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The Eco-Casino

(Originally published in Casino Journal, September 2010, Cover Story)
To view or download a PDF of this article, click here.

By Eric Hansel

As I Imagine Myself in the Gaming Resort of the Future, the Year Is 2020, and Green Energy and Efficiencies Have Overtaken the Industry

The "green gambler" of the future will be a gambler who enjoys what other gamblers enjoy, but like the consumer who is realizing the long-term health benefits of organic foods, they will also want to enjoy themselves and their gambling experience in an eco-friendly manner. Casinos will not only be judged by cost, by their games and payouts, the quality of the dining and the entertainment they provide, but by how they provide them. It is an exciting time. New leaders in the industry are emerging with wonderful ideas about how to deliver a great experience, generate profits and save the environment at the same time.

As you drive up to my casino of tomorrow, the first thing you notice is that the entrance has some of the same plants and flowers and trees that you and your neighbors have at home. But do you realize that there is not only an aesthetic reason for doing this but a definite financial one as well? When you use plants that are indigenous to the climate you're located in, where they are accustomed to the weather and local conditions, especially the average annual rainfall, they thrive, and this makes the job of watering them nearly obsolete.

Drive up a little farther and you see massive windmills in the distance. As you look closer you start to see signs inviting anyone to come and visit this wind and solar farm that is generating enough power to cover 45 percent of the casino's annual electricity needs. Growing within and around the installation are the organic vegetables and fruits used in the restaurants. This mixed-use cooperative farm also has helped educate an entire workforce about how to build, produce energy and farm in a more natural and, ultimately, a cheaper and better way.

Which brings me to a point about CityCenter on the Las Vegas Strip and the way in which they innovated by bringing on an "executive lighting consultant," a company called Illuminating Concepts based in Farmington Hills, Mich.

CityCenter is the first gaming resort to have a company serve in this capacity, underscoring the vital role that specialists like IC can play in coordinating, managing and implementing project-wide lighting packages that can span even the 17 million square feet of CityCenter. No small feat. Over the course of the project's development lifespan, IC managed, directed or collaborated with 17 other lighting designers and consultants.

Whereas in most projects the lighting design, integration, procurement and documentation work are awarded to a number of partners and distributors, the visionaries at CityCenter saw the value and ultimate success in having one firm manage nearly the entire process.

"We've found this to be a differentiator for our company," says Ron Harwood, IC's president and founder. "There can potentially be a disconnect between a designer's vision and the logistical, practical application of a contractor's bidding and construction process. To satisfy both the grandeur of the designer's visualization and the less glamorous world of codes, standards, specifications and electrical engineering, we brought the entire spectrum in-house." "Executive Lighting Director" is definitely a position found within our green casino of the future because it blends vision with procurement, style and efficiency.

Green Gratification

CityCenter, the industry's largest sustainable development to date, is also in the vanguard. They worked with a vendor to develop a new slot machine base that diverts heat from the front of the machines to heat other areas of the property.

Similarly, CityCenter's cogeneration plant has increased energy efficiency by around 30 percent by pulling waste heat from energy to satisfy the resort's domestic hot water needs.

CityCenter co-owner MGM Resorts International also has retrained close to 10,000 workers to enter tomorrow's "green" workforce. Doing this helps out their economic bottom line, for sure, but also ensures there will be people skilled in sustainable development for years to come. Casinos today usually have building management systems, but they're used to run the facility, not identify areas for improvement.

In the end, the savings generated by using creativity and ingenuity in pursuit of energy sustainability leads to an improved customer experience and an improved workforce experience and can contribute to new profi ts going forward even in times of fl at or declining revenue.

And we can actually make customers more comfortable by optimizing energy usage. Over the past few years we have seen what green can mean for some of our properties, but it's not enough. We need to do a better job as an industry both in implementing more energy conservation measures and also talking about the initiatives that we do complete. The more we can all understand about what's out there and what can be done, the faster this industry will be able to thrive in this new economy.

Funny thing is, you don't need to wait until 2020, or even 2012, because a lot of these initiatives are in place already, and the experts are out there to help your team reach its sustainability goals. The challenge for operators will be fi nding that right balance at the beginning so they can enjoy some short-term paybacks while getting to see how well their decision to move toward green is working out over the long term. A shorter time to ROI should make them want to explore more options.

CityCenter, the industry's largest sustainable development to date, worked with a vendor to develop a new slot machine base that diverts heat from the front of the machines to heat other areas of the property. Similarly, the resort's cogeneration plant has increased energy effi ciency by around 30 percent by pulling waste heat to satisfy the property's domestic hot water needs.

About the Author

Eric Hansel is chairman of the Sustainable Gaming Standards Committee and founder of EGM Green. EGM Green, headquartered in New Jersey, designs and manufactures eco-friendly casino tables, gaming equipment and furniture and also provides LEED services and green consulting to the industry. Hansel is a board member of his local branch of the United States Green Building Council.

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