Casino resorts are in the midst of a trend toward edgier designs and amenities, pulling in younger, sophisticated crowds

The posh pool area at Red Rock Resort Casino in Las Vegas has become one of the latest places to “be seen” (top), while interior designs at the Casino Morongo Resort near Palm Springs, Calif. (left) add a new level of sophistication to the gaming experience.

The younger generation has both time and money. That makes it a prime market for the casino industry. The question, then, is what draws it? In going after a younger, cooler and hipper clientele, operators are sparing no expense in plying them with food and beverage, entertainment and in-room gadgetry.

Properties like Hard Rock Hotel Casino, Red Rock Resort Casino and the Palms Resort & Casino - all in Las Vegas - convey a feeling of “edginess,” which appeals to the younger crowd, in sharp contrast to older, themed properties, said Dick Rizzo, vice chairman of Perini Construction Co.

“Hard Rock set the trend for providing what young people wanted,” he said. “The Palms and the Hard Rock [properties] in Florida [owned by the Seminole Tribe] took it to another level with edgy, experimental designs.”

Sexiness is another attribute that sells to the young and hip crowd.

“Clearly, the Las Vegas Hard Rock and the Palms, where George Maloof has brilliantly attracted the infamous young and outrageous, get the top awards in this category,” said Barry Thalden, a founding partner of Thalden-Boyd-Emery Architects. “Both of these properties are targeted at the young and sexy. The loud music, [adult-oriented entertainment], stars and nightclubs that don’t really get jumping until 2 a.m., make them the place to be and be seen.”

The posh pool area at Red Rock Resort Casino in Las Vegas has become one of the latest places to “be seen” (top), while interior designs at the Casino Morongo Resort near Palm Springs, Calif. (left) add a new level of sophistication to the gaming experience.

An attractive mix

The other parts of the formula, aside from sexiness, are simple: be fun, unique and modern.

“Young people want to take the daredevil amusement rides at the top of the Stratosphere or the roller coaster at New York-New York. They want to be where the action is, and if people are screaming, that must be the place,” Thalden said.

Younger patrons also want to have experiences that their friends and neighbors haven’t had. An example is the Bayou Atrium in the expansion designed by Thalden at the Paragon Casino in Marksville, La., where live alligators in the indoor swamp thrash about while being fed three times daily.

As for modernity, “Las Vegas is currently on a modern architecture kick,” Thalden said. “In part, it’s intended to attract the younger demographic.”

Another example is the Thalden-architected Casino Morongo near Palm Springs, with a sleek look that was specifically designed to attract the younger, affluent crowd from Southern California.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino openly appeals to the hip set with its Rehab pool parties, where inhibitions are tossed aside amidst a swimming pool playground totaling 4.7 acres.

“Rehab is a perfect example of where we set the trend and are continuing to set the trend,” said Phil Shalala, Hard Rock’s vice president of marketing.

Indeed, the ultra pool concept has taken the casino world by storm, with Bare at Mirage, Venus Pool at Caesars Palace, Tao Beach at the Venetian, and Wet Republic at MGM Grand.

MGM Grand’s description of Wet Republic captures the essence of hip, trendy, and cool: According to photographer and online journalist, Jeremy Womack, “Uniquely extending the energy and vibrancy of Las Vegas’ hottest nightlife to a daytime setting, [Wet Republic] provides a must-do experience for trendsetters living life just ahead of the curve.”

Defining 'hip and cool'

Hard Rock Las Vegas’ newest nightclub, Wasted Space, was conceived by Shalala and motocross legend Carey Hart as a rock club: gritty and edgy with a high-end twist, or in Hart’s words, a place where “my peers and I could hang out.”

The lifestyle that Hard Rock is peddling evokes the hedonistic spirit of the Rat Pack. “Great parties and beautiful women,” Shalala said. “We’re offering good vibes and a great atmosphere for people who want to hang out with cool, fun people.”

