Parq to the Future – Vegas Seven

As part of that Vegas Seven future issue, I looked at a Vancouver development that reflects the future of casino design in Las Vegas and elsewhere:

Traditionally, Las Vegas has set the bar for casino innovations. In the past decade, however, that has changed because of the proliferation of gaming. There have been tremendous strides taken in casino design in Macau, as well as innovative games and systems on the floors of California tribal casinos. And Parq Vancouver, a soon-to-open British Columbia property, may be redefining the boutique urban resort.

Read more: Parq to the Future – Vegas Seven

The trend seems to be smaller and less gaming-focused, even outside of Las Vegas.

Redesign, Rebuild, Reconnect Remains a Must for Casinos – Vegas Seven

I went full meta in this week’s Green Felt Journal. It was the first issue of a revamped Vegas Seven, so I talked with architect Brad Friedmutter about why Las Vegas hotels are constantly refreshing themselves:

With that in mind, while the new look of your favorite casino or weekly magazine might take some getting used to, odds are that a lot of thought and customer input went into it. If you like it, so much the better. If you don’t, make sure to tell someone why, because a new look is never too far off.

Read more: Redesign, Rebuild, Reconnect Remains a Must for Casinos – Vegas Seven

If you are in Las Vegas, pick up a physical copy of Seven to see the changes–I like the way it looks.

I’m pleased that my headline–“Redesign, Rebuild, Reconnect,” made it more or less intact to print. It’s a riff on Seth Rollins’s “Redesign, Rebuild, Reclaim” that made sense to me.

UNLV Gaming Podcast: Paul Steelman interview

I’m very excited to share the first part of a two-part interview with acclaimed casino architect Paul Steelman:

35-November 29, 2011
Paul Steelman
In this November 8 interview, Sarno Award-winning casino architect Paul Steelman reflects on his career in the field and shares his thoughts on Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and several other casino jurisidictions. Part I of II.

Listen to the audio file (mp3)

Steelman Partners

This is part of a series of interviews that I’d like to conduct featuring all of the Sarno Award (for lifetime achievement in casino design) winners. I’m going to be rolling out a Sarno Awards online exhibit soon, and these interviews will give the exhibit some unique resources.

I had a great talk with Paul, who also has a blog (which I wish he’d update more often-hint, hint). It’s not that common that I get to meet an Atlantic City native who’s achieved at the top levels of his or her profession, and Paul definitely fits the bill, so from that perspective it was an inspirational talk for me.

Paul was so forth-coming that we ran out of time before we could discuss everything I wanted to get to, so there will be a Part II posted soon.

SugarHouse preview

Chuck Darrow of the Philadelphia Inquirer offers a preview of the soon-to-open SugarHouse casino:

At 45,000-and-change square feet, SugarHouse is by far the region's smallest betting parlor. This is a function of casino officials' sensitivity to the surrounding Fishtown neighborhood, residents of which did not want a supersized facility. Its surprisingly low ceilings add to what SugarHouse General Manager Wendy Hamilton enthusiastically describes as her property's "intimacy."

via CasiNotes: Long-anticipated SugarHouse Casino may surprise visitors – it’s the region’s smallest | Philadelphia Daily News | 09/17/2010.

What will the addition of 1,700 slots to Philadelphia mean to Atlantic City? It’s hard to see how it will be a positive. I can definitely see it causing a drop in bus trips.

All in all, it will be interesting to see how this shapes up.

Knocking down Caesar

I thought this was an amusing story in light of Harrah’s recent decision to become Caesars Entertainment. From the Indy Star:

At 10:30 this morning, the huge 12-foot statue of the Roman conqueror that dominates the Caesars Indiana casino in Harrison County will be removed as the riverboat takes a major step to “de-Romanize” itself.

The fall of the approximately 750-pound statue of Julius Caesar, easily seen from Ind. 111, has been pending since Harrah’s Entertainment purchased Caesars Entertainment and its 26 casinos in 2005 for $9.3 billion.

The transaction reduced Caesar to a figurehead as Harrah’s plotted to overthrow him in favor of its Horseshoe casino brand.

Caesar’s unceremonious end will come as his statue is removed from its spot high on the casino Pavilion with a crane to a flatbed truck below.

“If the statue is successfully removed in one piece,” according to a casino statement, “it will be given to Harrison County.”

The county, in turn, will store the statue “until a location for placement is determined.”

