Full House on the Boardwalk

Feb. 10, 2005
Atlantic City’s Borgata seamlessly integrates high-tech with design
Let’s face it, Atlantic City gets something of a bad rap. The city that once inspired the blue-chip Boardwalk and Park Place squares on the Monopoly game board has in recent years conjured dour images of seedy streets and tired venues. But today, Atlantic City is struggling to reinvent itself, and nothing symbolizes the fruits of that struggle more than Borgata, a combination hotel, casino and spa that has added a much-needed touch of class to the city’s famed seaside Boardwalk. With a design that is both responsive and fresh, Borgata evokes the energy and glamour of high-end Las Vegas casinos, and its 2,010 guest rooms and European-style spa are attracting a younger, hip clientele.A joint venture of Boyd Gaming Corporation and MGM MIRAGE, Borgata has set itself apart through design. To realize a distinctive aesthetic, the casino’s management hired several architectural firms, including Marnell Corrao Associates of Las Vegas and Philadelphia’s Bower Lewis and Thrower Architects (BLT). Just as crucial was the choice of the technology team. Early in the design process, BLT brought in Shen Milsom & Wilke, a technology consulting group headquartered in New York City. Founded in 1986, SM&W, an NSCA member company, now boasts an international practice, offering comprehensive services in multimedia/audiovisual, IT/telecommunications, building security and acoustics. “We got involved very early on to address all of the technology needs, including the acoustics, the telecommunications systems, the cabling infrastructure, the voltage infrastructure, and the A/V system,” says Tom Shen, director of SM&W’s San Francisco operations.High RollersBorgata’s chief executive, Robert Boughner, took a hands-on role in the overall programming, implementation, and design.“Right from the start, Bob started working on designs and aspects of the look and feel of the property,” recalls David Farlin, Borgata’s vice president of information technology. “His belief was that the audio experience is as important as the color of the walls and the fabric of the curtains.”The result was one of the most advanced A/V environmental systems yet designed. “He wanted a top-notch system that was flexible enough to grow over time, because a casino is a constantly changing environment,” says Shen.But Boughner (pronounced BOW-ner) also wanted an entertainment facility that would appeal to the needs and desires of a demographic that was seldom venturing to Atlantic City at the time: young, upwardly mobile professionals. Instead of targeting busloads of day trippers, Borgata is designed to attract guests who will stay at the resort and fully utilize its shops, restaurants, and other amenities.“It was quickly determined that there was a large group that was not being serviced by the existing Atlantic City products,” recalls Mike Stewart, vice president of architecture for  Marnell Corrao Associates. “Most of these people were vacationing at other destinations, such as Miami or Europe, and if they were gaming, they were flying five hours to Las Vegas rather than driving an hour to Atlantic City.”  A significant market research effort was undertaken to create the perfect environment for enticing this new kind of clientele to Atlantic City. The research revealed that Boughner’s target demographic would be drawn to an upscale, sensual environment in every aspect of a casino resort. For example, BLT’s Interiors group performed extensive research for the fit-out of Borgata’s retail arcade. Mirroring high-end retail spaces, the shops exude world-class quality and service.Formed 30 years ago, Marnell Corrao Associates has long specialized in hotel and casino projects, collaborating on numerous major properties in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and the Midwest with clients that include Wynn Design and Management, MGM MIRAGE, Harrah’s Entertainment, and Boyd Gaming. Borgata management allowed its design teams a free hand in order to encourage a more creative process. “As the market research came back during our design process, we could then  change direction and incorporate that information to tailor the project for the market group,” says Stewart.A Safe BetTo create Boughner’s vision for a full-service casino, the architectural and technology teams strove to make the facility flexible yet cost effective and technologically advanced. The casino’s data center was built on a raised floor to accommodate future growth, and it featured temporary, demountable panels – partitions only built out to the finished ceilings and floors, so they could be easily moved without high cost and without disrupting operations. As it turns out, such flexibility was a wise investment. Less than 18 months after it was completed, the data center is already being expanded. Similarly, to accommodate future growth, the physical infrastructure of the cable pathway was oversized. “We wanted infrastructure that can go into a building and last 15 years,” says Shen. Farlin adds: “When we are ready to expand, this system gives us a nice, consistent framework from which to build and grow off of.An in-house cellular system embedded in the IT infrastructure is capable of carrying traffic from seven different cellular carriers that works off  Borgata’s IT system. The sheer complexity of a facility that houses a hotel tower, a casino, specialty restaurants, retail boutiques, bars, a nightclub and music venue, a comedy club, and spa facilities, demanded that construction proceed in different stages. With approximately 20 separate construction documents, much of the facility was being built while it was being designed. Thus SM&W found itself identifying the technology needs of the data center, network operations center and various telecommunications closets, as well as the distribution of A/V technology amid unusually chaotic conditions. Among the most complicated of the firm’s responsibilities was the design of the casino’s A/V and acoustic monitoring and control systems. SM&W’s experts worked with the architectural and design firms to create more than 26 discrete environmental zones, each of which can be controlled individually to accommodate variations in ambient conditions at different times of day. Typically, a casino’s noise level is highest between 8 pm and midnight, and is lowest in the early hours of the morning. However, because the acoustical environment of a casino is constantly changing, a small army of microphones continually monitors sound levels on Borgata’s casino floor. Automatically, the intelligent zoned background music and paging systems accommodate ambient noise levels to mask excessive sound. “It eliminates having someone walk the floor and say, ‘This is too loud’,” says Shen. The casino’s information services group can control the play list and distribution of music to restaurants and different public spaces.