Designing for maximum ‘power’

Jul 4, 2006 3:02 AM

Architect and casino designer Paul Steelman leaves nothing to chance.

You walk into a casino and you see money: people losing money and people making money. But there’s nothing random about the patterns in the carpet, wall coverings, lighting or ceilings.

They’re all designed to make money — for the casino.

"We look at every square foot," Steelman said. "Especially the ”˜power space’ — the ground floor space. Every square foot has to make some money. And if not, then it has to energize the spaces that are in fact required to make money."

Steelman’s company designs casinos and resorts all over the world, from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to the Sands in Macau, where he built a six-story, world record chandelier measuring 131 feet long and 82 feet tall surrounded by waterfalls.

His latest design is the eclectic Montreux, a $2 billion resort planned for the site of the current New Frontier hotel/casino.

Part of his task is to use the "wow factor" to get people into casinos, and to keep them there for a long time.

"There are about 70 rules you must follow if you’re doing any casino," he said. "If you look at the planning of Wynn’s resorts, from the Mirage through the Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas, they have the same fundamentals. We have to follow those rules. Then you have to engage new concepts within those rules."

Steelman added that casino design should pique the customer’s curiosity for exploration.

"We don’t like straight lines," he said. "We want you walking on curved paths, exploring nooks and crannies."

But the exploration should culminate in a "wow" factor designed to "empower" the guest to spend money.

"Now, how do we empower you? With ceiling heights, people, relationships to people, people watching," Steelman said.

After years of trial and error, Las Vegas casino operators know what works and what doesn’t, Steelman said.

"In seven-year cycles, casino managers will renovate 100 percent of their space," he said. "They want things bigger and better, but not necessarily to capture the latest trend or hot movie theme."

Rather than trends, casino design must speak to the visitor’s psychological state.

"If we put in blue, everybody looks blue and that’s bad," he said. "With mirrors, if you look at yourself, the fantasy is over. You’re no longer James Bond, you’re fat, your glasses are crooked. You’re out of the empowerment zone."

In the past, clocks were left out of casinos so patrons would not be aware of time, and, theoretically, continue to gamble.

Exit signs were also considered taboo so customers couldn’t find their way out of the casino.

But, Steelman said, the current thinking is that the lack of exit signs creates confusion, which translates into less empowerment and, therefore, less spending.

In areas where there is no gambling, there is still a reason for each piece of carpeting and furniture.

"Furniture is very important," Steelman said. "The ergonomic qualities, the stools, position of the buttons, and the slots in the toe-base. Years ago we designed a bingo table. We spent $100,000 making prototypes and when all 12 little ladies booked the tables in advance, they said build me 1,400 of those."

Apparently, there’s no measure of empowerment like 12 little ladies.