, which has 6.2 megawatts of power on its roof. Last summer, the company announced its planned installation of one of the largest rooftop solar photovoltaic arrays in the world at its convention center. The 6.2-megawatt installation will be MGM Resorts’ first commercial solar project in the United States and will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 1,000 homes, according to company literature. The kickoff period is slated for June.

At peak production, the rooftop array is expected to produce nearly 20 percent of Mandalay Bay’s power demand. This in turn will also lower demand on the southern Nevada electricity grid at the hottest time of the day, decreasing the need to import energy from outside the local energy system and thus reducing energy costs for the entire Las Vegas system. The roof encompasses roughly 20 acres and will require about 20,000 panels.

“That was a long time coming and it was very difficult to achieve, but we never gave up on it,” Magee indicates. “You have so much square footage on the roof, about 20 acres. When you purchase that many panels, it is expensive up-front, but eventually the numbers start to come down.”

Other key highlights include the world’s first stretch limos powered by clean-burning compressed natural gas. And then there are slot machine bases serving as displacement -verification units, cooling guests from the ground up, rather than wasting energy on empty space by cooling from the ceiling.

Beyond the major areas, MGM has started the largest installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in Nevada.

Twenty-seven EV charging stations will be located at nine of the company’s Las Vegas resorts in addition to MGM Resorts’ main corporate offices. Additional stations will be available at Circus Circus Reno. The charging stations, which will be installed in guest garages and valet areas, will be available for employees and guests to use at no cost.

Architect Takes Green Further

“CityCenter did a tremendous job at great expense to take green design to the next level,” says Paul Heretakis, principal for Las-Vegas based Westar Architects, an architectural and interior design company with worldwide connections. Heretakis has more than 20 years experience overseeing hospitality design projects. The firm under his direction has completed hundreds of hospitality projects and thousands of hotel rooms and suites.

“With CityCenter, they created an entire green council-approved wood-to-

millwork supply and manufacturing supply chain.” Heretakis says. “Remarkable when you think of the amount of product required. Think about taking certain wood from designated forests, handling it properly, delivering it to a registered millwork manufacturer and than getting it to the site in its new form. That supply chain did not exist before CityCenter. That is impressive and only one example of the groundbreaking efforts they went through.”

With the green bar raised, a deeper appreciation of its impact would appear logical.

“I believe we take a too-limited look at green design; we think of it as sustainability only,” he says. “Does it strike you funny that many resorts in Las Vegas have all glass facades on all sides, including the strongest sun-facing directions.? If we were to truly design with green architecture in mind, we would limit the glass on those surfaces or create sun-shade structures on the buildings.

“Is it better to buy a more efficient HVAC system and run it full-blast, or should we buy the best system while also limiting the amount of sun exposure and therefore the load on that system? That would be taking it to another level yet—the preventive benefits of green design.”

That’s never an easy decision, he notes. Can bottom-line operators have a conscience?

“Everybody wants to be green. It’s easy to say and it makes you sound like a sensitive individual,” he indicates, “but the people who say this at the end of the day are business people. The products and systems are still more expensive, so they have to decide if they can really absorb those costs in their projects and how that can also translate to the end user, the customer. Are they willing to pay more to stay in a green hotel? That separates the tree-hugger from the Al Gores of the world.”

Finding the Value

“Profitability is always a top priority with our gaming clients,” says Dike Bacon, prinicpal of Memphis-based architectural firm Hnedak Bobo, “and it’s important that we show them how energy efficiencies and LEED-based design criteria can make their casino developments environmentally friendly and profitable.”

Hnedak Bobo has plenty of practice. The company is a giant in tribal gaming circles, and its awards list recently grew to include the expansion of Four Winds in New Buffalo, Michigan. The project garnered 2013 Best Architectural Re-Design/Expansion for a Casino Resort by the G2E/Global Gaming Business Casino Design Awards.

“‘HBGreen’ is our sustainable design approach that engages and informs our clients very early in the design process,” he says. “We provide our gaming clients with examples and strategies on how to confidently take that first ‘green’ leap into sustainable design initiatives that provide environmental connectivity and return on investment.

“Using a proprietary tracking system, HBG tracks the energy-saving potential of a project at every phase, exploring sustainable alternatives, cost implications, and client feedback at every step. This method provides the firm’s clients with more informed choices about these types of practices, which provide long-term operational benefits with the potential for greater returns on their investment.”

Bacon says the firm provides many budget-neutral options, meaning there is no long-term financial recovery of funds. They include expanding on previously developed, adjacent land to utilize existing infrastructure. Solar studies for placements of building on site and use of indigenous plants also fit this strategy. So do controlled exterior lighting to eliminate light pollution, diverting of construction waste to recycling, highly reflective roofing material, recycling containers and preferred parking for hybrids and car-poolers.

The firm finds additional ways to maximize returns, he says.

