WorthGroup Architects, a Reno-based firm that's specialized in gaming projects since its inception 21 years ago, sees signs that casino projects are beginning to move again.
Since February, WorthGroup has started work on eight casino projects, says Brian Fagerstrom, president of the firm, and more projects are likely to get into the pipeline soon.
Two factors are at play, Fagerstrom says.
Projects that were put on hold while their owners gauged the damage caused by the recession that began in 2008 are coming back online to take advantage of the recovery.
Second, some owners who have been able to finance projects themselves without reliance on the financial markets want to take advantage of still-depressed prices for construction.
Traditional big gaming markets Reno, Las Vegas, Atlantic City remain quiet.
Instead, Fagerstrom says, WorthGroup is getting busy with casino architecture projects in Oklahoma, California, Southern Oregon and the Southwest.
"We're seeing market in-fill projects," he says. About 90 percent of the firm's revenue is gaming-related.
Tribal gaming accounts for a lion's share of WorthGroup's current work, and Fagerstrom says that's influencing thoughts about casino design.
"It's much more sophisticated instead of being in your face," he says. "The goal is to make people comfortable."
Tribal owners increasingly want design of their gaming-related properties to reflect Native American traditions and design elements, says Fagerstrom, who himself is a Native American.
Hotel towers designed for a Choctaw Nation property at Durant, Okla., for instance, draw snake-like curves from traditional tribal art.
Other changes in new casino design, Fagerstrom says, reflect the shifts in the business itself.
Main cashier cages, for instance, generally are half the size of casinos designed a decade or more in the past. The reason? Ticket-in, ticket-out technology dramatically reduces the need for cashier services.
The new stirrings in casino development come after WorthGroup Architects experienced a 30 percent decline in business with the onset of the recession. The firm today employs about 20 in three offices Reno, Las Vegas and Denver. Eight work at the Reno headquarters.
In northern Nevada, its projects include the National Bowling Stadium, with its iconic geodesic dome designed to mimic a bowling ball. The firm's first paying customer after it was launched by Doug Worth was Carson Valley Inn in Minden.
The firm also has completed work at Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas.