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Size Matters

Is bigger better? In Macau, it seems to be a requirement

My bet is bigger than yours! And YES, size does matter! Just ask one of the ladies walking around the tables.

In Macau, it’s all about gaming and table energy. The integrated resorts of the United States depend on the voyeurism and excitement of the amenities and their interaction with the gaming floor as a whole to create that energy. In Macau, much of the action is localized to the table itself. The player is extremely animated, hoping to will his luck with each hand. It is not unusual for onlooking crowds at the Venetian to reach over 20 people deep.

Many foreigners look at the older casinos of Macau with their low ceilings, gaudy finishes and obvious themes and don’t understand that the tables see more action and money than almost any other tables in the world.

Casino play is influenced by the design of the gaming floor and the people; it must be alive with visual movement and sensed energy. Successful casino design can influence the gaming environment and draw people to it, while a poorly designed casino feels lifeless-and will die a quick death.

A casino and its design must deliver the promises of hope and excitement, the possibility of winning. Life can be repetitive and boring; a gaming visit must deliver fantasy, competition and fun. Inviting casino design must contain core elements of sparkle, reflectivity, color, texture, sensuality, wealth and richness.

Wynn Macau uses an imbalance, favoring the affluent and elegant elements for a very dramatic and sophisticated environment. Others like the Grand Lisboa and Star World go very heavy on the sparkle, color and reflectivity. All of these casinos are very successful, and they take very different approaches. However, if you look closely, they have many commonalties that feed their success.

These commonalties are combined to become highly stimulating to the senses-a feeling that is energetic while promoting gaming with a visual noise approach. Many foreigners don’t understand the Asian clientele well enough to realize the success of these over-the-top designs.

Many of the open, multi-story casino environments allow the stage, bar and entertainment venues, with their stadium-sized video screens, to take over the casino and become a great focal point. While bars attract people in the States, most Asians don’t drink while they gamble, and the bars are often empty. They anchor the entertainment center, but don’t directly add energy to the room. Fortunately, the live bands and scantily clad dancers often add a certain splash of flash to the gaming scene. The Grand Lisboa and Sands do this very successfully.

Macau gaming floors are often four to five times larger than the largest casinos in Australia and the U.S. This creates a problem with the ability to fill them, and deliver the promise of hope when the perception of the crowd is small and in turn not lucky. Very simply, if the casino is crowded, the gamblers feel that the house is giving money away. Obviously not true, but it creates a great draw.

The visual stimulation of a successful design can complement a crowded casino while also adding energy to a floor that is below capacity. The chamber design approach the Wynn casino utilizes has had a great effect in reducing the intimidation factor of such a large floor. You must learn to use the size of the gaming floor to your benefit to promote places of gathering and energy, places that feel lucky. Even though the Venetian’s gaming floor is very large, I always feel I can get lucky. Good energy equals good design!

While themes in many countries are out of vogue, in Macau they are used almost exclusively. Unfortunately, people tend focus too much on the story of design instead of the actual elements that influence gaming and profitability.

The Venetian is heavily themed and has the largest floor in the world, but it uses the same successful elements of design-just in a simpler, more refined balance than many of the other, less successful themed casinos. The core principles of design will attract customers and bring good fortune to the casino operators.

Traditional gourmet rooms of the States don’t attract a crowd in Macau. Noodle bars, on the other hand, are of utmost importance and are the most successful amenity on the floor. They add energy, voyeurism and a place to eat in less than 20 minutes. The individual’s personal energy level never lessens due to the quick food turnaround and the ability to see the floor from the dining seat.

The influences of Feng Shui principles complement many of the factors of casino design, to enhance the energy and good fortune of the casino.

The casino environment is one of vices, lost inhibitions and exhilarating fun. Designing a casino is often similar. The materials used in casino design are very rarely used in other building types-they are often too loud, over-scaled and in many cases too expensive. Giant crystal chandeliers, gold leaf, fused glass, rare veneers and marbles are staples of casino design. The rarest and most unique of materials often have the greatest impact on the customer. Using them in large quantities and multiple combinations is never a problem in casinos; it just adds to the visual stimulation and energy level.

Gamblers want to be in exciting places doing exciting things with other exciting people. As casino operators just stand back, you’ll be surprised how big it will grow.

Paul Heretakis, RA, vice president of Westar Architects, has over 15 years of experience overseeing hospitality design and mixed-use, master-planning projects throughout the world. Heretakis can be contacted at

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