New book reveals winning casino designs

Feb 6, 2001 6:32 AM

Anyone who has ever gambled at the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas knows the casino is an aged and disjointed affair, split among several areas and pockets of concentration. Moreover, the slot and video machines are arranged in a somewhat clustered and congested layout, often bunched together in a variety of rooms and alcoves.

That description of the El Cortez’s casino doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, but it is in fact just that ”” according to a new book, "Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition," by Bill Friedman.

Friedman points out that, while the El Cortez is the oldest casino in town and has a reputation as a mecca for seniors and low-rollers, it outperforms and even dominates competing casinos because its "design elements" attract and retain players.

Those elements include the casino’s ceiling height, lighting, organization of gaming equipment, lines of sight, architectural themes, and compactness of casino space.

The premise of Friedman’s book is simple: The ability of a casino to attract customers is influenced by a set of 13 design principles, in many cases overlooked by the most modern casinos. A corollary to that is that most of the mega-casinos built over the past 20 years are underachieving (if not entirely missing the mark) when it comes to attracting casino customers.

Friedman goes into great detail in explaining the principles, and illustrating them with examples taken from Nevada casinos.

Some of his conclusions indicate that casinos with high ceilings have a feeling of openness that detracts from the intimacy most players want when they sit down in a casino. Or casinos that look empty discourage play. If the casino is like a huge hangar without segments in which visitors can lose themselves, there’s little mystery and, therefore, little reason to explore.

If a casino is laid out like city streets rather than meandering paths, the player may never leave the main road. Other important principles dictate that customers prefer small, intimate settings rather than open spacious areas; that they are more likely to gamble when the equipment (machines) serves as the decor core.

Friedman’s book ”” a 15-pound tome of more than 600 pages ”” is divided into two parts. The first half explains the 13 winning and losing casino design principles. The second half describes and rates 81 Nevada casinos, based on their design features, slot machine play, player counts, etc.

In researching the book, Friedman studied and quantified physical design elements along with financial and player information. He combined that data with his own keen observations of players’ preferences.

The result ”” which took 20 years to complete ”” is a massive analysis of all the major Nevada casinos and the formulation of his winning and losing principles of casino design that can directly affect player counts.

Friedman is president of the Friedman Management Group, a consulting firm specializing in casino management, marketing, operations, controls and design. He has 25 years of consulting to casinos throughout the United States, in England, South Africa, Monaco, Australia, Canada and several Caribbean islands.

In Las Vegas, Friedman was president and general manager of the Castaways and Silver Slipper Casinos on the Strip. He is the author of Casino Management, a watershed book about the casino business, and he helped pioneer the casino management curriculum at UNLV in the 1970s.

(Next week: A closer look at the 13 principles and how they are applied.)