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Blackjack in the Bay State

© JCJ Architects
By Paul Van Kauwenberg, PE, LEED AP
January 25, 2016

With the opening of the Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville earlier this summer, casino gambling is officially finally here and will now only continue to grow. With the Wynn and MGM projects moving forward and now the Mashpee Wampanoag project as well, there will certainly be impacts coming to the construction community in what is already a very busy time for all those in the middle of the construction boom. 

Regardless of where you may stand on the subject of gambling in Massachusetts, the numbers are impressive. For the Plainridge Park Casino for example, the first month in operation saw $18.1 million in gross gaming revenue. The first week in operation alone saw $6.1 million in revenue - nearly a million dollars a day! Once the larger full resort casinos coming down the road are completed, it is estimated that the casinos in Massachusetts will produce $300 million to $500 million annually in new revenue to the state.

With these kinds of revenues on the line, it’s easy to understand why the casino design and construction world is a high risk and high reward environment. As soon as it is decided that a casino is to be built, it is already late. Schedules are extremely accelerated, and it is critical that both the design and construction teams understand that the process involved of putting these projects together is far from typical. Programming and design times are significantly reduced - and therefore designs can be very fluid early on as the project evolves and the final concepts determined. Many times, areas like food service venues may not be fully determined until later in the project. In these cases, the appropriate MEP services need to be planned for and installed to support these future venues. In addition, significant impacts can happen on the architecture and interior designs of the base building as well. Therefore the design and construction teams have to remain very flexible and be prepared to react and adjust as needed.  

Gaming projects are rarely utilizing the traditional design-bid-build project execution strategy. Multiple bid packages are the way of life - with a heavy emphasis on “multiple”!  It is certainly important to establish early on what will be the critical milestones for all the design and construction team members, and outline a schedule the team will commit to. Many times the major subcontractors are brought on board early as well, long before the design drawings are complete. This allows for greater collaboration, as well as obtaining additional input on the designs to help to make them as efficient as possible from a construction time and cost standpoint.  

For the design team, separate document packages for foundations, underground MEP, structural, long lead MEP, food service equipment, interior design, signage, etc. are typical, and all require coordination with each other. As one can see by walking through many of the casino resorts in Las Vegas, the interior designs in these facilities are nothing short of amazing, and can be extremely complicated and intense. These interior designs require significant coordination with major mechanical infrastructure that typically exists as well as with custom lighting fixtures, high densities of surveillance and audio/visual systems, and fire protection systems.  All of this coordination is typically taking place and being finalized while the project is well into construction, due to the need to get the property open as soon as possible. 

For the construction team, management of the multiple bid packages and associated cost impacts becomes a very important piece to the puzzle. The updated coordination the design team is going through can impact many trades and certainly leads to heavy stress on the construction team. With the number of subcontractors involved, sourcing of high-end finishes and materials that often can be from overseas, required time the Owner needs to install gaming machines, etc, managing this process becomes very critical for success. The casino design and construction process can certainly be a stressful one; but with the right players involved early and all parties understanding the process required along with the typical fluidity of this project type -  a successful gaming project can be achieved!