Home The Great Age Divide and the Need for Multigenerational Appeal

The Great Age Divide and the Need for Multigenerational Appeal

Author’s Note: With an estimated 50 percent of visitors to Las Vegas being Gen X and Millennials (Gen Y) by 2015, Native American casinos can expect a similar evolution in their customer base in the coming years. Understanding the characteristics endemic to each generation and the shifting values and attitudes is critical. Design must keep pace with technological advancements and broaden the reach of the gaming property to include generations of younger patrons while maintaining a comfortable and appealing gaming experience for the traditional guest profile.

The oldest Native American casino in New Mexico, Santa Ana Star Casino recently underwent extensive renovation to give it a fresh, lively atmosphere. Photo by Patrick Coulie Architectural Photography
The oldest Native American casino in New Mexico, Santa Ana Star Casino recently underwent extensive renovation to give it a fresh, lively atmosphere. Photo by Patrick Coulie Architectural Photography
In an age where discretionary spending is circumspect, gaming markets are becoming saturated and the casino’s core customer is aging out, competition for the customers’ dollar has become a central focus of property development. Today’s challenge is not simply to build it bigger, faster and better than the competition, but to build it in a way that readily adapts to the ever-evolving entertainment landscape.

For decades, the maxim of casino design was to create an optimal setting in which prolonged gambling was encouraged, combining the seductive allure of the big win with minimal cues about the time of day and limited exit points. Part psychological exercise, part strategic planning and part visual and sensory experience, casino design alchemizes the physical environment with an optimal operational model. These elements have formed the foundation of creating successful gaming properties, but they must now shift in response to a hyperbolic technical evolution.

Technology has created fundamental changes in our society and insinuated its way into every corner of our lives. No longer do we need to leave the comfort of our homes to work, be entertained, obtain an education, shop or receive medical advice. Our personal communications can be simultaneously instant and global, and social interaction is conducted virtually as often as it is personally. Even the most techno-dysfunctional among us feel naked and alone if we leave the house without our personal communication and information tether—our cell phone. The personalization of technology, combined with the aging customer base, necessitates a re-evaluation of casino design.

Today’s physical casino competes with a myriad of entertainment options, including the burgeoning Internet gambling industry. Gaining traction worldwide, this mode of gambling is a direct outgrowth of technology that began with the first digital computer games of the 1980s. Currently estimated at $2.9 billion worldwide, Internet gaming is in its infancy and seen as the natural medium of play for the generation of gamers raised on electronics.

Once the sole purview of arcades, the video game has grown into a ubiquitous form of entertainment—whether at home or in a mobile environment. Gaming has evolved from a single-user game interface to multi-user global communities. The technology behind these advancements has taken gaming—and now gambling—beyond the individual and into the realm of socially oriented and interactive multiplayer games. While Internet gambling hasn’t reached the level of sophistication of some video games, the technology is in place for it to capture a noteworthy portion of the gambling market.

This is clearly an industry on the edge of a major shift. The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates as many as 1,700 off-shore gambling websites—many of which are unregulated and illegal—have an annual market estimated at $4 billion to $6 billion. A study conducted by SuperData Research (of Morgan Stanley Research) cites an increase in Internet-based social gambling by 160 percent since 2010 while social i-gaming increased a mere 40 percent over the same time period. Platforms such as Facebook and Zynga provide the foundation for a powerful convergence of social media and gambling that appeals to the next generation of casino patrons—Gen Xers and Millennials. No longer confined to brick and mortar, casino-style entertainment is now a mere keystroke or finger swipe away!

So how do traditional, land-based casinos compete with these rival forces when the entertainment industry as a whole has been so significantly affected by technology and the Internet? When the one-armed bandit standing in regal formation across the casino floor does not have the same caché or appeal to tomorrow’s casino patron who has been raised in an immersive, digital era? When the traditional, core gaming customer is beginning to age out of the marketplace?

We need to meet these challenges head on.

The industry can learn from studies being conducted on the impact various generations are having on the workplace. Design professionals—working in this industry or any other—have a responsibility to understand this evolving customer base and adapt design solutions to meet their needs and expectations without alienating existing populations. An awareness of developing trends and sensitivity to the casino operator’s business model is the first step in making the transition from the casinos-of-old to the next generation of casino entertainment. As the gaming operator refines their business strategy to focus on an evolving customer experience, a strategic partnership with the design team can help bring a plan together to entice a new generation of guests to the casino to experience a unique entertainment experience that has a broad spectrum of appeal.

