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Eye On Interior Design: Challenges ln Designing A Riverboat Casino

From meeting numerous special fire codes and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) regulations, to special design concerns and complying with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), designing a riverboat casino requires intense planning to make it functional and profitable.

The Riverboat Gaming Boom Design firms are starting to recognize the profitability of the riverboat gaming industry. James P. Colie & Assoc. of Hollywood, Fla. is a design firm which currently focuses on cruise and riverboat refurbishment, but is actively seeking to move into the riverboat casino market. James Colie, president, said the Great Lakes is going to open up a lot of business for the riverboat gaming industry. "Maybe one day we'll even see a boat in Chicago," said Mr. Colie.

Shirley LaFollette, owner and design director of Interior Design International Inc. (IDI), a Seattle, Wash.-based design firm specializing in the hospitality and marine industry, sees lots of growth in the riverboat gaming market, especially internationally.

Petrochemical Services, Inc. (PSI), a full-service marine deck coverings company based in New Orleans, did about 22 percent of its business in riverboat gaming boats last year. Jake Giardina, general manager of flooring at PSI predicts that PSI's business will grow along with the market. And about 50 percent of this year's business for St. Louis-based Directions in Design (DID) was marine-related.

About 90 percent of that marine business was in the riverboat gaming market. Jeanine Bequette, vice president, agrees that there will be tremendous growth in the riverboat gaming industry.

The Design Process Ms. Bequette said owners are looking for a full range of designs for their riverboats-from understated to outrageous-depending on their target market. She cites a recent project DID completed, the Players Riverboat Casino at Merv Griffin's Landing in Lake Charles, La., which merged traditional and 70 contemporary themes. Most design firms agree, however, that owners are seeking "Las Vegas glitz" for their riverboat casino vessels. PSI delivered and installed all the deck coverings on the Player's Riverboat Casino II, built at Leevac Shipyard in Louisiana.

Many who come to IDI have their own themes in mind, but there are also many times when IDI's design team works with customers to develop a theme. For example, the owners of Alton Belle Casino II wanted a "Romanesque" theme from IDI. To get a feel for the theme, Ms. LaFollette went to Las Vegas to visit the casino "Caeser's Palace," but the actual design was much more intensive a task. IDI had to develop new lighting systems for the vessel and thousands of lights are incorporated into the design. The customdesigned lighting took a full three months to gain USCG approval: part of the challenge of working on a riverboat casino.

Riverboat Casinos: Design Challenges A lot more time and energy has to be devoted to a riverboat casino when compared to a land-based operation. For IDI, the toughest tasks have to do with the ceiling work. "The ceilings in riverboats are like swiss cheese," says Ms. LaFollette. The lack of space between decks on the riverboats (six inches, as opposed to about two feet between floors in landbased casinos) as well as the air ducts, handlers and vents, and elaborate security systems and smoke cleaning systems (all of which the designers have to work around) makes designing the ceilings and lights of a riverboat casino a trying task. "Designers are getting less and less space to design in, yet newer casinos are calling for more and more elaborate designs," says Ms. LaFollette. Another problem IDI encounters is the cash carts on riverboat casinos. The cash carts are reportedly very heavy - always banging into walls. Problems such as these limit the designers in terms of design elements. For example, a designer might avoid designing rooms with floor length mirrors because there is a strong possibility the mirrors would be damaged by the cash carts. It is not economical for an owner to have to delay a cruise to repair a design element. Another challenge is the lack of flat surfaces on the boats. The fact that most surfaces are not flat calls for special considerations when having to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA calls for the installation of handicapped entrances and exits; ramps prove to be particularly difficult to build on non-flat surfaces. Decks fall away from entrances, meaning t h a t workers, especially those working on flooring, have to float underlaying materials at those points. For example, on the Players Riverboat Casino II the slot machines are mounted to the floor. The studs from the mount penetrate the floor, while at the same time rising a little bit above it. When laying carpet in the riverboat casino, PSI had to work around those studs.

The Psychology Of Color "In a casino you need to use color psychology," says Ms. LaFollette. At IDI, the color marketing group, of which Ms. LaFollette is the international color consultant, picks 10 color directions for the year. These colors are what the company will base paints, floor coverings, furniture, and other elements of design on. When working in the marine industry, certain colors, like yellows and yellow-greens, are avoided because they are likely to cause seasickness. Casinos are often designed in purples, reds, oranges - any color in the red family. "Red colors excite people," says Ms. LaFollette. Ms.

Bequette concurs, adding, "Red slows the passage of time." Red also reportedly brings vital signs up 18- 20 percent. Blues, however, are not as widely used in casinos because of their calming effect. The lighting is dim in casinos - usually amber-colored - so the extreme brightness of the colors used in the casino is softened. The amount of people who frequent the riverboat casinos also has an impact on the design. For example, busy patterns are used for the carpeting to hide the signs of wear and tear from the immense traffic flow.

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