Decks Appeal: A Guide To Casino Design

casino design

It’s the commission that every architect dreams of: the opportunity to create a space dedicated to play, fun, opulence, and decadence. Casino design is a multi-faceted pursuit. It has to combine a serious punch of ‘the wow factor’, with the functionality of a working commercial space.

The challenge is real. Casinos – both online and offline – all contain the same fundamental suite of games. On the games floor are table games like Blackjack, Craps, Baccarat, Roulette, Poker, and assorted variants; usually segregated by table limits.

The Friedman Factor

The Godfather of Las Vegas casino design is Bill Friedman. After managing two Las Vegas Strip hotels simultaneously, Friedman wrote the book Casino Management in 1974. He followed this, in 2000, with the sequel: Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition.

Both books detail exactly how to keep players in the casino and playing at the tables. Complex layouts, low ceilings, pathways past busy areas, free drinks, no clocks. Every trick in the trade is used to keep the punters happy, busy, and spinning the reels.

Friedman’s book was considered the ‘bible’ by many Las Vegas casino managers but the times are changing. Friedman believed that a flashy exterior was there simply to set the scene. Inside, every casino should conform to a uniform style; designed to do nothing more than max out potential player revenue.

Enter the Bellagio

When the Bellagio opened in 1998, its designers threw the Friedman bible away. Designer Roger Thomas wanted to try something new. He said: “If you think about it, the traditional layout makes no sense, people don’t want to make bets when they feel trapped or overwhelmed or confused. That’s not the mood you want.”

Thomas created a casino with high, soaring, ceilings; an open, expansive, layout. He ditched the slots in the foyer and replaced them with massive works of art. It was a space designed to restore the mind and spirit, as opposed to Friedman’s oppressive, bullying, environments. The Bellagio made the statement that there was more to Las Vegas than simply betting. It paid off: big time.

The New Design Wave

Inspired by the success of the Bellagio, in the past two decades, casino design has been a showcase for some of the world’s leading architects. In Las Vegas, Paul Steelman is developing the technology-loaded Circa, which features the Stadium Swim – six pools, on three levels, in front of a high definition 40-foot tall screen. Swim and watch the big game – simultaneously.

Not forgetting the late Zaha Hadid. Her $1.1 billion hotel-casino resort Morpheus, in Macau, is a testament to ‘insane’ design, with its skeletal steel external structures. Also bonkers is the Odiseo casino in Murcia which features Europe’s longest, cantilevered, overhanging pool. It projects 20 metres out from the side of the incredible looking main building.

Online Casino Design

Online, design is equally as important. It’s less than three decades since Tim Berners Lee published the world’s first website, in April 1993. Today, successful websites must have intuitive, streamlined, design, as well as a clear function, purpose, and easy navigation. It all combines to give users a crisp, simple, and enjoyable end user experience.

Online casinos were one of the Internet’s first financial success stories. It’s enabled them to stay at the forefront of design and development. As connections and hardware accelerate, so does the user experience. The advent of the live dealer casino is proof of this.

Fundamentally, there is a significant difference between the real-world casino and its online counterpart. In the real world, function is only part of the game. The ‘wow factor’ is a huge part of the equation. Online… people just want to find their favourite game, transfer funds, and enjoy. Watch this space, however: evolution is never dull and great design is innovation with benefits.

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