THE GAMBLING INDUSTRY’S CONSTRUCTIVE CRITIC: Detail man extraordinaire Casino owners could profit handsomely by following Bill Friedman’s principles of design

Pressed up against the sidewalk on Las Vegas Boulevard, dressed in its Vegas-meets-the-Arabian-Nights theme, the Aladdin is an intriguing resort.

If not quite a mirage, the year-old resort is at least a 2,547-room oasis.

Like a tale from the Arabian Nights, the Aladdin offers walk-up visitors a mystery in the form of a question: How could a resort that cost $1.4 billion be built without a front door?

 

In truth, the entrance does exist, and you don’t need to shout “open sesame” to access it. It’s just that many tourists are finding it easier to make a  Pengeluaran HK carpet fly than to step inside the building.

 

In recent weeks, Aladdin executives have spent increasing amounts of time denying the resort is in such a weakened financial state that its sale was imminent. With its $725 million debt and double-digit interest, what’s even harder for them to deny is that the Strip resort faces a serious financial restructuring ahead. Of late, they appear to have finally come to the realization that bankruptcy, despite earlier denials, is a genuine possibility.

 

Of course, the Aladdin’s executives might have saved themselves a mountain of misery and many millions if they’d only seen the state of the casino industry through Bill Friedman’s eyes.

 

Friedman, an industry consultant for more than 25 years and the former president and general manager of the Castaways and Silver Slipper casinos,is the author of “Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition.”

 

If you haven’t heard much about Friedman’s fascinating book, you’re not alone.

 

At 629 pages, the $150 hardback is physically and intellectually weighty. It was greeted by nary a public whimper from the industry when it was published late last year by the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno. Although its cover price and subject matter will probably keep it off the best-seller lists, “Designing Casinos” is a must-read for anyone interested in seriously examining the

physical makeup and psychology of Nevada’s gambling halls.

 

The fact Friedman has the courage to tell it like it is makes his book all the more valid. After analyzing the Aladdin, for example, Friedman notes the problems with the entrance, but adds that the resort’s greater challenges

are found once prospective customers cross the threshold.

 

“Obviously, design, from my point of view, plays a key role in the problems that it’s having,” he says. “I don’t think anyone would disagree that the entrance to the Aladdin has weak design. But since we already have a casino that has many people entering it every day, especially since it’s the newest on the Strip, attracting more people into it with a low ratio of gambling isn’t going to help much. They aren’t going to accomplish much by improving the exterior.

 

“The best thing to do is to address the exterior and interior, but it is the interior which will have the effect of dramatically increasing the ratio of people who will gamble. If only one of them can be done, the interior is the

most important.”

 

The Aladdin, he observes, suffers from the “barn” factor, a design malady common to all new major resorts. The ceilings are too high, the lines of sight not well defined. In short, a barn does not a winning casino make.

 

By Friedman’s pencil, as little as $12 million in smart interior redesign could begin to change the Aladdin’s casino fortunes. For a company paying more than 10 percent interest on more than three-quarters of a billion dollars worth of debt, that’s pocket change.

 

That is, if it’s not already too late.

 

Like a lot of newer businesses, the casino industry attracts critics from without and breeds sycophants from within. Cutting through the industry’s mayonnaise-thick layer of propaganda is so rare that when corporate titans

such as Terry Lanni or Steve Wynn utter even a few critical remarks, their words lead TV broadcasts and are splashed on the front page of the city’s dailies. When a Great and Powerful Oz speaks, the Emerald Kingdom gets all aflutter.

 

With few exceptions, industry leaders paint in broad brush strokes and leave the detail work to others.

 

Friedman is a detail man extraordinaire.

 

“When the data regarding every competitive situation were combined, they revealed that particular interior design elements substantially influence player counts,” he writes. “I was stunned! I had not anticipated that consumer gambling behavior would be so consistent and quantifiable, or that the simple interior design concepts I was developing could so accurately and mathematically predict a casino’s degree of success or failure.”

 

Ever the self-marketer, he calls his 13 concepts the Friedman Casino Design Principles. Those casinos which adhered to his principles, without exception, produced the highest player counts and beat the competition.

Those which strayed suffered the consequences, Friedman observed, “no matter who managed them or what marketing programs were implemented.”

