Paul Steelman has been involved as an architect in many of the iconic properties in gaming. From the Mirage to Resorts World Las Vegas to many of the most impressive Asian properties, Steelman’s expertise and gaming knowledge is unmatched in the casino design world. For his latest project, Downtown Las Vegas’ Circa Casino Resort, he teamed with owner Derek Stevens to allow Circa to stand out, yet blend in with the historic Downtown area. But it’s the Stadium Swim—six pools on different levels—and a massive sportsbook that truly mark Circa as something special. Steelman talks about Stevens and his vision and how Steelman and his team worked together to create the project Stevens desired. Steelman spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at his Las Vegas offices in September.
GGB: Circa is the first new project in Downtown Las Vegas in 40 years. What were some of the differences between Circa and some of the other projects you’ve designed?
Paul Steelman: I think number one, we have a superstar in the making with Derek Stevens. Derek’s vision of this property is unlike anyone else’s. And Circa has a unique spin on it. One of our unique challenges on this design—and Derek’s challenge, of course—was to design, from the ground up, a facility that was compatible with Fremont Street. And Fremont Street is a fantastic place—free entertainment, a world-class digital show, free entertainers in the circles, and parades from NASCAR, and the football and hockey games, and so forth. It was a very interesting exercise to see how any building would relate to this. We’re very pleased that Derek, in fact, did that. So, it’s the first one in 40 years, and it’s filled with unique technology design, and integrating technology with Fremont Street is a sure winner to me.
Derek told us that before they decided upon Steelman, he did a little competition. He chose four or five architects and paid them to do a conceptual design. Why do you think he chose Steelman Partners as the winner?
We competed against some very reputable firms for this project. I think that Derek chose us because we got it. We are firm believers that Las Vegas has a style. And that gambling style is not necessarily based in Rome, or even in Tahiti or whatever. It has a style all its own. I think we’re the architect who actually gets that. And we also are a business-based architect. So, consequently, our success is not necessarily based on the beautiful design. And of course, we want to create new gambling adventures for almost every single thing. Derek wanted a building that looked new and modern, but it looked like it belonged on Fremont Street. And that was really important to Derek. And I think that Derek chose us just because I respect it, and I believe in Las Vegas, and I believe Las Vegas has a style, now influenced by Derek Stevens.
Even before the pandemic hit, there was a movement to spread the slot machines out across the floor. And now, of course, they’ve got every other machine shut off, which is not a good look. How is that going to impact the way you design a casino floor in the future?
I think those casinos that do, in fact, have every other slot machine shut off will probably have to consider some serious reconfiguration. There were many studies down over the years: what is the proper length of a slot bank on the basis of “How much do you win at each machine?” And of course, the ends always win more. The slot machines are much more successful at the ends. So, I would suspect that we’re going to have a lot more ends in the casinos.
Another area that’s been impacted by the pandemic has been food and beverage. Is this something that’s impacting your designs as you go forward?
You know, casinos used to be a dark box in a big building. Steve Wynn would say, “I need brilliance and a bright casino.” But over time, we have started to see a lot more integration of outdoor spaces. Now, they weren’t necessarily integrated in accordance with the virus that we currently have. But they have proved useful now, during this virus type of situation. I’d be surprised in the future if we do a lot of indoor restaurants. I think a lot of the restaurants will have that indoor/outdoor activity.
Mohegan Gaming has received a license in Greece, for the old airport project there, and you’re the designer of that project. And what a fantastic building it looks like, in just the renderings. Tell us about what you went through to do that, especially since Greece is one of the centers of architecture in all of history.
I was an architect before I was a casino architect. So, obviously, to me, this was a unique opportunity. We’ve worked in Athens for the last 25 years. I think it’s a great place. And fortunately, I was teamed up with a great company, Mohegan Sun, and a great team led by Mario Kontomerkos and Richard Lindsay, just a marvelous group of people that were really inspired by the site, the sea, and the sky.
What we wanted to do was take a lot of our experience in Macau, and our experience in Sochi, in Russia. Put them together, and assume that we’ll have some Asian clients who will want to visit this spectacular resort. And there’s a very large market in Russia who already visits Greece. I fully believe that the project in Greece has the capacity to do to Greece, and to Athens, what the Singapore projects did to Singapore, and really increase the tourism industry there.