High Rollin' Retreats

Remember the days of the spartan casino hotel guestroom? When operators put all their bells and whistles — literally — into the casino? When the last thing they wanted was a guest whiling away precious gambling time in room? When the standard guestroom typically had the most limited TV programming and meager furnishings? As for premium movie channels and mini-bars — forget about it.

Of course those days are long gone — gone the way of the Rat Pack and Elvis sightings. Gaming is still king, but there's big bucks to be made in food and beverage, retail and in-room entertainment. Casino hotels today compete to create the ultimate lodging experience, with the latest in-room amenities, technological gizmos and high-end design elements.

New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas recently invested more than $30 million in remodeling 1,400 of its deluxe guestrooms, aiming for a “stylish retreat.” New room amenities include a 27-inch flat screen television; a desk equipped with high-speed Internet access; an ultra-plush bed; a glass shower enclosure; and closets replaced by multi-functional, lighted armoires allowing for a dramatically larger entryway.

“In the past, except for the penthouse or other high-roller rooms, it was about putting heads in the bed for just a bit and not doing anything that would keep guests in the room,” says Tom McCartney, senior vice president of marketing and development for New York-New York. “The goal was to make it far more appealing downstairs, to the point of even limiting TV channels. Now, we provide language channels to accommodate our international guests, we have radio stations and TV channels from other parts of the country and even radio through cable to provide a variety of music selections.”

New York-New York's former funky metro-deco look with its chrome-and-blonde-wood scheme, has been replaced by warmer, more residential rooms with rich tones of blue and brown. An iridescent golden wall cover introduces a fun accent.

“Our directive to the designer (Cleo Design, Las Vegas) was to provide an environment that is stylish, comfortable and cosmopolitan and with some unexpected pleasures,” continues McCartney. “We use the senses as our guiding light in room design. The casino industry is so dynamic and exciting by nature. People come here to have their senses titillated. What was exciting three years ago might not be the case today, so you have to design with that in mind.”

Whereas guests used to be impressed with Jacuzzis and double-head showers, for example, now it's more common to have them at home, which raises the bar on guest expectations, says McCartney. “We're always looking to the next evolution in design. And Las Vegas has a great ability to continually reinvent itself every time that bar is raised. This city knows how to reassess, respond and reinvent.”

Today's casino hotel guests are more sophisticated and design-savvy and less impressed by the kitschy theming of the past. Atlantic City's Borgata, Las Vegas' Venetian and Bellagio hotels, and to some extent, Mandalay Bay, left the theming out of the guestrooms, focusing on pure luxury, observes McCartney.

SOPHISTICATED SANCTUARY

Vying for the title as the most chic and forward concept yet is the just-opened Skylofts at MGM Grand. Described by its promoters as “a rare and private sanctuary of sleek, elegant two-story accommodations high above the spectacle of the Las Vegas Strip,” the new, $65-million Skylofts with their 24-foot floor-to-ceiling windows offer the very well-heeled and discerning visitor an indulgent yet understated and elegant urban loft experience as envisioned by renowned architect and designer Tony Chi.

With 51 units located on the top two floors of the MGM Grand, Skylofts is billed as a hotel within a hotel, with its own website, reservations, separate elevators, service and butler staff.

The vibe is incredibly sleek and sexy. “We didn't want the heavy, overstuffed luxury of some of the hotels here, not that there's anything wrong with it,” says David Van Kalsbeek, senior vice president, sales and marketing, MGM Grand. “It's more like an urban apartment you'd find in New York or Milan; it's contemporary but oozes luxury.”

And very large — the smallest unit is 1,400 square feet — four times the size of a typical five-star hotel room, says Van Kalsbeek.

The bathroom boasts 350-600 square feet of space, highlighted by the “Immersion Chamber,” a decadent shower experience, including a steam room and complemented by spectacular views of the city. The bath also features an infinity-edge tub with a “champagne bubbles” massage function.

A large part of the budget was dedicated to the most advanced technology. Guests are able to create their preferred environment through use of custom-designed remote controls that operate TV, DVD, radio, draperies, temperature and lighting. Custom-designed HDTV audio-visual equipment is integrated within each suite, along with 32-inch LCD monitors at every tub and televisions placed within the mirror in each bathroom.

Designer Chi believes Las Vegas has an opportunity to create a unique experience for visitors — to build an internal beauty apart from its reputation as “sin city,” and that Skylofts contributes to that goal. “We tried to create a city within a city,” says Chi. “There should be a venue for all demographics and taste levels. Taste is such a subjective thing, and I can't say that Skylofts is better designed than the rest of the 4,000 rooms in the property. I can only say it's different.

“Our design philosophy is to make design go away; it's not about the design — it's about the guest's time, their experience, their life — time to spend in Las Vegas no matter what they're doing. The wow factor eventually wears off and I'd rather have the internal beauty that goes on for years.”

That said, what about that bathroom? “We spent an obscene amount of money on the bathroom because we think the bathroom is the most critical part of life,” laughs Chi. “You could have a party in that bathroom.”

EASY ELEGANCE

High-end casino hotels are moving away from the themed guestroom, adds Gustin Tan, AIA, design partner for Brennan Beer Gorman Monk Interiors. A good example of this trend is the recently opened and elegantly designed rooms at The Lodge at Turning Stone. As part of the Turning Stone Casino Resort, it's located in upstate New York and owned by the Oneida Indian Nation.

The owners were looking to branch out beyond a local attraction: to draw a more upscale population from as far north as Canada and farther south to New York City and beyond. In addition to expanded golf facilities and event space, the owners turned to BBG-BBGM to design the 20-story, 280-key Tower Hotel and smaller, high-end Lodge.

The four story Lodge (The term “lodge” is misleading, says Tan; it's a timeless, classic space with clean, contemporary lines) features 98 luxuriously appointed suites including ceilings nearly 10 feet high with the living room and separate bedroom joined by a pair of elegant wood and frosted glass French doors.

The living room features flexible, comfortable seating in a classic contemporary style. In the bedroom, the bed is flanked by glass-topped wooden side tables resting below simple, elegant wall sconces. The bedroom includes an overstuffed lounge chair and ottoman, as well as a television in a custom-designed millwork cabinet.

A big feature at the resort, as in many casino hotel guest-rooms, is a greatly enhanced bathroom. “Where possible, the bathroom should be on a grander scale,” says Tan, “because of that idea of escaping the everyday.” To that end, the lodge features four-fixture bathrooms with carefully designed lighting and sumptuous soaking tubs.

“Sophisticated and well-traveled guests expect the casino hotel guest-room to be as luxurious and up to the same international standards as a non-casino hotel,” says Tan. “And that includes the same levels of advanced technology, comfort and luxury.”

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