Three architectural firms describe some of the design hurdles crossed in recent casino projects

The exterior of the WinStar World Casino, a Chickasaw Nation property located in Oklahoma.


Oklahoma casino adopts travel theme to entice higher-end clientele

By Hnedak Bobo Group

Excitement continues to build at the world’s third largest casino, WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla., as the property opens the first phase of a large-scale, two-phase expansion program. 

WinStar is an economic enterprise of the Chickasaw Nation, and is located just north of the Oklahoma/Texas border along Interstate 35. The expansion design by Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG) takes the property to an elevated quality level to capture more upscale clientele from its prime Dallas market.

HBG’s distinctive designs showcase how the firm continues to think differently about their clients’ brands and how to better target the customer experience.  HBG is an award-winning design firm working in the tribal and commercial gaming industry. Last year, the firm received three G2E Casino Design Awards, sweeping the Best Native American Casino categories. They were also recipients of the prestigious NIGA Associate Member of the Year recognition in2012.

 “HBG has forged a great working relationship with the Chickasaw Nation over the years, and this has allowed us to truly appreciate their brand and vision for their gaming properties,” said Danny Valle, AIA, principal and project manager at HBG. “We worked closely to translate this understanding into a phased and graceful expansion that properly aligns with their strategic blueprint for the future. New amenities will be added incrementally, consistent with the approved master plan.”

The WinStar World Casino property’s established ‘cities of the world’ travel theme has been successful in making the resort the number one casino in the Dallas, Texas gaming market. The expansion offers a fresh design interpretation of the property’s popular theme.   

 “The travel-themed motif at the casino is very closely tied into the WinStar World Casino brand, so we naturally embraced and enhanced the concept,” stated Rob Jurbergs, AIA, principal and lead designer at HBG. 

Phase one opened in late 2012 and includes an improved exterior arrival experience and a Paris-themed casino, events and F&B expansion. Jurbergs’ inspiration for the new upscale design captures the excitement and wonder of faraway voyages in the gilded age of travel, featuring literal themed elements set within the context of a refined interpretation of the famed “city of lights.”

For instance, a new elaborate covered entryway features a signature metal replica of the 1960 World’s Fair Globe. “It’s a nod to the travel theme with a historical reference that automatically elevates the perception of the brand,” said Jurbergs. Stylistic vintage travel murals flank the porte cochere, creating a new front door experience that helps to introduce the brand to new amenities within the Paris expansion.

Jurbergs worked with HBG Interior Designer Emily Marshall, IIDA, to ramp up the quality level of the new interiors, while creating synergy between the existing casino and several new dining and event offerings. “New venues are organized along a thematic Parisian street, complete with patio dining, sky murals and real cobblestone pavers,” said Marshall. “The organization along this internal street activates the relationship between new venues and the existing casino floor.”

At the transition point between the new Paris expansion and the property’s existing Beijing-themed casino is WinStar’s new Mist events venue. Integrating a very subtle Asian design scheme for theme continuity, the venue caters to an entertainment-focused clientele, as well as a regional meetings market. “We have integrated ambient and spot lighting, furniture, finishes and meticulously selected Asian-inspired patterns,” Marshall said. “When the lights dim, the combination of these elements transforms Mist from a meeting venue into an atmospheric nightclub, making it the ultimate work-to-play flex space.”

“Next to Mist is Capisce Bistro, a more intimate, high-end restaurant environment for WinStar,” added Marshall. Its elegant Old World European design features decorative wood-trimmed ceiling, stone clad facing on the fireplace and large book-matched, burled walnut veneer wine cabinets and bar fronts that imbue old- style charm.

La Paris Café, a new “grab and go” restaurant offering healthy menu options, and WinStar’s new El Fenix Mexican restaurant round out the worldly amenity offerings.

When WinStar’s second casino and hotel expansion opens in July and August 2013, respectively, the new design interpretation of this popular brand promises again to transport patrons back to the grand and exciting days of global travel.

A montage of photos from Isle of Capri Cape Girardeau, Mo., showcase how branding was applied throughout the facility.


Casino branding: more than a logo

By Aaron Rumple, AIA, KdG Director of Design

Branding is often thought of as the logo connected with a company. While a logo is an important aspect of branding, it touches only the surface of communicating a strong, clear message to the company’s audience. Images such as the Nike “swoosh” and the quartered BMW logo instantly evoke clear thoughts. However, without the strong products and consistent consumer experiences behind the logos, the logos would mean very little. In the same way Apple’s logo reflects the clear and simple design of its products, a casino’s branding message should be strong, clear and consistent.

Today’s casino designer must step outside the traditional designer role and engage themselves in every aspect of their client’s product; focusing solely on a facility’s physical aspects is no longer enough. In working with the Isle of Capri, Inc. on their newest casino in Cape Girardeau, Mo., KdG went above and beyond the brick and mortar of traditional design and worked closely with the company to help solidify brand recognition for their flagship venues.

When the Isle of Capri began to evolve its concept for their Farmer’s Pick Buffet, KdG brought in Chef Eric Brenner as a consultant. Working closely with the Isle and Brenner, KdG helped brand a menu based on locally sourced fresh food prepared within view of the guests; this concept ties into the Isle’s goal of being connected with its community. KdG participated in tasting sessions, complete with a mock up of tables and place settings to help visualize the customer experience.  These efforts paralleled the interior design and graphic design efforts to ensure a clear and consistent branding message.