Caesar will be dethroned at casino | | The Indianapolis Star

The more I’m thinking about the Harrah’s brand issue, the more I start to believe that instead of tiering their properties by brand, maybe they should just create one huge, overarching brand that, Borg-like, has assimilated elements of each “brand” acquired.

The company mascot could be a Roman governor in Gaul who rides a horse, likes to play poker, and wears purple. Alongside him you could have a carnival dancer and a pink Flamingo with Mari Gras beads.

By this logic, the company would be CaesarsParisHorsehoeWSOPHarrah’sRioFlamingoShowboat.

I couldn’t think of any cute representation for Grand, Bally’s, Imperial Palace, Player’s International, O’Shea’s, Harvey’s, Bill’s, or the Clardige. I’m trying my best here.

Maybe the company should move the statue to corporate headquarters. It would make quite an impression on motorists speeding down the 215.

Hooters going away

If you still haven’t made it down to Hooters Las Vegas, you’d better go soon, because the property is slated for a complete re-branding. From the LVRJ:

Say goodbye to those orange short-shorts.

Hooters Hotel will be rebranded into a yet-to-be named boutique hotel following a $130 million redevelopment of the property that could begin later this year, the investment group purchasing the hotel said Monday.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Hedwigs Las Vegas Top Tier is completing its financing for the $225 million transaction and hopes to close the sale by late spring, Hedwigs principal Richard Bosworth said.

“This will be a complete redevelopment of the asset that includes a lifestyle, entertainment-driven boutique hotel and casino complex,” Bosworth said. – Business – Hooters brand will get the boot

This is the typical casino acquisition: buy what you think is an under-performing asset, spruce it up, and watch the money roll in. At least that’s how it goes in theory.

There’s something to be said for a smaller property, particularly for repeat customers. So the idea of a boutique hotel isn’t a bad one. But they’ll have to position it very carefully, particularly with mountains of high-end rooms coming on line at about the same time the re-branding is scheduled to be complete. For my money, you couldn’t go wrong with a clean, friendly, affordable alternative to the big resorts. But there’s probably a very good reason why I’m not the one with $255 million available to buy a casino hotel.

Taj bac pit gets makeover

Don’t necessarily believe what you read: they just remodeled the Taj bac pit and are now calling it a salon. For a laugh, check in there and ask for an appointment for a cut and color. From the AC Press:

This is no mere gambling den or baccarat pit, but rather, ahem – French accent required – a gaming salon.

Drawing inspiration from the chic gaming parlors of Monte Carlo, Paris, Macau and other cities worldwide, it features tuxedo-clad dealers, crystal chandeliers and gently cascading fountains.

Gamblers are pampered in elegant surroundings, but they also should know that it may not be all fun and games. Some serious money will be spread around in the new high-stakes gaming salon at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.

“When you step down there, youve got to ante up. This is not for the faint of heart,” said Mark Juliano, chief executive officer of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., the company that operates the Taj Mahal and Donald Trumps two other Atlantic City casinos.

Bets range from $100 to $6,000 per hand at the nearly 30 baccarat, blackjack, craps and roulette tables in the salon. Rosalind Krause, Taj Mahal general manager, also noted that special games for ultra-high rollers can be set up consisting of top bets of $100,000 for baccarat and $25,000 for blackjack.

That much money may be unthinkable for gamblers who are used to plugging away at penny or nickel slot machines, but Juliano said the typical customer in the gaming salon will be $200,000 to $500,000 players, and, in some cases, $1 million to $2 million.

“Most of them are men. They are domestic and international gamblers. Many are Asian or Latino customers, primarily from the Northeast – Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C.,” Juliano said.

The Taj Mahals gaming salon is part of a trend toward high-end gambling attractions to separate Atlantic City from the low-stakes slot parlors popping up in Pennsylvania and New York. Atlantic City is reinventing itself as more of a Las Vegas-style, overnight tourist resort of upscale gambling, retail shops, restaurants and nightclubs to counter extra competition from surrounding states.

“What distinguishes us from those markets are our hotel rooms and table games. Thats why were making such a big investment in table games and rooms,” Juliano said. “High-end customers are very important to us. More important than ever before.”

The $5 million gaming salon continues the transformation of Trumps flagship Taj Mahal from a gaudy pink- and purple-hued throwback to the 1990s to a more sophisticated casino decorated in softer brown, gold and beige tones. Next on the list is a new high-limit slots area scheduled to be completed by this summer.

