Casino designers suggest resorts take an approach where ‘guests and staff feel safe’

Casino designers suggest resorts take an approach where ‘guests and staff feel safe’

  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
May 4, 2020 11:00 AM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

Casino designers at JCJ Architecture have years of experience working with commercial and tribal gaming operators in creating resort properties that support customer interaction in multiple public areas.

Today, with social spacing in a COVID-19 world the new operating procedure, Bob Gdowski, JCJ’s principal director of hospitality design, said the Connecticut-based company is conducting different discussions with its clients.

“We’re having a tremendous amount of dialogue because everyone’s property is unique,” Gdowski said. “How to get properties back to the market where customers feel comfortable and safe is the starting point. To make guests and staff feel safe requires a two-pronged approach including both scientifically-proven measures as well as those that provide psychological comfort.”

The nationwide casino industry is fast approaching two months since governors, regulators, and tribal governments ordered the closures of nearly 1,000 casinos in 43 states in an effort to slow the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Bob Gdowski, JCJ Architecture

The focus has now turned toward reopening the gaming and entertainment businesses under protocols covering social distancing, hygiene, the use of personal protection equipment (PPE), sanitation, disinfecting, and cleaning procedures. Plans are being developed by regulators and casino operators.

Also, gaming property leaders want to assure a customer audience that has been on lockdown for several weeks that it’s okay to travel once again.

Rick Marencic, JCJ’s design principal for interiors, said the two concepts can work together.

“There are little things that we can do from the interior design perspective that hit on the cleanliness of a hotel room or casino area,” he said.

JCJ, which has offices in seven states, has been involved in design elements of tribal and commercial casinos in numerous states, including New York, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The company is currently working with the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma on design elements for the tribe’s $500 million expansion of its flagship resort in Durant, Oklahoma.

Right now, there is no timetable for casinos to reopen. A tribal casino in Idaho reopened on a limited basis last week, and Mississippi’s governor said he hopes casinos will relaunch operations in the state by Memorial Day.

Gdowski and Marencic offered several suggested changes in operations as casinos look to get back to work once states lift stay-at-home orders and non-essential businesses are allowed to reopen.

Some of the changes may require modifications to current designs. For example, valet parking operations may be eliminated, which would necessitate an expansion to self-parking areas.

Hotel lobbies may need to adapt in size because of social distancing requirements, which could eliminate seating areas. Casinos might consider setting aside certain gaming areas for guests who are more susceptible to infectious diseases, such as those patrons aged 65 and over.

“Creating an emotional connection (or) sense of place by embracing a guest with limited physical contact is a challenge,” Gdowski said. He suggested casinos look to engage guests in a current “touch-sensitive society” by appealing to other senses, such as sight, sound, smell, and taste.

Rick Marencic, JCJ Architecture

Some simple changes at the property could include room signage that would indicate a “clean” or disinfected room. For room remodels or new hotel developments, designers can utilize finishes that are non-porous, smooth, and easy to clean. Marencic said hotels could eventually evolve into more “connecting suites,” allowing for in-room dining.

The designers believe many of the restaurants included in the initial wave of casino reopening efforts will offer more “grab-and-go” types of menu items for initial distancing and public safety.

“We’re going to see different trends in design,” Marencic said.

While casinos will looking to adapt their current configurations – in Nevada, state gaming regulators are requiring fewer seats at table games and more space between slot machines – designers will need to adapt quickly to any unforeseen changes in the operational structure.

“Many properties have enormous footprints, with a tremendous amount of generosity built into them,” Gdowski said. “We are going to have to take back some of the generosity, and get smarter about how we use existing spaces, without compromising on the quality or quantity of experiences.”

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.