Golden Age Redux?

With properties opening all across the country, casino design is booming and shaping the casino resort experience

This spring, more new casinos opened in the U.S. and around the world than at any time in recent memory.
   
In Macau, Sands Cotai Central became the latest integrated resort to open in that booming gaming destination. A mix of gaming, entertainment, retail and hotel rooms and suites, the property is helping to create a Las Vegas of Asia on the Cotai Strip.

In Ohio, two casinos and a racino debuted: Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood Casino in Toledo, and Horseshoe Cleveland, owned by Rock Ohio Caesars (a partnership between Dan Gilbert, the owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, and Caesars Entertainment). Both projects got up and running in an unusually short time since the legalization of gaming in the Buckeye State. MTR Gaming also opened the state’s first racino, Scioto Downs in Columbus.

In Pennsylvania, the first “resort” casino opened, the Valley Forge Casino Hotel, attached to a convention center by the same name outside of Philadelphia. The long and winding road that led to the debut of this unique property seems worth it now.

In New York, Genting’s Resorts World at Aqueduct quickly became the nation’s leading revenue producer with nearly 5,000 slot machines at a racetrack that has been struggling for years.

Michigan’s Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians opened a second casino, Four Winds New Buffalo, demonstrating again the enduring power of tribal gaming.

Biloxi got back in the game with Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Casino and Restaurant, a truly unique property for that market.

Even Atlantic City, probably the worst-hit jurisdiction in the world by the economy and regional competition, brought an amazing new property online in April when Revel debuted. This $2 billion gem for the first time incorporates what has always made Atlantic City stand out: the beach and the Boardwalk.

And we’re not done yet. Next year, two more casinos and several more racinos will open in Ohio. Pennsylvania has one more resort casino and one racino on the books. Maryland will launch a casino in the western part of the state developed by Lakes Gaming. In Louisiana, the Margaritaville Casino Hotel will open in Bossier City.

While Macau takes a year off from new casinos, Vietnam will welcome MGM Ho Tram, the first true IR in that nation. The first property (of four) at PAGCOR’s Entertainment City will likely debut in 2013.

And that is just the start. In years to come, we’ll see three new casino resorts and a racino in Massachusetts. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has seen the wisdom of creating casino resorts around the state. Ontario is revamping its casino industry, which may create a few more casino resorts. Macau has at least three IRs in the pipeline that will open on a yearly basis starting in 2014 or ’15. Taiwan’s Matsu Island recently voted to allow casinos. And then South Korea, Japan, Thailand… Your guess is as good as mine.

And of course with all the new properties being launched, the older properties must stay current with all the trends and amenities that today’s casino customer enjoys, so the renovation and revitalization business will boom as well.

So does this mean that the slump in casino design and construction is over? Just by the number of properties, I think the answer has to be “yes.”

But does this also mean that it will be business as usual as it was before the recession started? I think the answer to that question is a definitive “no.”    

We’ve talked about the “new normal” in the pages of this magazine of the past few years and now this reality is hitting home. Casino owners are more discerning when it comes to hiring architects, designers and builders. While these are all new casinos, it’s no longer a case of “build it and they will come.”

The “new normal” is a reality for casino operators too. Competition for players is getting fiercer. The design of a casino is becoming increasingly important, particularly when you add all the non-gaming elements that a casino resort must feature these days.

Architects and designers must work with more than just casino owners when developing a new project. Collaboration with F&B experts, retail specialists, technology providers and consultants of all stripes has become a necessary part of the design process.

So while the bad times appear to be over for now, the good times will be more complicated and possibly less profitable than they were in the past. In next year’s Casino Design magazine—the 10th anniversary issue—we hope we’ll be able to celebrate a healthy industry with all the nuances and possibilities that make this business so exciting.

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