Redesign, Rebuild, Reconnect Remains a Must for Casinos

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Las Vegas’ tourism industry is defined by change. Restaurants open, close and are replaced. Guest rooms get refreshed periodically. Casino floors change their lighting, their carpet and—on a near-daily basis—their slot machines. This doesn’t just keep designers, contractors and construction workers employed—it leads to more visits and more money, if done right.

Casinos remaking themselves is an old (by Las Vegas standards) phenomenon. The first Strip resort, El Rancho Vegas, was only open about a decade before it reinvented itself, replacing its original rustic Western theme with a frontier French provincial gloss; the Round-Up Room dinner theater, for example, became the Opera House. The Last Frontier lasted 13 years before becoming the space-age New Frontier, and other resorts, from the Flamingo to the Riviera, were constantly changing their look, size and layout.

As with everything else in Las Vegas, the reinvention tradition has only grown larger and flashier as the years have passed.

As with everything else in Las Vegas, the reinvention tradition has only grown larger and flashier as the years have passed. Initially, the emphasis was on expansion: from El Rancho adding a modest 63 rooms, to Mandalay Bay, Bellagio and the Venetian adding new towers in the 2000s. Until the Great Recession, Vegas hotels were almost always getting bigger.

But the new economic realities have seen a shift in casino (re)design. Now, maintaining appeal and using space more wisely is the focus, or completely reinventing an older building as a new property. The latter has been done at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall (into the Cromwell), Imperial Palace (first as the Quad, then the Linq), and the Sahara (now SLS and soon to be W Las Vegas. Other properties stop short of that by simply remaking their guest rooms and public spaces.

Architect Brad Friedmutter knows a few things about design. Friedmutter Group has designed multiuse casino and hospitality properties around the world; locally, you’re probably most familiar with the Cosmopolitan and Red Rock Casino Resort. Having spent the past 35 years building new properties and helping casinos redesign existing ones, he believes that there are two main reasons that casinos invest heavily in refreshing themselves.

“One reason,” Friedmutter says, “is maintenance and upkeep. These properties in particular have higher wear and tear than traditional hospitality ones: With the high volume and the party nature of people, the rooms take a higher wear and tear than you’d see in other markets.”

“We all hear people saying when they visit here, that everything looks so different. It’s part of the excitement, part of the attraction of Las Vegas: to see who’s doing what, next.”

The second reason, Friedmutter believes, is that the better properties in the market “always want to look fresh and new.” That means ditching last decade’s color palette and keeping up with the latest design trends. It’s not that the previous look was bad or even run-down in this case—it just needs to look new. And, increasingly, that’s mandatory.

“Over the years, the customer has come to expect it,” Friedmutter says of the constantly changing Strip. “It’s what separates most general resorts from Las Vegas resorts. We all hear people saying when they visit here, that everything looks so different. It’s part of the excitement, part of the attraction of Las Vegas: to see who’s doing what, next.”

So casinos reinvent to keep visitors coming back. But there are many degrees of reinvention, Friedmutter says. Even within the guest room, there is what’s called a “soft, good” refresh, which involves a change-out of the carpet, bedspread, drapes and possibly light fixtures, and a more complete overhaul that might see a bathroom redesign or even the expansion or contraction of individual rooms.

The risk in refreshing, of course, is that people come to Las Vegas because they like what’s here; changing too much, too quickly, can alienate them. Friedmutter points out that, with their many parts, integrated resorts provide ample opportunities for incremental evolution: a spa redesign here, a rebranded restaurant there. Most important to any redesign—in hospitality or publishing—is letting the customer dictate the flow.

“Sometimes the customers tell them, ‘This place is too much this, too little that,’” Friedmutter says. “And the one thing these properties do is listen—and respond.”

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. 7

David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.

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