by Ray Hanania
Casino floor layouts are becoming more malleable thanks to increases in technology
In the old days of gaming, casinos bunched the most popular slot machines in the farthest reaches of their gaming floors to draw customers through banks of other less popular slots and games. About 20 years ago, designers recognized other strategies could be used to enhance the player’s experience, increase casino revenues and maximize game play through strategic layouts.
Sometimes, that still includes keeping the most popular slots deep inside a property and creating atmospheric attractions that increase traffic flow. It has also gone beyond trial and error to the computer.
“Before, a casino would literally have to place everything and then decide if it worked for them. That was a long and expensive process. Now, we factor in all kinds of variables and, using experience and fundamentals, develop strategies for layout before the actual work is done,” explained Reno-based International Game Technology’s Senior Design Specialist Michael DiCillo. “We don’t design anything to ‘trap’ players. The goal is to maximize player comfort. Making them feel secure and giving them access to everything in the casino will enhance their experience and encourage them to stay longer.”
A strategic approach
Much of the strategic design layout strategies reflect common sense and a basic understanding of the human nature that DiCillo calls “a logical process.”
Layouts must be appealing, DiCillo added. They should not give players the sense of being dragged into corners or create paths that are endless. “[Patrons] won’t go in if they feel they won’t find their way out,” he said.
DiCillo prefers softer entrances, recognizing players prefer the “end cap” slots over those in the center.
“We can put a bank of slots together, say four on one side and four on another, creating two slots at each end. Or we can cut it down to a bank of three slots, creating even more end-slots in the room. It all depends on how much space you have to work with and the number of slot machines,” DiCillo added.
Larger casino operators like Las Vegas Sands Corp., Harrah’s Entertainment, Wynn Resorts and MGM Mirage manage their own layout strategies, DiCillo noted.
Those strategies may vary from property to property, but one priority, explained MGM Grand Las Vegas Vice President Steven J. Zanella, is protecting the entertainment value customers seek.
“It is all about entertainment. What the customer wants. But you do not want to make it hard for a customer to find what they are looking for. As far as we are concerned, the most important consideration in a casino is traffic flow—how people get through your property. Our traffic flows are always changing,” Zanella said. “We are constantly evaluating the slot floor.”
Dicillo said there are some basics. Working with a casino, IGT analyzes space versus machine population. The preferred spacing balance, he said, is 30 square feet per machine, compared to 150 square feet for table games. About 25 square feet is given to entrances, while preferred aisle width ranges between 10 and 12 feet.
“Space is essential, but it can be maximized. The more space you give players, the better. But there can be too much space, too,” DiCillo said.
Things to be avoided in developing layouts, DiCillo said, are pinch points, or narrowing of major aisles; long continuous banks of machines (longer than eight machines); dead ends, entrapments or locking players in; perimeter walk-arounds in the play area; and long series of angled banks, like 45 degree angles.
David Kranes, a space and design associate for Raving Consulting Company of Reno, Nev., agreed that proper spacing is important.
“On the most fundamental level, there is a personal space issue. Though it’s different in different cultures, people don’t like to feel crowded and intruded upon. There’s a fine line between ‘crowding’ and ‘social intimacy.’ Curvalinear lines of slots and pods of slots tend to foster the most comfortable sense of personal space and social gathering,” Kranes said. “There are studies which show profit is not necessarily directly proportionate to the number of machines. Fewer machines can be given more attraction power and, thus, be made to be, ultimately, more profitable.”
Kranes said audience demographics also play into layout design. “Seniors need more legibility in the ‘reads’ of their machines, or they may choose the more legible machines. Personal space issues have gender differences. Casinos would do well to satisfy all constituencies,” he said.
There are many other factors that go into layout and location such as the “smells from kitchen doors, noise levels and glare of overhead lights. Layout can be inviting, and it can be discouraging,” Kranes added.
Players also use some banks as landmarks that stand out. Players need to know where they are at, DiCillo said.
Zanella agreed: “It is very important to make sure the most popular games are still visible to the player’s line of sight. Everything has to come together. It goes beyond just the theme of the game. It includes the denomination of the game, type of signage and cabinet style of the game.”
There is one limitation to layout strategies. Does the space accommodate today’s high-tech computer needs?
Dick Rizzo, vice chairman of Perini Building Company based in Las Vegas and Phoenix, helps casinos bring that balance together.
“With today’s computer-driven slot machines, you can’t just put them anywhere. You can’t create any layout. Your ability to place your slot machines will be limited by the flexibility you have in laying the wiring,” Rizzo said.
