Hard Hit

The past year in the gaming industry has been unlike anything any of us have ever seen. I know it has for me. I’ve been in and observing the gaming industry for 30 years and never seen anything like this. Yes, we’ve had our ups and downs, but this economic downturn has been brutal on everyone.

The past year in the gaming industry has been unlike anything any of us have ever seen. I know it has for me. I’ve been in and observing the gaming industry for 30 years and never seen anything like this. Yes, we’ve had our ups and downs, but this economic downturn has been brutal on everyone.

Unfortunately, much of the brunt of this bad economy has been felt by the people who read this magazine: architects, designers, builders, developers, development executives and anyone interested in the world of creating unique spaces where customers enjoy themselves that present opportunities for operators to win their loyalty.

But in most cases, when a bad economy hits, the first target for cost-cutting is the capital budget. And those budget cuts impact new casinos, expansions and renovations. It’s an understandable reaction to a bad economy, but one we don’t like to see.

One of the responses we got from a participant in the “Survival of the Fittest” Q&A on page 34 was very interesting. While suggesting that his company had to reinvent itself during this downturn, he said, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

I think this applies to all companies, design and operators alike. Particularly in the destination jurisdictions like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, things have changed forever. No longer can these cities believe that gaming is the edge that will make the difference when people decide where to go for business or pleasure.

Today, there are casinos within an hour’s drive of more than half the country. And when you add another hour to the trip, almost everyone has a “locals” casino nearby.

That’s why gaming is a great amenity, but it will no longer be the be-all and end-all for decision makers. Since virtually all business and tourism destinations have some form of gaming close by, everyone must offer something above and beyond gaming to survive and thrive.

Designers need to play a role in this new paradigm, too. We already see operators and designers trying to design “flex” space that can be used for two purposes at different times of the day. That can be accomplished with something as simple as lighting or as complex as movable walls.

Despite the downturn, every casino must put aside money to maintain the public spaces. Some of that money can be dedicated to upgrades, if a design company is willing to work with the casino executives.

Creative methods to finance capital expenditures can also help. Many builders and designers have longstanding relationships with lenders. Yes, times are tough and credit is tight, but leveraging those relationships can help everyone involved when everyone is hurting.

Another participant told us that his company was not reinventing itself, just focusing on what they do best and doing it better.

I think this is an important point. Diversity is a great thing when times are good. It’s nice to be able to do many things and assist your clients by narrowing the scope of contractors. But every company has a core competency. Focusing on what your company does best, and maybe bringing in another company that does something else better than you, not only helps your client but also keeps the entire industry healthy.

No, I’m not saying we should all join hands and sing “Kumbaya” and we’ll get through this thing together. I’m just saying that sometimes it helps everyone when we all work together.

It’s called collaboration, and it is often a misunderstood element of any casino design project. In all construction projects, you have contractors and subcontractors. It’s a normal element of that process.

Casino design, at least for the smaller projects, has become something of a solitary pursuit, and rightly so. With the bargain-hunting that operators are pursuing these days, it’s often difficult to share work on a project given the narrow profit margins. But operators are becoming increasingly savvy, and understand that bringing in more than one design team-even for a small project-can pay dividends in the long run.

Yes, times are tough and likely to get tougher in the short term. But quality always wins out. As Paul Heretakis says in his design column on page 18, change is overrated but improvement is the gold standard. Let’s all strive for that. I know we have in this, our seventh annual edition of Casino Design magazine. Thanks for your support!

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