|By Donald Wittkowski, The Press of
Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 06, 2011--LAS VEGAS -- Acclaimed Las Vegas architect Joel Bergman said he knows of a casino owner who has not made any changes to his place in 20 years.
"Well, maybe they'll be dusted," Bergman joked of the casino's old furniture and fixtures.
Although he did not name the Las Vegas casino, Bergman used it as an example of how some gaming companies have waited too long to revitalize their aging properties in an ultra-competitive industry.
"Some won't survive," he predicted Wednesday during a panel discussion of casino architects and designers at the Global Gaming Expo.
Panelists noted that in the old days, some casinos were little more than warehouselike structures filled with slot machines and table games. Plenty of dead space was left over.
Now, virtually every inch of casinos must be transformed into exciting attractions to get customers to spend, spend, spend, designers noted.
Nightclubs, restaurants, pools and spas are becoming as important to the casinos as their gaming operations -- and, in some cases, more profitable.
"It's become almost a tertiary element in all of this," Bergman said of the casino floor.
Renovation projects are key to rejuvenating older casinos in markets increasingly dominated by the latest must-see attractions, the panelists said.
"Unfortunately, most properties go beyond the time they should be revitalized," Bergman told the audience.
Bergman has designed some of the landmark casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, including The Mirage and Treasure Island. In Atlantic City, he designed the original Golden Nugget, now known as the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort.
Bergman urged casino operators to follow the "Disney rule," meaning that they should update their attractions every few years to keep them fresh. The alternative, he said, are tired properties that appear "used up."
Tom O'Connor, a partner in the Atlantic City firm SOSH Architects, said companies are having some success by rebranding or retheming older casinos. Resorts Casino Hotel has changed to a Roaring '20s theme in hopes of capitalizing on the national publicity of the Atlantic City-inspired HBO hit series "Boardwalk Empire," he pointed out.
He also cited Trump Marina Hotel Casino's transformation into Golden Nugget Atlantic City under the gaming hall's recent ownership change to Landry's Inc., a gaming, restaurant and entertainment conglomerate.
Landry's has been adding new restaurants, remodeling the casino floor and touching up the hotel rooms as part of a $100 million facelift. There are longer-range plans to build a hotel tower at Golden Nugget.
However, O'Connor said the global economic crisis and political disputes in Washington, D.C., have forced some casinos and potential investors to rethink or delay badly needed renovation projects.
"There's a lot of money sitting on the sidelines," he said.
Those willing to spend have been adding lavish nightclubs, retail outlets, upscale restaurants, pools and spas. Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City has drawn a younger customer base by building The Pool, a dome-topped entertainment complex that doubles as a pool and nightclub.
"It's wildly successful," O'Connor said of the Harrah's attraction.
The pool-nightclub concept is becoming increasingly popular after being pioneered in Las Vegas. Jerry Beale, senior vice president and managing director of Wilson Associates, a Los Angeles-based interior design firm, said Las Vegas gaming mogul Steve Wynn transformed a little-used entryway at his posh Encore resort into a hip hangout by adding a combination pool and nightclub.
"It's really an amazing kind of place," Beale said. "You're getting 24/7 use out of this space."
Relatively simple and inexpensive touches such as private poolside cabanas are another way to increase profits. Bergman said some cabanas pull in more profits than a casino's hotel rooms.
Pools, nightclubs and restaurants are expected to continue to be a major part of the casino scene as the industry looks to a younger audience. However, the fragile economy could dramatically slow down the pace of renovation projects, the panelists warned.
"Cutting costs is everywhere," Beale said.
Bergman took it a step further. He predicted the gaming industry could go through a shake-up in the next three years unless the economy recovers.
"I think you're going to see more hotels fall by the wayside," he said.
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