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Game Changers

Online Gambling, COVID Protocols Dramatically Impact Casino Hotel Landscape

By Dennis Nessler | June 15, 2021

While the impact of COVID on casino hotels has been profound, it’s the continued emergence of online gambling that is likely to have a longer reaching impact on the casino landscape going forward, according to a trio of designers.

During last week’s BITAC Casino Resorts Virtual Connect 2021, the executives took part in a panel discussion entitled “Game Changer: New Safety Protocols Redefine Casino Hotel Design.” The group opined on a handful of topics, including the trend toward using mobile devices to gamble, the impact of the pandemic on food & beverage as well as how the overall layout of the casino has been altered.

Rick Marencic—design principal, studio director for JCJ Architecture’s Phoenix, AZ office—detailed what he sees as the biggest game changer.

“I think the advent of sports betting in various states is going to shift the whole paradigm into a direction that will be more inclusive of a lot of different people that simply don’t want to play slots, but they like to bet on sports. I see that as a very interesting shift and perhaps it may be the thing that does draw in more people of more ages,” he said, after previously noting, “the younger demographic is the most sought-after demographic and it still is in many ways elusive.”

Floss Barber, Principal & CEO, Floss Barber, Inc.—a Philadelphia-based interior design firm—reinforced the point and the potential impact.

“I also see that betting on your own device is going to cut into the casinos. I’m finding in Philadelphia major 40,000 square-foot restaurants for sports gaming where you can bring your own device. So there’s no gambling by the facility, but you’re personally gaming. I see casinos wanting to up the ante on those experiences in the states where you can have a restaurant and bring your own device and watch sports and bet. Casinos will up the experience to draw that customer to them,” she commented.

Jose Angel Sueiro, COO, PH Resorts Group—an all-inclusive resort brand based in Manila, Philippines—also emphasized the evolution of technology, not just within the U.S. but globally.

“I think the biggest change with the pandemic is the acceleration of integration between the online and the land-based worlds. So now the big challenge is how to really make it seamless, how to be able to keep the same the same levels of experience on these different platforms,” he said.

Meanwhile, Barber explained how the overall layout of the casino has been impacted by the pandemic, at least for the time being.

“I think there’s been an attempt to have the direction of traffic of people moving in one direction so it cuts down on the gathering of people and obviously we’ve had the plastic divisions between players…People are hungry to play and want to get back and they want more tables and more action. When we get through this, I don’t think this is a long-term stay. I think that it will go away,” she commented.

Marencic also sees some of the changes as short-term in nature.

“One thing I really have noticed talking to clients is other than putting in a lot of acrylic and making plexiglass companies rich they’ve basically said we’re going do this and then we’re going to take it all out. We’re going to go back to the way we had it before because that’s what our customers prefer,” he said.

Conversely, Marencic did point out that he believes many of the new cleanliness protocols are not going anywhere.

“That’s going to stay, I think people are now attuned to the idea of having something clean and they’re probably going to keep wanting it that way, especially with hotel rooms. Having recently traveled and been in several hotel rooms I was like, ‘oh this is nice, this is a lot cleaner than I’ve ever seen it,’” he noted.

Meanwhile, the future of food & beverage remains a little more ambiguous.

“The buffet is still on the fence as to whether it’s going to stay or go. It will probably stay in some properties and it will probably get transformed in other properties. You can have a slimmer menu, but higher quality and something that appeals to a younger audience in terms of healthiness,” said Marencic.

Barber also weighed in on changes within food & beverage, citing what she sees a longer-term trend.

“There is a return to the booth, a return to a pod where you go in and it’s not like communal seating, it’s more niche seating. I think that did come from COVID, [having] your own pod and your own group. There is something very positive about that and romantic and you have some intimacy by the design of the layout. I think that is here and it will stay,” said Barber.

Finally, the panelists unilaterally expressed optimism when it comes to the future outlook of the segment.

Sueiro, for his part, thinks that casinos have at least one major advantage coming out of the events of the past 15 months.

“Playing is an emotion and emotions don’t disappear because of a pandemic. It’s a crisis, a crisis has a beginning, a middle and an end, so we are we are close to the end now. We are very fortunate being an industry that depends on a pure basic human emotion,” he said.

Marencic acknowledged that project activity has been picking up.

“We’re getting busy right now, especially in the last couple months. I said ‘well this is the year of the Ox and what does that mean? It just means we’re all going to be working really hard because we got to make up for all the time that we were still working hard, but there wasn’t a lot to do. Now it’s catch-up time so I think we’ve got to work hard and smart,” he said.

Barber reflected on her extensive experience as she touted similar attributes as critical to a full recovery.

“Those who are persistent will make it through this. I’ve been through three downturns and I can tell you that each one you’re smarter, you’re clearer, and things have been sorted out. I’m very optimistic; I see very big money coming out. I’m very optimistic for a very good future for gaming, restaurants, and hotels. It takes a little patience and persistence,” said Barber.

Dennis Nessler

Dennis Nessler is Editor-in-Chief of Hotel Interactive, parent company of Hotel Community Forum. Nessler brings more than 28 years of editorial experience to his position, including some 17 years in the hospitality industry. As part of his duties, Nessler not only covers the industry editorially but moderates various high-level panel sessions at hospitality events and frequently conducts one-on-one interviews with C-level executives.

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