Casino designers raise the limits

Jun 28, 2005 3:25 AM


No limits may scare "the house," but hotel designers love the challenge.

"You can build as big as you want," Tony Marnell, chief executive officer of Marnell Corrao Associates told media and gaming officials during a keynote roundtable discussion last week at the Casino Design conference held in Wynn Las Vegas.

"We used to have 600-foot suites," Marnell said. "Now you see 700-foot rooms. Building today requires much more knowledge of the infrastructure and a lot more planning."

American Gaming Association President and CEO Frank Fahrenkopf chaired the four-member expert panel that included Boyd Gaming Corporation President and COO Keith Smith, whose 63 acres of land surrounding the Stardust Hotel and Casino have been a hot item of discussion as to its future development.

"I’m not at liberty to say what we will do at Stardust," Smith said. "We’re still in the thinking process. I can say that condos are possible. There’s no question that customer sophistication demands increasing the amenities."

Smith said that casinos have gained credibility with Wall Street, which means the money is there for Las Vegas to build major projects. UNLV Director of Architecture Michael Kroelinger noted during one of the conference sessions that 80-100 high-rise projects are in the works for Las Vegas.

"Condos are the newest and most logical way to make money in the gaming industry," Marnell said. "How do you think I got to this table? I have to tell Wall Street a reasonable story and make money. I’ve been a genius."

Marnell was tongue-in-cheek about the genius remark, but not about the impact condos are having on places like Las Vegas, both from a landscape and an economic view.

"Condos are a natural direction for Vegas to turn to," he said. "Casino and hotel resorts are being built with Generation X in mind. This generation (ages 18-40) is all about instant gratification and not about saving money. Our figures have shown heir propensity for spending large amounts of money so we need structures to accommodate their needs. That’s our biggest challenge — meeting their needs."

Don Brinkerhoff, chairman and CEO of Lifescapes International, said that major hotel corporations such as Boyd Gaming and MGM Mirage are changing their approach to future projects.

"Borgata was the first Las Vegas-style casino resort in Atlantic City," Brinkerhoff said. "I heard Terry Lanni (MGM Mirage CEO) say that 45 percent of MGM’s revenue came from gaming. The trend has switched more toward the entertainment side. More spas, nightclubs, shopping venues, golf courses, etc."

Brinkerhoff added that projects are now being built to reflect the landscape.

"We’re doing two projects for the Agua Caliente tribe in Southern California using the landscape of Palm Canyon," he said. "Then there’s another one in Palm Springs involving a spa that is more suited to the urban area. Hotels are reminding me of cities."

Brinkerhoff noted that Station Casinos has been successful focusing on the entertainment end from a locals’ perspective.

"Neighborhood casinos have included amenities such as cinemas and bowling alleys to bring in customers," Brinkerhoff said. "They are a different animal than the Strip."

Marnell said that the demand is there for more expensive hotels.

"These projects will be very expensive because the market has become fiercely competitive," he said. "People want huge rooms, gourmet chefs, the best of the best. That costs money. But if you build it, people will come. And, they want to live the high lifestyle as long as they can."