New gaming salon at Trump Taj Mahal features big bets, lavish decor

That’s a very specific target group the Taj is shooting for: “domestic and international.” And they might be…Asian. Speaking a language that might be…Asian. That’s a rare Cable Guy reference, if you didn’t catch it.

They should just be honest and say, “We don’t really care who comes in here, as long as they’re gambling big money.”

Also, I get a kick out of “gaudy pink- and purple-hued throwback to the 1990s” for two reasons. First of all, it makes it sound like the 1990s were fifty years ago. Second of all, when I think “1990s” in design, gaudy pink and purple hues don’t automatically come to mind. In fact, I can’t think of too many places besides the Taj that had a big pink and purple thing going on. So it’s not a throwback to a grunge aesthetic, just the design choices of the previous managers.

A boat no more

I just am linking to this because I like the headline…and I want to make a point about American casino evolution. Along the way I’ll go off on a tangent that no one will find comprehensible. From the Des Moines Register:

The Wild Rose Casino of Emmetsburg has never been a genuine riverboat, and state regulators decided Tuesday that it can quit pretending to be any type of water vessel.

The Wild Rose opened last year under a provision of Iowa’s riverboat gambling law that permitted casinos to be classified as “moored barges” if they were simply built over water instead of being vessels that could navigate on rivers or lakes.

State lawmakers have since decided that that requirement – a vestige of a law originally requiring all riverboats to offer cruises – was unnecessary, and the Legislature repealed the water requirement, effective July 1.

Under action Tuesday by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, the Emmetsburg casino will be classified as a “gambling structure” that can be permanently drydocked.

Wild Rose extends over part of a 12.5-acre pond that was excavated on the site.

Casino can stop pretending it’s a boat

Riffing on the headline, I like the idea of an anthropomorphic casino that is deluded into believing it’s really a boat. How about this for a children’s story: a casino, barge keeps on talking about how it is really a boat, and how it only wants to sail the open seas (or rivers). But its owners get a better ROI by keeping it dry-docked and having non-stop admissions (I’d put the ROI thing in, too; you can’t start teaching finance too young). All the boats, passing by, make fun of the casino barge, and things look sad.

Then one day, there’s a big flood, and the casino barge somehow gets an engine and carries everyone to safety: it’s free well drinks and dollar shrimp cocktail all the way to port for the frightened villagers/patrons. So the much-maligned casino barge finally saves the day.

Maybe I should go into juvenile fiction…or maybe not.

If you’re still reading, here’s the serious gambling history/business bit: This is a natural part of the evolution of casinos in the Midwest and Upper South. While originally they were confined to boats that had to cruise and had restrictive limits, operating rules have been liberalized over the past decade and a half. Allowing casinos on dry land (I feel like I’m critiquing Waterworld or something here) is really the logical continuation of this process.

Venetian Macau is big, but Macau is bigger

If you’re not totally Macau-ed to death by the coverage of the Venetian Macau’s opening, here’s a great summary of what the big deal is. From the Economist:

Its construction involved filling in the sea between two of Macau’s islands to recreate the Las Vegas strip, and then carefully cutting out tiny canals to provide at least a hint of Venice. On August 28th the Venetian Macau, the world’s biggest casino, opened its doors to an ocean of people eager to get to its tables.

A packed ceremony in the casino’s 15,000-capacity arena culminated in Diana Ross singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”—reflecting, perhaps, the hopes of both the gamblers with their stacks of chips, and the firm behind the casino, Las Vegas Sands. It would be hard to find a project more amenable to hype, or an industry less shy about disclosing its extravagance. The enormous building, Asia’s largest, required 20,000 construction workers and 3m sheets of gold leaf. Running it takes 16,000 employees and enough power for 300,000 homes. Construction costs swelled from $1.8 billion to $2.4 billion—more, the South China Morning Post pointed out, than Macau’s entire public-works budget for the past five years.

The Venetian has 870 tables and 3,400 slot machines in the world’s largest gambling hall, which is encircled by 350 shops, more retail space than any Hong Kong mall. That is also over twice as many tables as existed in all of Macau in 2002, when a local monopoly was broken and the Las Vegas operators were allowed in. This brought together American firms, with their business plans and architectural schemes honed in Nevada, and enthusiastic Chinese punters. Macau’s old casinos could not compete. Las Vegas Sands opened its first casino in Macau in 2004, and it became profitable overnight, as did casinos opened by fast-moving rivals. Investors took a while to understand the market’s potential, but between late 2005 and early 2007 shares in Las Vegas Sands doubled.