The Evolving Face of Today’s Consumer
While not written in stone, each generation has its idiosyncrasies and defining moments that distinguish it from others and influence the design of entertainment properties.

Viejas Casino & Resort worked with JCJ Architecture to develop a hip, signature hotel property alongside dramatic renovations to F&B venue. Inset photo by Misha Bruk, Bruk Studios
Viejas Casino & Resort worked with JCJ Architecture to develop a hip, signature hotel property alongside dramatic renovations to F&B venue. Inset photo by Misha Bruk, Bruk Studios
Baby Boomers, who comprise more than 25 percent of the total U.S. population, have been the primary demographic of the casino guest for the past few decades. Often portrayed as a generation of optimists, explorers and achievers, Baby Boomers helped change the face of America in the post-war era. This group brought the workplace from a homogenous, male-dominated environment to one of increased diversity in both race and gender; they reflected the political and social changes of the nation and had a corollary influence on the entertainment industry.

Generation X, or the “MTV” generation, is quickly replacing the Boomers as the predominant audience patronizing casinos across the nation. Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xers grew up in an era of rapid technological advancement where video games began to proliferate. Though significantly smaller in number than Boomers, this group is often characterized as adaptable, independent and a group looking for increased diversification of the casino environment encompassing nongaming amenities. Differentiation and brand awareness have become the guiding mantras of both casino design and offerings in the wake of this generation.

The youngest generation currently in the workforce, Millennials (Gen Y) are the most digitally savvy generation to influence the gaming environment. Accustomed to the near instantaneous feedback and rewards the digital world offers, they are reshaping the way we think about entertainment. This generation is nearly twice the size of Gen Xers—positioning them to have a greater, long-term impact on the gaming industry. These digital natives are as comfortable in the virtual world of social media as they are in any environment. The line between digital media and reality is blurred, and they might just as readily spend their downtime and discretionary funds on Internet-based gaming sites, which provide instant gratification, as make the effort to drive to a casino.

It is at this generational and technological crossroads where the opportunity to reshape the gaming environment of the future presents itself. By demanding fresh and lively environments where instant gratification and group interaction are fundamental components of the overall experience, Millennials stand to broaden the spectrum of casino entertainment into new and uncharted places. Gaming technology is evolving to meet this generation’s demanding standards, and floor design and casino environments will follow suit as arena-style gaming, multiplayer communities and gambling-oriented social networking gain ground.

Unsettled economic conditions and market saturation combined with this new paradigm will require operators to reassess their offerings and become nimble in the face of technical advancement and consumer expectations. The focus on the customer will lead to a new type of growth as properties seek to adapt and appeal to multiple demographics. Regardless of particularities of each generation, successful casino design must address the following aspects of the gaming business:

Culture—creating environments that reinforce the brand identity of the gaming enterprise and are unique to each owner and situation.

Adaptability—ensuring that today’s casino design is not outdated before construction is even complete and providing the infrastructure to support evolving technologies, planning and forecasting to enable adaption to the ever-evolving expectations of the casino guest. Operational efficiencies are essential to the success of a casino and should not be overlooked.

Atmosphere—the essence of a place that permeates the consumers’ perception of quality and character. A biological experience that involves all five senses across space and time.

Packaging—tying it all together: games, amenities, environment, marketing and promotions. The whole must be greater than the sum of the parts.

Yield—risk management at its core: return on investment. The days of lavish budgets and an endless market demand are long gone. Strategic and prudent capital investments define the decision-making process.

Today, the challenge of casino interior design is no longer the creation of an optimal setting in which prolonged gambling is encouraged; instead, it is the creation of an optimal setting in which prolonged entertainment and broad social interaction are encouraged. Technology and generational idiosyncrasies shape the way we think about, process and implement design and the environment. It remains to be seen how today’s youth—the Digital Generation—will affect the design of entertainment environments. In the meantime, let us mix one part psychoanalysis with one part organizational planning and one part magic!

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