A wholly-owned subsidiary of Perini Corporation based in Massachusetts and founded in 1896, Perini Building is one of the largest building contractors in the country, responsible for the construction of more than 60,000 casino hotel rooms and some 300 casinos. Among the company’s recent projects where the design and architecture of casino floors were critical: Station Casinos’ Red Rock Casino Resort Spa in west Las Vegas and the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif.
For two decades, Perini has designed and engineered space to make creativity in casino management possible. One option is cellular decking, which allows casinos to pull computer and electrical wiring through troughs in the floor without public exposure.
The most popular and cost-effective choice for casinos is the cellular deck. The construction requires the welding of 4- inch-high troughs about a foot long and placed on a “center line” welded to the top of a metal deck. Concrete is poured creating the fissures and wiring paths that blend into the flooring, allowing you to move slot machines from place to place.
Rizzo said cellular decking is the preferred method, especially for newly built casinos, or casinos built since the mid-1980s.
“Today’s best-constructed casino floors are built using a cellular deck or cellular floor. The closer you put the cells together, the more options you give the casino management to rearrange and change their slot machines layouts.”
“The weight factor isn’t as significant today as it was years ago. Most slot machines are coinless now, so there is less weight involved. But weight remains a factor. The cellular deck is designed to support the weight of the slots while allowing the wiring to seamlessly come up from the floor or the source without distracting from the public’s attraction to the slots,” Rizzo explained. “Casinos are constantly changing the layouts of the slot space. Moving machines and regrouping, redesigning and reconfiguring. The point is to give them as much flexibility as possible. You want to give them as much flexibility as possible to accommodate their creative drive. With computers managing every aspect of slot play these days, you just can’t put the wires anywhere.”
Another option is to raise the floor and place the wiring underneath in an open, but supported, area.
“This is usually preferred by older casinos that are readapting to the changing technology needs of their slot machines,” Rizzo said. “It provides maximum flexibility, but it is more expensive. We elevate the floor about six to 12 inches. It requires adequate ceiling to floor space to make it work.”
Air conditioning ducts and the like can be added in this system.
Casinos unable to raise floors might place wiring in basements or in sub-rooms below the gaming floors. But even that is limited by the amount of holes punched into the floor and preserving the structural integrity overall.
A fourth, less popular method that sometimes crowds the slot areas is the placement of power poles that allow the wiring to drop from the ceiling.
“But this causes a clustering of banks of machines and gives the room the air of an office building with four-by-four posts,” Rizzo said.
In addition to placement, a consideration is to assimilate slot machines into the layout. The best strategies merge casino themes, branding, designs and patterns into the layout plans with the right balance.
VSR Industries specializes in turning the best layout strategies into perfectly-matched partners for casinos. It has been manufacturing locks and powder-coated metal slot machine bases for years and plans to introduce an industry first this year—VSR Ironwood.
Ironwood is based upon VSR’s powder-coated metal product, but with a wood grain finish that is baked into the powder-coat through the process of dye-sublimation.
“Using metal slot bases offers flexibility and durability, while adding the complement of dye sublimation. Now, interior design concepts can be matched or complemented with our metal product,” said Chic DeGregorio, VSR Industries’ president. “Designers are no longer limited to solid colors and now have access to complex visual textures and patterns such as wood grains, marble, prints and custom patterns. The process is much like choosing counter top laminate colors.”
By nature, metal lends itself to sophisticated custom layouts for slot carousels and other complex arrangements. The modular metal components are easier to transport and assemble on site than similar wood configurations, which often must be dealt with fully assembled. The new Ironwood Series provides the aesthetic qualities of wood and capitalizes on the cost-effectiveness of metal, its flexibility in design, its low maintenance and durability.
Colton Vollmann, VSR’s general manager, said that by using new technologies that have been popular in other industries for years, VSR can take any image and duplicate it to perfection.
“Dye sublimation, or the transfer of a pattern into the powder coat via vacuum seal and heat transfer, allows us to embed patterns that create an array of colors and textures that simply aren’t possible with standard coloring,” Vollmann said. “It results in a very high- quality image that can precisely match the interior decor of the casino. You’re not limited to any one color. Anything that can be created digitally can be placed on the slot base using this technique. It can give you a simulated grain, marble or even leopard print. Further, we are even capable of creating a single continuous image or scene across an entire bank of slots. The only limit is your imagination. Beyond its obvious interior design benefits, dye-sublimation can add dynamic impact to special promotions, or new slot floor products.”
“Our metal product has become popular for its ability to reflect casino branding through custom, laser-cut, backlit logos, textures and designs. Dye sublimation adds a new dimension to our metal product, further expanding our custom tailored offerings,” DeGregorio added. “Our products are customer driven—custom made to address the specific placement dimensions, space issues and visual design standards of each customer. We help the casino achieve what they are trying to achieve—design success and their own happy customers.”