Superior products are created when all details of the product work in harmony with its vision. When teamed with a group of engaged and seasoned design professionals, a casino can offer their patrons a unique and memorable experience.

The desire to develop an impressive facility on a small parcel of land forced Revel to designers to create a vertical resort.


Revel looks to rise above it all

Doubtless by now you have read about the travails of Revel, Atlantic City’s newest and most troubled gaming resort. The highly controversial project opened its doors roughly a year ago this month, to both praise (resort-first design, lots of natural light and vistas) and pans (no smoking throughout the facility, controversial gaming floor layout). Unfortunately, a combination of a heavy debt load and the still slipping Atlantic City gaming scene has forced the property into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Despite this drawback, Michael Prifti, a managing principal with Philadelphia, Pa.-based BLT Architects, the lead design firm for Revel, remains bullish on the original idea behind the property’s layout and design-the desire to re-invent Atlantic City  as a shore resort destination that happens to offer casino gaming. Prifti recently took some time to speak toCasino JournalEditor Paul Doocey about the design aspects of Revel and the challenges associated with creating a vertical casino resort. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.

How would you describe the design of the Revel?
br>Prifti: It is a contemporary interpretation of a classic resort. Therefore it speaks of the ocean and of The Boardwalk. It lets daylight into the space, which is unusual for a casino. Really, the resort components of this property are as successful as imagined. The business meeting component is as equally successful. You go to these places because of their nature as a destination. You don’t go there necessarily because there’s a casino. We go to Las Vegas because it is a really interesting destination; the food is great, the weather is great, it has an affordable price point and the entertainment is fabulous.

For Atlantic City to finally find its niche… it needs to reposition itself as a shore resort. That was Revel’s intent-to be a three-season outdoor-oriented resort.

 From a design perspective, how is the Revel different from other Atlantic City casinos?
Prifti: First of all, it is very vertically oriented. There is no other property like it; it’s stacked up like a fabulous birthday cake. That is in part due to fitting a large property on a medium-sized site. It is also partly due to the desire to have as much of the property as possible getting an ocean view.

How big a challenge was working vertically? After all, that is not a common direction for most casinos in the U.S…
Prifti: Yes, you think of most gaming resorts as one giant horizontal box, with back of house immediately below it feeding up though stairs and elevators and then somewhere on the property you put in the hotel tower.

This was sort of a thread-the-needle exercise. The guests arrive either by self-park or valet and they never see the service points. It really is like DisneyWorld in terms of the way we do that. That is why we the first public level is 61 feet above sea level. Beneath it is all the things necessary to make the property go.

That said, I think the view from anywhere in the resort is pretty spectacular. We have three places were the building sort of drops down to connect with The Boardwalk. There is the arrival sequence at The Boardwalk with the mammoth ellipse and escalator ride, which is really exciting. There is the dining enclave where all three high-end dining experiences have a view of the ocean and Boardwalk. The third connection to The Boardwalk hasn’t been created yet… As Kevin DeSanctis [Revel CEO] was quoted saying, “Large resorts are never complete, they are continuingly evolving.”

One of our design mantras at the beginning was there should always be another surprise, another “wow,” so that when you come back from one season to the next or one year to the next you will always discover something new and a new reason to return to the property. We have in our back pocket places where we can provide those surprises in the future. One of them will have this connection to the outside.

 Were there other challenges with designing vertically outside of connecting with The Boardwalk? What were some of the issues in designing a vertical casino?
Prifti: Well, the guests do have to get accustomed to using elevators and escalators. There was one really unique decision that came at the very beginning-the desire that the resort portion of the property be distinct from the casino. So the resort lobby was located two full floors above the casino. It is the only property in Atlantic City that does not force you to go through the casino to get to the front desk. The notion of the resort is very much enhanced by not requiring you to go through the casino to get to the front desk. There is a direct way to get everywhere.

How did you explain this whole concept to the casino guys at the start of the design? How did they handle the fact there would not be the direct connection to the casino you see at most other properties?
Prifti: The design dynamic of the project came from a very close-knit owner’s group led by Kevin DeSanctis. He brought in people who were really familiar with gaming and made the mission statement clear from the start.  The project was benchmarked and basically, when you only have 20 acres for a project this size, you have to go up. So we talked about the various ways to combine certain functions and everybody participated. I think it is pretty clever the way it works and its sequencing. If you are a day guest or a day patron of the casino, you do not have to go through the hotel; you can self-park on the 6th level, walk through the vestibule, make a turn and you will be facing the casino.

So if you’re there to gamble, you can easily access the casino…
Prifti: Yes. Similarly, if you are there just to go to dinner, you can drive to the 6th level, get out, and go to dinner without walking through the casino.

So the decision to separate the resort and gambling experiences really had very little to do with the vertical aspect of the site?
Prifti: Yes. I went to Atlantic City as a young kid and there was no such thing as gaming then. You went for the resort experience. Given the size of the population it’s likely there are people who want to experience a resort where they feel it is not compulsory to go to the casino.

If you agree with what New Jersey Gov. Christie and everyone else believes is the long-term play for Atlantic City, which is a return to beach resort status, then the Revel is ideally positioned to lead that charge and capitalize on that growth.

 Now, when that is going to happen and how exactly that is going to happen I can’t answer. In retrospect, I think we did a whale of a job in designing a fabulous project; but we had the easy job. We had the way easy job.