The LINQ Hotel & Casino at Caesars Entertainment is an innovation lab and experiential gaming space. Here, holograms, VR, AR, esports and interactive art all play a part in redefining the gaming experience.
Matthew Kenagy is the senior director of strategic development at Caesars Entertainment. He explains how innovative gaming technology is engaging a new demographic at The LINQ Hotel & Casino. Kenagy has had a long career in casino and hotel marketing. At Caesars, he is building unique experiences for consumers.
Rethinking The LINQ Hotel and Casino
“A couple of years ago I came to work for Caesars Entertainment, specifically for this project,” says Kenagy. “It’s a project within the organisation that has been in the pipeline for about 4 years now. For the last 2 years, we’ve actively worked on the design, development, build-out and execution of all these products. So it’s been a long time coming but it’s been fun to see it come to life.”
The project has the trialling of new technology in the creation of new experiences at its core.
“When we started out, the idea was that we wanted to reinvent the gaming floors,” says Kenagy. “Vegas has reinvented itself quite a bit over time. From casino gaming to a convention-centric city, to non-gaming amenities like night clubs and day clubs. Restaurants, retail and entertainment are also becoming very important.”
However, the casino experience itself hasn’t changed much in decades. “It is the same design, the same experience,” says Kenagy. “The manufacturers of slots and table games have done some innovation. But the casino experience itself largely hasn’t been reinvented.”
Caesars Entertainment – trialling new technology
The innovative project at the LINQ aims to take the lead in reinventing the casino and gaming experience. To update it for today’s consumer. Many factors were taken into account. For example, how customers travel and how they interact socially and on social media. It also looked at how they consume content, and how to transform that into a much more social experience.
“So we took a 45,000 square feet section of the LINQ with the aim of, basically, re-inventing gaming,” says Kenagy. “We wanted to build a casino that addressed every type of gaming you could want. There are slots and table gaming, interactive bars, VR and AR and holograms, skill-based games, Xbox, esports.
“We wanted to make it interactive. So, you could be in control of some of the things happening to you in this environment.”
Interactivity at The LINQ
This ethos is clear in a series of interactive installations. These can be found throughout the space, and are the work of artist Refik Anadol.
This digital art is displayed on a variety of digital canvases throughout the casino. This includes the two main entrances as well as 3-dimensional LED sculptural elements on the ceiling. The art is reactive, and changes as guests enter the spaces. Visitors become an active part of the art experience.
Kenagy says: “We also included that in our sports experience, which was the first thing we opened last fall. It’s called The Book.”
“We took the best pieces of what people love about watching sports in a stadium, an arena, their local tavern, or even watching at home. And we built what is effectively the ultimate living room setup. You and your friends can watch a game, or 6 games at once. You can control your own audio, watch games in virtual reality, play Xbox, or even play games with friends in augmented reality. It really became this ‘choose your own adventure’ ultimate gaming and viewing experience.”
The rise of esports
Esports is a rapidly growing area. “If you’re going to talk about today’s gaming, you have to include esports,” says Kenagy.
There are two separate areas within the LINQ, where they are testing two different concepts. There also is a third area at the Caesars Entertainment Rio Hotel and Casino. This is called The Wall Restaurant & Esports Lounge
“The Wall has a larger footprint, about 20,000 square feet. But at the LINQ we have two areas. One is a competitive esports PC gaming platform. For this, we partnered with Alienware.”
The dedicated esports gaming destination has 24 individual stations and is next to the Catalyst Bar. It is designed for daily gameplay as well as competitive gaming tournaments. Each individual bay includes a speciality gaming chair, and an Alienware Gaming computer and monitor.
Then there is the Book environment. “Here, all our fan caves have Xboxes in them,” explains Kenagy. “They can become Xbox tournament environments. And we can broadcast the final match or the final game on our big LED wall.”
Attracting a new audience for The LINQ
Kenagy says, “When we first started designing the space, we began by thinking about millennials. Our research demonstrated that it is not so much that millennials don’t want to play in casinos. It’s that they don’t want to play in a space where they are sitting next to someone that looks like their parent.”
“So we decided to solve that from a product perspective. To concentrate on a set of behaviours that cross the generational line.”
Being part of something
As well as creating gaming spaces, The LINQ has incorporated Instagrammable photo opportunities. The idea is that this enables guests to feel like protagonists, rather than passive consumers.
“It’s about ‘I can share lots of social memories from this space’,” says Kenagy. “So we’ve got all kinds of places where you can take photos, and share the memories you’re creating. Whether it’s a 10 foot T-Rex head coming through the wall next to the Jurassic world machines, or Refik Anadol’s interactive artwork.”
“It is about letting guests take control of their environment and be a part of the story. It boils down to being part of an experience, versus a transaction.”
Storytelling within gaming
Kenagy says that attraction now attracts a wider audience. The LINQ brings in visitors who love technology, and who want an experience instead of a transaction. “Storytelling is one of the most important things we can do in an entertainment or experience space. What we have attempted to do here, in re-defining gaming, is to enable to tell your own story. Guests can create their own great memory.”
“We want people who traditionally don’t go to casinos to come here, and to be comfortable,” adds Kenagy.
Virtual Reality at The LINQ
The LINQ is now home to VR headsets where guests can watch that day’s big game with their friends. They can also build VR experiences where they play with others or have a boxing tournament in VR.
The venue is also using holograms in new ways. This, Kenagy says, was a challenge at first.
“Aside from a stage presence, there hasn’t been a really good application. So we built the first hologram where the player uses hand motions to compete. It’s a pay for play experience; essentially, we have built an arcade game out of a hologram.”
With new paid-for experiences, there is always an initial customer reluctance to overcome. “People are hesitant to pay for an experience when they don’t know what they’re going to experience. So to cut a little of that friction, we create a lot of these new experiences around games people are familiar with.”
In this case, the holograms play Tic Tac Toe and Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Kenagy talks about how popular esports is now. “If that’s how people want to spend their time and their entertainment dollars,” he says, “then it makes sense to offer it to them here.”
“Casino floors are becoming entertainment zones. Gambling has always been a part of that. But because of technology, and because of how we interact socially now, the definition of entertainment has changed. Gaming encompasses far more than it did before.”
Kenagy has seen a few VR applications around the city. However, he feels it will be a while before anyone else emulates Caesars in using a large footprint within a casino as an innovation lab.
A testing ground
“We are actively testing new products and services. We are taking real-time feedback from customers. and then we’re taking that to other places in our enterprise. The fan cave concepts that we built in time for the US football season last year were a big hit, for example. So, we are building those into other experiences.”
“When we find technology that works really well, we can expand that to the rest of our properties. From an ROI perspective, it makes total sense to take that space and try that technology. Now we have something that scales.”
Kenagy also explains that the size and scope of Caesars Entertainment makes it easy to try new projects such as this. “Nothing makes more money per square foot than a slot machine. So it would be hard for an individual casino to dedicate that kind of real estate towards innovative technology and new experiences.”
Caesars Entertainment leads the way with innovative technology
Kenagy says that Caesars Entertainment wants to take this concept as far as it can. “I think the two areas that we tested VR are exactly that: tests to see how people will react to them in a casino environment. VR and AR are changing so rapidly. There are new headsets coming out this year and they’re losing the tether. The technology is getting better all the time. There are a few limitations, still, but if those are lifted, then the sky’s the limit.”
“And other emerging technologies – 5G, for instance – will greatly enhance how those work.”
Finally, Kenagy says, “This has been a unique project for me. It’s rare that you get the creative freedom to try and reinvent an industry. It’s been a joy to do that over the last two years.”
All images kind courtesy of Caesars Entertainment