What recent trends have been coming to the forefront in terms of casino design and what should we be looking for in new designs or developments in the near future?
BA: From an entire casino perspective, I think design based on comfort and convenience is becoming more and more popular. The gaming area must be convenient and prominent and encourage a longer visit. For the new person there has to be a “wow” factor. We are trying to accomplish that by utilizing dynamic digital signage, lively exciting bars/lounges, large signage displays on slot machines or, as Quebec have shown us, a showcase area like the Zone. This is all geared to a younger crowd as our player population is aging. As an industry we need to find ways to attract a new player while still addressing our existing customers’ needs. From a slot-floor perspective, there is a trend towards smaller bank configurations (four or six packs mostly) or being more creative with larger banks (eights or more), like shaping them like footballs in the interest of preserving personal space and increasing comfort.
RE: Culture and technology are very strong influences. Start with culture: In Asia, gaming is more of a group endeavour; a group of friends can arrive at a casino together and spend their time playing together. In fact, in Asian casinos, many of the casino floor games accommodate group play. In the west, the casino experience is more solitary; players who arrive in a group usually split up and experience the casino floor individually. I think the Asian model enhances the entertainment aspect of a casino visit and I see group play starting to influence the gaming floor in the typical western casino. This trend will continue to develop and change how we design. Technology also continues to push casino design in new directions. Think about it: tablet computers make it possible to have gaming activity just about anywhere in the casino facility. Conventional slot machines – which have changed very little in the last 100 years – are static fixtures; they don’t move. But with an iPad, guests can play from anywhere – from the pool, the lobby, even the lounges and food venues, which means new opportunities for casino architects as we design these spaces. Through technology, enhanced progressive play is another example. Think of large, central monitors on the casino floor keeping track of tablet bets and jackpot winners. Everyone on the floor sees that and it can add real excitement to the guest experience. Technology is allowing us to change the casino experience.
How will issues such as sustainability and corporate social responsibility or community engagement continue to affect casino facility design?
BA: I don’t really have a lot of experience with the sustainability question, but my initial reaction is that green is here to stay and as an industry we need to address these concerns in all areas of the casino from things such as readily available recycle bins, green lighting, alternative energy sources (solar), low-flow toilets etc. In Alberta, our casinos need to be retro-fitted, but the new casino designs are utilizing green concepts. The initial cost may be more expensive but that cost is recouped over the long term. Social responsibility is a major part of what we do. In Alberta, we have Responsible Gaming Information Centers (RGICs) at casino facilities. These are incorporated into the floor layout and are readily accepted as part of the casino’s atmosphere. People are becoming more aware and see these areas as part of the casino experience and this helps to reduce the stigma. A large portion of our casinos are located in smaller cities. These cities are close-knit communities and people like to have a place to get together for coffee (like a Tim Horton’s). Fortunately these casinos have become the place of choice for people to have their morning coffee or breakfast. Originally it was an unintentional benefit. The casinos adapted very quickly by creating feature areas specifically to address these customers. They have created meeting rooms for local charities to have board meetings, special events etc. From a design perspective, providing areas where non-gamers can go and meet casually with friends results in an increase in food and beverage sales and maybe some incremental play (almost like buying a lottery ticket).
RE: The simple answer is this: The world is going green and sustainable design is a fact of life. More and more we’re seeing building and energy codes requiring increased energy efficiency and I can tell you that clients demand it as well. Most gaming companies have a genuine interest in being good corporate citizens, and part of that is expressed through a sincere commitment to conservation concerns in their communities. So, yes, green design is near the top of most project programs, and sustainability analysis is integral to our design process. My firm provides clients with an accurate cost/benefit analysis of green building techniques as part of design development, and if the increased cost of green design can be recovered via savings in seven years or less, we strongly recommend that it be included in the plans and specifications. I should also point out that many gaming clients are asking us to push beyond typical LEED-certification benchmarks; they’re telling us it’s more important to be green than LEED.
What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to casino planning and design and how can the industry best respond to those challenges?
BA: One of the biggest challenges I have seen is a failure to plan for the physical requirements of adding slot machines or modernizing the technology infrastructure. It is significantly easier to install extra power and communication prior installation of machines than it is to disrupt play and close off areas of the casinos. I don’t think you can have too many power outlets (build for expansion). This extra power also allows for easy ongoing floor adjustments which happen on a regular basis. A floor with easy access to cabling makes for much easier upgrades to technology too. Another challenge I see (in our market) is that we have very distinct customers. We have “time on device (TOD)” players who are at the casino regularly and are generally a daytime player. We would like to create a layout based on comfort with areas that allow them to spend time away from the game (televisions, couches or a gathering area just to relax and meet with the other “regulars”). We have our “Fun” players. They are looking for something totally different than the TOD player. They are looking for a “wow” factor and are likely to use new technology and this should reflect that. The Zone concept in Quebec is a great example of this. I find it very interesting that the TOD players engage in the activities offered there, but it is when it is not so loud and busy. We also have “high-limit” players. Their needs are different as well. Their areas need a lot of comfort available, semi-privacy, elegant designs and an atmosphere where the player feels protected. Last, but not least, we have the non-player. They don’t spend on gaming, but they will spend on F&B and entertainment. They will watch friends play so if the physical environment and the non-gaming offerings are acceptable they may be more inclined to return and maybe engage in the offerings. The biggest challenge is designing a casino to capture all of these customers’ attention and satisfy their individual needs while maintaining consistency.
