Bill Friedman’s book, ‘Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition,’ used to be the final word in casino design in the early 2000s, with a dominating principle that the gambling equipment as decor beats “impressive and memorable decorations.”
However, plenty has changed since basic interiors, deliberately short sightlines, congested layouts and low ceilings were in vogue – and Asia, as the industry’s hotbed of new developments, is continuing to redefine the parameters.
“The best designs still create a diversionary, immersive experience. All need to present an escapism look and feel to the design,” said Paul Steelman, CEO of Las Vegas-based architecture firm Steelman Partners, which has designed countless casinos and integrated resorts worldwide.
“We believe the trends are away from copycat classic design to unique, artfully inspired design. Cold modern design never works within the VIP casino.”
VIP look and feel
Attracting and retaining high rollers is a challenge for the region’s casinos, which in Macau for example rely on VIPs for half of their gross gaming revenue.
The look and feel of the gambling environment for the big spenders has evolved as their tastes, demographics and expectations have changed.
According to Tom Decker, director of business development and communications at Arquitectonica, which was behind Macau’s City of Dreams development, among other projects, the challenge is to adapt to VIPs who are either younger, or have a younger outlook on life.
The Naga 3 expansion project in Cambodia, for example, will have “instagrammable” features – a far cry from times when VIPs sunk into the dim lights of a smoke-filled room.
“The design needs to be more unique and unexpected, rather than traditional, and set itself apart from establishment ornate décor,” Decker said. “Even then the expectation is that materials are of a high quality and designs are within a classical modern approach that is lasting.”
As explained by Westar Architects managing director Lee Montaina, VIPs are more varied and international than ever before. The intimate, personal and at times, cramped, gambling environments of the past are simply not what VIPs from various markets expect these days – and casino architects are responding accordingly.
“The sizes of these spaces are increasing and will continue to increase as we add more amenities. Additionally, service areas and supporting spaces are much more important,” Montaina said.
“However, each property typically wants to maintain some control of the décor so that it fits within their overall brand strategy… and the operators need diversification across properties whilst maintaining their brand elements.
“There is always room for innovation, but you need a client who is willing to take that risk. Could anyone have imagined a Morpheus Tower in Macau 10 years ago?” he said.
Some basic interior design rules still apply. With many casinos in the region welcoming a disproportionately large number of Chinese VIPs, Steelman points out that it is essential that there is “nothing that insults the culture or typical Feng Shui beliefs of the casino players.”
“Each casino design we do is based upon successful historical examples, yet in each casino we add a new feature,” Steelman said.
Meanwhile it would be nonsensical to offer a first-class VIP gaming floor experience if the same standards are not achieved throughout the visit, from arrival through to catering, accommodation, shopping and ultimately leaving.
“As architects, our emphasis is on programming, space planning, sense of arrival and customer traffic flow,” Decker said. “VIP arrival and the journey to VIP areas are preferably segregated and off limits from general customer areas.
“Often private gaming areas are on a different level. All support facilities from restrooms to concierge services to private rooms are dedicated to VIP customers. Access to high-end retailers is easy, discreet and in close proximity to VIP areas.
“The Asian market has become quite sophisticated. High quality food and beverage have increased in importance, especially in the VIP marketplace.”
Let there be light
There has also been a noticeable change in lighting. Whereas before traditional decorative chandeliers would sparkle above the tables, indirect mood lighting is now favoured.
“There is an emphasis on lighting that makes people look better or emphasises active versus passive areas,” Decker explained.
“In the early period of casino development, VIP areas were dark. Nowadays we look to provide views – if they are desirable and weather permits – of the outdoors, and views of the main floor, if appropriate and permitted. But in general, the highest priority is comfort and a sense of exclusivity.”
In essence, highlighting the punters’ best features and elevating them above the casino floor whilst giving them pleasant views will make them feel like kings and queens. Comfortable and confident, it is understandable why they would choose to be bold with their money, benefiting the casino’s coffers.
“Casino design needs to follow a certain set of rules to create an escapism environment,” Steelman said. “Casinos will always need to make the customer feel powerful, to win. Yes, there will be new layouts and new designs, but those that follow the basic rules that have made gambling a successful sport will always succeed.”
It is also worth remembering that the casino’s basic architectural structure should allow for relatively frequent and seamless interior design alterations.
After all, most public spaces where there is significant footfall and a large number of guests are expected to freshen up their décor reasonably often. Top-end hotels, for example, typically undergo a makeover every three to five years.
As Steelman added: “What’s new now will look old in a few years.”