 

“These findings do not suggest that weakly designed casinos will be unprofitable, but that they will always fail to achieve anything close to their potential …” he says. “Some Strip megaresorts that opened in the 1990s are good examples of casinos that fail to maximize potential. They have achieved good profitability despite weak casino interior design.”

 

It is important to note that by “interior design,” Friedman does not mean the decor or theme of a casino, but the structure and lay-out of the gambling area itself. In fact, observes Friedman, much of what modern casino “visionaries” perceive as attractive interior design actually turns off

gamblers.

 

Which casino does it best?

 

None of the new ones, he says.

 

Despite their grandeur, they all fail to overcome their “barn” feeling, which he asserts is a major turnoff to casino customers. One casino which almost got it right, in his opinion, was The Mirage, which managed to create a cozy table game atmosphere, but entirely missed the mark with its slot machine methodology.

 

“Every one of the major hotels is a large barn, which my research shows has the most detrimental effect on play,” Friedman says. “The big barn has the worst impact on player counts that I know of. The Aladdin has the highest ceiling in the state of Nevada, and ceiling height is a major factor. Almost everything is visible throughout. From the front door you can see the back walls.”

 

There’s an undeniable irony in what Friedman proposes: The megaresort era,with its handsome facades, was a major departure from the traditional methods of doing business. While profits increased from rising room rates and other nongaming areas, which in past times had been loss leaders, casino revenues did not increase in proportion to the huge expansion in visitor volume.

 

It’s no secret Las Vegas now attracts many millions of nongamblers. But Friedman believes the newer resorts also repel potential players.

 

“Historically, there’s been casinos with ugly fronts that did tremendous business because their interiors were so strong that people kept returning and recommending them,” Friedman says. “One in this category would be the (old) Castaways. It had one of the highest wins despite the fact it had few rooms and an ugly exterior. It pirated away a good deal of play during the junket era. … The Aladdin can do the same thing today. The hotels are much larger, but the player-to-visitor volume is lower than it’s ever been.

 

“The good news in all of this is, the one who does it first in each section of the Strip is going to dramatically increase its player counts, win, and profitability.”

 

In his foreword, Institute for the Study of Gambling Director William Eadington gives Friedman credit for attempting to quantify interior design as it affects players. Although he falls short of endorsing all of

Friedman’s theory, he notes, “This is heady stuff. If Friedman’s arguments are right, then modern conventional casino design standards are akin to what 18th century doctors prescribed for many of their patients: bleeding for the purpose of ridding the body of ‘bad blood.’ If Friedman’s arguments are right, then there are opportunities for casinos all over Nevada, and all over the world, to alter their interior designs and capture market share,and to increase revenues and financial performance even if there is no competition for them to confront.”

 

Adds UNLV International Gaming Institute Executive Director Shannon Bybee,”The sheer audacity of attempting to analyze 81 casinos and identify their physical aspects of the operation that correlate with success is to be admired.”

 

And he’s right.

 

Whether the casino industry’s titans endorse Friedman’s principles and observations, or believe he falls short of the mark, they ought to respect and admire his effort.

 

In an industry hooked on hype and riddled with copycats, Bill Friedman’s constructive criticism is refreshing.

 

 

John L. Smith (smith@lvrj.com) is a Review-Journal columnist.

 

The 13 Friedman Design Principles:

 

  1. A physically segmented casino beats an open barn.

 

  1. Gambling equipment immediately inside casino entrances beats vacant

raised entrance landings and empty lobbies.

 

  1. Short lines of sight beat extensive visible depth.

 

  1. The maze layout beats long, wide, straight passageways and aisles.

 

  1. A compact and congested gambling-equipment layout beats a vacant and

spacious floor layout.

 

  1. An organized gambling-equipment layout with focal points of interest

beats a floor layout that lacks a sense of organization.

 

  1. Segregated, sit-down facilities beat contiguous ones.

 

  1. Low ceilings beat high ceilings.

 

  1. The gambling equipment as the decor beats impressive and memorable

decorations.

 

  1. Standard decor beats interior casino themes.

 

  1. Pathways emphasizing the gambling equipment beat the Yellow Brick Road.

 

  1. Visitor perception beats reality.

 

  1. Multiple interior settings and gambling ambiances beat a single

atmosphere throughout.

 

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