RE: There are all kinds of challenges inherent in casino development: Speed and affordability are at the top of the list, especially in recent years. A successful casino needs to be fast to its market at a low price point, so the owner needs a designer who understands the business and “need for speed.” Beyond that, I think flexibility can be a challenge. The gaming market changes constantly and casino facilities have to be able to adjust in response to those changes. That means the design architect must try to anticipate the future of the industry and design buildings that can be readily altered in response to new trends and opportunities. And, by the way, this kind of forward thinking can only come from a team with extensive casino design experience. Also, the public’s perception of the gaming business in general needs to be addressed. I think unique and innovative design begins to overcome this particular challenge, as does an emphasis on green building techniques. I can tell you that most of our casino owners spend a good deal of time on community outreach, hosting charity events, supporting local cultural institutions, that sort of thing. It’s important to understand that the client’s building will need to provide for that broader purpose.
As secondary product and service offerings such as retail, hospitality and non-gaming entertainment take more prominence in overall casino design, what are the main issues affecting retail optimization in casino development?
BA: The Alberta challenge is to tailor things to our market. Las Vegas clearly has addressed this challenge with the incorporation of brand-name restaurants, high-end retail outlets and offerings specific to their clientele. The ultimate goal is to find those types of retail /non-gaming areas that are unique and a destination unto themselves (tattoo parlours in casinos?). Driving new traffic is the ultimate goal. Player loyalty programs are evolving to the point where we will see the gaming experience intertwined with the retail experience. I’m not sure if it will be mobile gaming apps offering a gaming experience in retail outlets (mobile gaming devices while you wait) or gaming offering a retail experience (devices allowing the purchase of goods or services while playing) again driving new traffic or creating convenience.
RC: Casino retail is not a destination in and of itself. Prospective retail customers are passing by the retail component on their way to the gaming floor. This retail format has more in common with transit (airport, train station, mass transit) and hospitality retail than with traditional shopping centres. As such, successful casino retail must stand out; offering highly impulsive merchandise and a positive value-for-money proposition. It is essential that you choose retail outlets and brands that entice, entertain and excite casino customers. In designing floor plans and layouts, retail stores should be exposed to the greatest volume of pedestrian traffic possible. Customer traffic is the lifeblood of retail; without it, retail cannot generate the sales volumes required to sustain the business. Secondary and out-of-the way retail locations will not succeed. The retail merchandise offer and how the sales proposition is communicated, (through store design, lighting, customer service, merchandising, signage), must be clear and compelling.
In addition to a strong impulse offer and high-volume traffic locations, successful casino retail needs to take into account the casino’s target market. The merchandise offer and price points should be in lock-step with the casino’s target market’s needs, desires and demographics.
Incorporating retail rewards into customer loyalty programs enhances casino marketing plans through on-site, instant customer gratification and a convincing reason for return visits.
What lessons learned from the non-gaming retail sector can casino developers apply towards retail optimization in their facilities?
RC: The current trend of increased non-gaming revenue will see more emphasis on retail, leased food and beverage outlets and entertainment venues in casinos. For example, nightclubs, owned and operated by third parties, have become a significant revenue generator in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Leased, brand-name restaurants have become a key strategy to competitively differentiate your property. Retail operations will continue to gain a higher priority in decision making, capital plans and casino design. The future of casino retail will see:
- Increased floor space dedicated to retail
- Expansion of branded, leased food and beverage outlets
- Free-standing retail in casino parking areas, (fast food, convenience, vending, gasoline)
- Leased nightclubs and other entertainment venues
- Outlet shopping
- An increase in the number of leased retail outlets vs. in-house operated retail, enhancing efficiency and revenue
- Leveraging the casino’s role as a traffic generator to grow revenue from non-traditional uses, e.g. advertising boards, partnerships, co-branding and sponsorships.
RE: I’m thinking the most obvious example may be hotels and parking garages. These two amenities do provide significant returns for casino operators. When it comes to hotels, we like to say: “One night’s stay equals two day’s play.” We’ve seen it time and again: A casino that adds a hotel sees a big increase in gaming revenue. The same is true with parking garages: Give your guests a convenient, safe and dry place to park, and they’ll come out to play at your facility even on a stormy day.