Hard Rock is in the midst of an expansion project that will add 950 guest rooms, including an all-suite 15-story tower with upgraded amenities. In addition, the project includes the expansion of the Hard Rock’s pool, several prominent new food and beverage outlets, a new and larger “Joint” live entertainment venue, 30,000 square feet of new retail space, as well as a new spa and health club. As part of the project, existing suites and common areas are being renovated to revitalize the property and bring it up to world-class standards.

The typical demographic that the Hard Rock is going after, Shalala said, is a “mid-30s entrepreneur who wants to be around the best parties, and will pay big money for a room and stay around the tables and slots. We’re not going after the real old or real young, but instead are going after a bit more sophistication.”

The image being projected is one that’s decidedly unique for Las Vegas. “The typical Strip casino embraces older slot players. Hard Rock has always embraced young, cool and hip,” Shalala said.

Architects and designers say there’s a growing demand among operators for concepts that will appeal to a younger demographic. “It starts with design,” said Brad Friedmutter, founder and CEO of Friedmutter Group. “Operators are going after younger people with higher disposable incomes. Once they’ve decided that this is the crowd they want to appeal to, it becomes a matter of designing elements that will accomplish that purpose.”

For Station Casinos’ Red Rock Resort & Casino, Friedmutter created a modern desert motif that evokes the natural beauty of the nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The property’s design, reminiscent of Palm Springs, Calif. in the 1950s, features a lavish use of fine woods, marbles, stones, crystals and glass.

Ambience is a big part of creating a hip atmosphere. “Sometimes contemporary designs are too sterile,” Friedmutter said. “The décor at Red Rock is fresh and clean, yet has warmth and luxury. At Red Rock, we bring a clean, contemporary look for a younger crowd by using materials such as backlit onyx. It’s been well-received by the Los Angeles crowd.”

Red Rock Lanes, a 72-lane, bowling center, can be instantly transformed into a party environment that includes custom lighting effects, strobes, fog machines, image generators and disco balls. More than 100 high-definition flat-screen monitors serve as the scoring and video displays and span the length of the 60-lane bowling concourse. A separate 12-lane VIP suite provides bowlers with a unique nightclub experience, including large, 65-inch plasma flat screen televisions, custom-designed ultra lounge furnishings and three nightclub-quality audio/visual high-definition projection screens.

The bowling alley “appeals to people who want to party in a hip and cool setting,” Friedmutter said.

Creating a milieu

Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla., also trends toward hip and cool, while also retaining its appeal for more traditional customers. By day, it buses in older customers from Miami/Dade and Broward counties; by night, it becomes a magnet for nightlife, with the 5,600-seat Hard Rock Live featuring headliners like Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton, as well as private concerts.

“The Hard Rock brand covers a range of demographics,” said Phil Madow, president of Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood. “It appeals to young and old, with displays, retail, and most importantly, resort amenities.”

With the coming of Class III slots and table games, Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood expects to become more of a destination resort, and it plans to cater to more diverse demographic groups.

“Our marketing programs look at both time of day and time of week,” Madow said. “Midweek and daytime attract older customers. As evening and weekends come on, we see it becomes hip and trendy.”

MGM Grand at Foxwoods, which is set to open in May, will feature in-room technology like Apple iPhones, high-speed wireless, European-style showers, and state-of-the-art sound systems. Entertainment, food and beverage, and nightclubs are also being skewed toward a younger demographic.

“Young people want to see and be seen with a similar clientele, so you want to style nightclubs, sporting events and entertainment accord-ingly,” said Joseph Jimenez, Foxwoods’ senior vice president of casino marketing. “You want to create an environment where they can enjoy nightlife, belly up to a crap table, smoke a cigar and get engaged in a conversation.”

Operators are advised to leave room in their project deigns to allow for changing tastes. “We used to do projects in 24 months; now, it takes four to five years. Someone who’s 25 today is 30 when it opens,” Friedmutter said. “We maintain somewhat of a flexibility in each of the spaces, responding to a new market and new set of rules. A restaurant might change to a nightclub, for example.”