Chinese gambling | Macau wow |

Is the Venetian really the largest building in Asia? I’m not saying it isn’t, but that’s a pretty grand claim.

I don’t even want to think about how they do table drops for 870 games. The next time I’m over there, I’ve got to get a tour and see how they can get a place that big to work. Scheduling dealers alone must be quite a task.

I wonder what Venetian Macau would have cost to build in Vegas? Considering that it was cheaper to build than Wynn Las Vegas and much bigger, I’m guessing that the costs might be prohibitive.

Macau’s Fortune

Interesting summary of the current state of Macau from Fortune, via CNN:

Hunter S. Thompson would have found much to fear and loathe in Macau, the former Portuguese colony rebranding itself as a gambling paradise. The good doctor (rest his soul) would have been vexed to discover that Macau, surrounded by water and crowded immigration checkpoints, is best entered by ferry, not gas-guzzling Caddy. No doubt he’d have been dismayed to learn that since Macau’s 1999 return to Chinese rule, hallucinogenic substances aren’t easily procured. But then again, when you can gaze at the Grand Lisboa casino, the newly built neon orb that throbs and pulses at the edge of the Macau peninsula like the Technicolor egg of some gargantuan radioactive monster, who really needs peyote?

Indeed, Western gamblers looking for something more exotic than Reno or the Riviera are in for a bit of a shock when they arrive in this smog-shrouded enclave. In Macau’s city center, the pastel façades of Senado Square and the ruins of St. Paul’s cathedral evoke Macau’s four centuries under Portuguese rule. But the frenzy of development elsewhere lends this Old World city the feeling of a frontier boomtown (albeit a relatively sober one: Macau’s hard-core gamblers prefer tea to liquor).

While Macau is now the world’s gaming capital last year revenue surged 22%, to $7 billion, vaulting the city ahead of Vegas – there are just a few decent restaurants and not much in the way of shopping or shows to speak of (yet). Still, Macau is a fascinating place to watch some of the most intense gambling around, both at the baccarat tables and amid vast, dusty construction sites, where high-rolling developers are betting billions.

The island was closed to all foreign competitors till 2002, when Beijing stripped local tycoon Stanley Ho of his monopoly over the island’s gambling concession, which he had held for 40 years. Faced with new competition, Ho (who also controls the lottery, dog and horse racing, the ferry and helicopter terminals, and the city’s largest land bank) rushed to gussy up some aging properties and build new ones. On a recent visit to his newest, the Grand Lisboa, a troupe of Russian street players performed slapstick routines beneath crystal chandeliers in the front lobby, while on the gambling floor upstairs, a trio of cabaret dancers shimmied in front of a giant oval of orange jade.

Ho’s offspring have also benefited from the boom: His son Lawrence partnered with James Packer, Australia’s richest man, and in May they opened the $500 million Crown Macau on the island of Taipa. MGM Mirage, owner of Las Vegas’s Mirage and Bellagio casinos, has teamed with Ho’s daughter Pansy to build a 28-story, 600-room hotel and casino set to open later this year on the waterfront.

Vegas entrepreneur Sheldon Adelson, however, is making the biggest wager that visitors here will want to do more than just gamble. After recouping his $240 million investment in the Sands Macau in just eight months (the cavernous casino set the world record for the largest number of gaming tables under one roof), he’s getting ready to throw open the doors of another Vegas outpost, the $2.2 billion Venetian Macau, on Aug. 28. The Venetian is the first phase of a truly mammoth complex slated for completion next year, which will include 20,000 rooms operated by five luxury hotel chains such as Four Seasons and Raffles. This so-called Cotai Strip (named for a bit of reclaimed land between the islands of Coloane and Taipa) will feature hundreds of yet-to-be-named restaurants and boutiques; a labyrinth of exhibit halls, performance stages, and conference rooms; and three Venetian-style canals plied by authentic Italian gondolas. The whole shebang will be sheathed in an air-conditioned biodome.

Around the perimeter of Adelson’s complex, Packer and Lawrence Ho have begun construction of City of Dreams, a giant casino and underwater theme park. Nearby, another group is building Macau Studio City, a casino-cum-multimedia-center that will include a boutique hotel designed by Shanghai Tang founder David Tang.

Macau now – July 9, 2007

It’s interesting to see how the idea that Macau is the leading gaming destination in the world is slowly filtering into the mainstream. I wonder if 10 years from now anyone will even have to say it.