This could include efficient design of MEP systems, conservation of water via gray water recapture and a hotel towel reuse program, high-efficiency windows and occupancy sensors to monitor guest room systems.

Additionally, HBG works with gaming clients to translate their customers’ requests into sustainable design. Leveraging feedback from customers, Sycuan Casino in El Cajon, California, built a boutique casino within a casino in their renovated property, designed by HBG. It was dedicated solely to the non-smoking gaming customer.

“An existing casino can gain energy efficiency and be environmentally responsible by adding non-smoking casino floor space to a new or established facility,” Bacon asserts. “It reduces the energy usage associated with air-vac systems that eliminate smoke from the atmosphere, while still capturing gaming patrons.”

Small Items, Big Savings

Bally Technologies is well-known for its pizzazz. The Las Vegas gaming vendor provides the global gaming industry with innovative games, table game products, casino-management systems, mobile and iGaming solutions that drive revenue for casinos. It claims more than 80 awards for gaming innovation in the last four years alone.

Yet the company that brings excitement to gaming hasn’t forgotten subtleties. It is aware that while architects design the big picture, operators look for specific green-technology use. It can be in the conference room or on the gaming floor. Item by item, department by department, smart energy use saves the environment and the balance sheets.

Bally attacks the green issue from several angles, primarily via packaging and power.

“In the past when we received parts from our vendors they used to be wrapped a lot in bubble pack, which requires a lot of foam,” says Larry McAllister, the director of hardware engineering for Bally Technologies. “We have reduced the foam by over 50 percent and we also have a palate exchange program. Larger products like door assemblies, for instance, come shipped on a palate; there is no real waste in materials. This cuts down on scrap.

“With our processes and our packaging, we have saved on enormous amounts of waste. We are proud that we have a Canadian Energy Performance certification. Because Energy Star doesn’t offer a rating for gaming machines, this is something we consider significant.”

A second avenue unfolds on the gaming floor. With the emergence of LED technology replacing fluorescent and incandescent lighting systems, machines can become more energy-sophisticated. High-efficiency, light-driver chips feed the current into the LED. The result is a scenario in which a higher percentage of energy is converted to light, and less to heat.

More machines can be linked to a single circuit now, too. That makes bean-counters smile.

“Think of the impact on your power bill in general for a facility with 2,000 machines,” McAllister says. “We get many requests from our casino customers who want to minimize the electric bill, ease the cooling systems and put more machines on the circuit. At the same time, many customers are not willing to bend on the light. If you remember what the machines used to look like 10 years ago, you know that the amount of light and the use of light has gone up dramatically, but the overall power consumption has stayed the same or gone down.

“We have been able to find the balance between providing the excitement of the play and yet taking every reasonable measure we can to ensure that the machines are as efficient as possible.”

A Green ‘App’etizer

Resort Advantage’s innovative Fills & Credits Accelerator (FCA) is an Android/IOS/Windows mobile app that allows gaming table staff to securely request a table fill or credit. FCA then automatically communicates both to the cage and Department of Public Safety (DPS) staffs to fulfill the request using a mobile device, thus eliminating all traditional paperwork.

This is one of the latest innovations from the Michigan-based company, which specializes in the development, implementation and support of cost-saving compliance software applications for the gaming industry. It has produced an award-winning suite of FinCEN and IRS compliance management and reporting applications. FCA architecture is based on the company’s innovative Slots Jackpot Accelerator, which was the industry’s first mobile jackpot payout processing solution, according to Brian Ferrilla, RA’s managing director.

“As properties look to reduce the costs associated with their many paper-intensive business processes, we identified an opportunity to ‘electronify’ the traditional table fills and credits activity,” Ferrilla says. “This helps them eliminate paper fill slips, missing documents, hard-copy scanning of slips, minimize mistakes, enhance security, and expedite the table games revenue audit process.”

The company promotes its ability to help casinos invest in an efficient business process that helps them streamline their compliance operations, while enhancing the patron’s gaming experience. So say goodbye to paper and hello to mobile electronic workflow processing and staff e-signatures.

Ferrilla says the product helps operators reduce both the cost and risk of table-games management, besides eliminating the need for paper.

All back-end casino management systems are then provided with electronic fill and credit-slip status updates via FCA. That helps complete those records for the CMS benefit and follow-up reporting. This integration allows audit staffs to quickly run reconciliation exception reports comparing FCA slip data against the table management system or the casino management system.

Additionally, using the mobile device technology, Resort Advantage is able to help properties analyze the performance of the fill and credit process by capturing metrics on the amount of time it takes for DPS personnel and cage staff to react to fill requests, time to transport, and time to complete the process.

Less paper, less power usage, more efficient operations: In the end, it’s how green technology translates to the bottom line.

Casino Connection Sports Editor Dave Bontempo is an award-winning sports writer and broadcaster who calls boxing matches all over the world. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs, as well as numerous PGA, LPGA and Seniors Golf Tour events, and co-hosted the Casino Connection television program with Publisher Roger Gros.

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