“From a management standpoint, everything is controlled from the network operations center,” says Shen. “It is the centralized location for the background music, paging system, phone network, computer network, and all of the media displays.”As few as two people are required to staff the network operations center and control the entertainment systems.Raising The LimitThe technology and design integration also extends into the guestrooms, each of which offers broadband Internet access. In the high-end suites, entertainment systems feature audiophile-quality home theater  technologies. “When we started this project, not many hotels had high-speed Internet connections in the guestrooms, and the back-of-house functions were loosely connected at best,” says Stewart. “Here there was a conscious effort to make this property as electronic as possible. Farlin adds: “We are able to offer a theater system experience in our standard rooms, and in our residential suites we went totally over the top. In the high-end suites, the theater system features high-definition plasma screen televisions in the living rooms and guest bedrooms. The televisions are all tied into an audiophile sound system that also features a 60 CD/DVD capacity. Music is piped throughout the suite, and video can be sent easily from one television to another within the suite. “That is really the best example of technology integration with the full-suite control of the entire experience,” says Farlin. The mission-critical data network manages the casino, administration, and property management systems. Various levels of redundancies were built into the network operating system, including cable, power, cooling, and systems backups. The majority of the building controls are routed to a fire command center or to a separate security and surveillance center; however, all of this information is supported by a single, ubiquitous IT network.  By having all of the systems go through one wiring specialist, Borgata’s information infrastructure was created with a consistency that allows for easier maintenance by the casino’s IT and facilities management departments.“We have building control, networking, audio systems, and video systems all working along a ‘backbone’ system of closets and distribution paths” says Farlin. “It is nice to know that when you are going to fix something, you are only going to one closet for all five of those aspects instead of having to go to five different closets and five separate raceways and five different pathways.”Because of the high degree of IT integration, each of the 130 high-definition plasma screens throughout the facility’s public spaces is able to deliver specialized content. “From the progressive slot control to our poker room wait list to restaurant menu displays to television to marketing, all of these messages are controlled out of the network operation center,” says Farlin. “It adds a lot of excitement in the space.”In addition, marketing and entertainment departments can control their own content on dedicated screens. “It is almost as if IT has become a vendor of advertising display and time,” says Farlin. For example, when a player wins a major jackpot, the slot operators can take a digital photo of the lucky gambler. Then, in less than two minutes, that winner’s picture is splashed across all of the screens in the casino. Another example of the full integration of video and audio systems, was a promotion in which $1,000 was given away every 15 minutes. Winners’ names were projected on 40 plasma screens around the property, coinciding with paging system announcements every 15 minutes. The promotion was handled through the player card center, so the IT department partitioned those systems and allocated the needed time to the player card center, which could quickly alert winners. Speedy recognition of winners adds thrills to the gaming environment, and the constant display of winners encourages clients to gamble. Well integrated into the overall design, the plasma screens are also used to support wayfinding and to advertise upcoming events. Thanks to network design, all the screens are controlled from a central location, but each has a unique IP address and thus can receive a unique A/V stream. “Now I see other casinos using this flexible means of advertising and signage to create excitement on the casino floor,” says Farlin. Shen extols the virtues of technology so fundamentally integrated that it disappears from the consciousness of visitors. “Walking around the facility, the technology is apparent but not in your face,” he says, adding that such subtle, well planned integration of a high degree of technology is a growing trend in the gaming industry. SM&W, he says, will expand upon this trend in future projects, including a new spa at The Bellagio in Las Vegas and in the design of other casino resorts in both Las Vegas and the Far East. “We are seeing a trend, and it really started with The Borgata,” says Shen. “Technologies are converging.” And increasingly, he says, the data network will become the main transport system for all information, entertainment and environmental controls within casinos.  With its brick-lined, vaulted ceilings, the architecture of Borgata is truly spectacular in a visual sense, and Farlin says the facility was carefully designed to embrace massive amounts of technology without impairing the aesthetics of the structure. “Looking up, there is always something new to see,” Farlin says. “We were careful that the technology we introduced did not destroy those sightlines.”The full, seamless integration of technology and design not only adds thrills to the casino floor but enhances the beauty and functionality of Borgata, raising guests’ expectations and setting new standards for high-end Atlantic City casino resorts. “The design of Borgata is meant to reflect what people want when they travel to an entertainment facility,” says Stewart. “They want it to be fun, they want it to be a value, and they want it to be memorable.”Product ListLoudspeakers: Tannoy, JBL, Sound AdvanceBackground Music/Paging System: Peavey Media Matrix Data Network: Cisco, IBM Telephone (PBX): Avaya Digital Signage: Scala  Cabling/Connectivity: Berk-Tek, Ortronics

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