How Improving Air Quality in Casinos Increases Customer and Staff Comfort

Millions of Americans visit casinos to unwind and test their luck against the hands of fate and according to a new study by scientists from Stanford and Tufts universities published in the journal Environmental Research, each year 50 million nonsmoking casino patrons and 400,000 nonsmoking casino workers are inside casinos that allow smoking.

It’s no secret to anyone familiar with the gaming entertainment industry that a top priority is the comfort and safety of the patrons and employees.  As an industry, the patrons hail from a wide variety backgrounds comprising of a clientele with various needs and interests.  We are constantly faced with the challenge of meeting those varied needs in order to provide the ultimate setting where the patrons are comfortable taking advantage of the entertainment possibilities offered, and the employees are able to do their jobs in a healthy environment.

Effectively addressing Indoor Air Quality concerns is a significant way we can continue to meet those various needs and interests.  The realism is, the Gaming and Hospitality industry serves both smoking and nonsmoking customers – and it’s our responsibility to ensure that, when they visit a casino, both these populations have an experience that meets or exceeds their expectations.  The Gaming and Hospitality industry is neither pro-smoking nor anti-smoking, but realizes that balancing the needs of these two distinct sets of consumers, as well as those of the employees, is of vital significance.

When the Choctaw Casino and Hotel in Pocola, Okla., completed its expansion in July 2013 with WORTHGROUP Architects & Designers, it immediately transformed the facility into a first-class entertainment destination in the southeast corner of the state, and for Fort Smith, Arkansas.

However, keeping an entertainment destination open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is a daunting challenge, especially when it’s critical that round-the-clock customers and nearly 1,000 staff enjoy a clean and comfortable environment. But the challenge grew ever more critical after casino owners realized their indoor air quality was compromised. “When we have up to 3,000 guests, plus 400 staff in the house on weekends or during special events, good indoor air quality is crucial,” says Stanley Chester, senior director of facilities for Choctaw Casinos of Oklahoma.

After the building had been in use for a few months, the Choctaw Nation realized the guest experience was eroding due to decreases in the Indoor Air Quality.  From the initial discussion on what the property was experiencing, WorthGroup led a team comprised of the casino owners, construction and sub-contractors through a discovery process to determine the cause of the air quality problem.

The evaluation team met at the casino to determine air quality issues first hand. Early on it was discovered that 80-90 percent of the casino’s customers were actually smokers.  A drastic increase from what the Casino had experienced in previous years of operation.

The project team recorded a list of customer complaints and developed a checklist of items to review. Then the team set about to test and measure the indoor air quality and the building’s mechanical, engineering, electrical and computer systems. In that discovery process, the project team realized that some of the building’s systems could be running at a higher efficiently to offset the current IAQ demands.

The team studied air handlers, dampers, ductwork, computer controls and the overall design of each system to make the necessary corrections. As a result, settings were re-adjusted and re-balanced to a point where smoke was immediately reduced by 40-60 percent, which exceeded industry standards for indoor air quality.

According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) ventilation standards for air quality and mechanical systems 1,100 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are acceptable in a casino this size. After the Choctaw Casino’s systems were re-calibrated, more oxygen was present in the facility and only 700 ppm of CO2 was being ventilated.

For more air quality standards, please refer to the publications below:

The lessons learned in this discovery are applicable to any building owner. Primarily, maintaining high level indoor air quality is a good idea and it’s beneficial to creating a positive customer experience, as well safety for all staff. Secondly, building owners recognize that energy costs are expensive, but even if a 10 percent savings is realized that’s a significant number. With proper maintenance and a regular repair schedule, a building owner might realize payback within one to two years.

Chester added, “It’s not just about dollars and cents for Choctaw Casinos. We want to present better indoor air quality for our customers and staff. Plus, we’re realizing a 20 percent return on better air exchange efficiency while we’re increasing air quality. Our customers have noticed and have given us positive feedback because they realize the difference.”

Fortunately, the Choctaw Nation believed in the value of a complete building commissioning and they were dedicated to ensuring that customer experience was number one along with staff safety. Fortunately, as the public recognizes the importance of healthy, comfortable, and productive indoor environments, their awareness and demand for good indoor air quality increases. All of us face a variety of risks to our health as we go about our day-to-day lives. Driving in cars, flying in planes, engaging in recreational activities, and being exposed to environmental pollutants all pose varying degrees of risk. Some risks are simply unavoidable. The good news is that indoor air pollution is one risk that you can do something about.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This article was co-written by ZJ Czupor, Principal at The InterPro Group.

A principal at WORTHGROUP, Jim offers over 26 years of design experience. Jim works hand-in-hand with clients including numerous Native American Tribes. He offers excellent attention to detail and great skill in the organization and overall management of a project. Jim has particular insight in managing design projects of multiple scales with complex, multi-phased programs and diverse consultant/owner teams.