NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2007

ROLLING OUT THE CARPET FOR HOMO LUDENS

A CLOSE READING OF THE CASINO FLOORS OF LAS VEGAS

by Alexander Provan

Bill Friedman, the sage of casino management, spent twenty years trying to figure out why some gambling halls are empty and others full. “The only variable that differed,” he concludes in Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition, “was interior design.” In today’s Las Vegas, the aesthetic of excess that characterized the megahotels of the ’90s is losing favor. When the MGM Grand opened its doors in 1993, visitors followed a “yellow brick road” carpet from the entrance to the slots, perhaps unconsciously humming “If I Only Had a Brain.” Fifteen years later, with the age of heavily themed design in decline, the casino’s carpets have been reduced to a pattern composed almost entirely of reddish hues and interlocking arabesques, the signature lion’s head silhouette barely rising to the fore, no broomstick or ruby slippers to be seen.

In the so-called sawdust joints of the ’40s and ’50s, floors were for cigarette ash, dust, and vomit. The owners of the Last Frontier (which later became the New Frontier, then simply the Frontier) went as far as hauling an antique bar from Gold Rush–era San Francisco and procuring a lavish collection of animal horns from around the world, but never thought to cover the floors. But the days of cowboy boots sinking into soiled wood shavings were numbered: World War II ended, the Flamingo opened, and Vegas was glamorous—and more to the point, carpeted, the floors blanketed in newly invented synthetic fibers and lustrous faux-Orientals.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Alexander Provan is a writer living in Brooklyn.

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