A Fluid Transition: The Viejas Casino Expansion

Article Author
Krista Reiner
Publish Date
August 31, 2007
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Krista Reiner

The Southern California gaming market has grown rapidly over the last few years. With new compacts in place, expansions are in the works and talks of new development seem to sprout up every month. The trouble is, with all of the new properties available, it’s getting harder and harder to tell them apart. “More and more projects are looking very similar, each using the same materials, colors and designs throughout,” Robert Scannell, director of project development for Viejas Enterprises said. “This makes it very confusing for the customers because they have a difficult time differentiating between properties or even remembering where they are at.”

The Viejas Casino is certainly an exception to this monotonous trend. After a $19 million face-lift, the Viejas Casino expansion opened to the public on April 27, 2006, with a look all its own. As nature moves seamlessly from one season to the next, Viejas Casino has transitioned fluidly from its old shell to its new, updated form, taking inspiration from its native landscape. Although you might see some of the same natural materials other California properties have built with, you certainly won’t see them integrated in the same way at Viejas.

Inspiration for design comes in many forms, and in the case of Viejas, that form was water. “The location of the expansion inspired our design approach,” Scannell said. “The whole design reflects the adjacent creek (Viejas Creek), which carves its way through the region below. We’ve worked hard to bring the water element from the outside to the inside. We created a very abstract fluidity mimicking the creek bed below, which comes out in the bold, curved lines of the carpet patterns and the curves lining the walls. As soon as you walk into the casino, you don’t necessarily think water, but its fluidity is all around you. So, it’s really an architectural concept of water, and not so much a theme. It’s more of a contemporary abstract interpretation.”

As guests ascend through Viejas’ two-story curvilinear entrance via escalator, they pass waves of colors and textures lit by circular pendant lights that closely resemble water surface bubbles. Once casino patrons enter the 48,000-square-foot expansion, which is spread across two levels, color-changing LED lights, crystalline beading and video walls provide vibrancy and excitement as they game and socialize. 

The casino features 2,250 slot machines; 80 Blackjack, Pai Gow, Caribbean Stud and Let-It-Ride Poker tables; a 1,500-seat Bingo showroom; and a 150-seat off-track betting facility. For visiting whales, a back-lit onyx wall helps separate a high-limit private gaming area located just inside the casino floor. The complex also includes the Viejas Outlet Center, which features more than 60 top name-brand stores; an entertainment show court; and a 1,500-seat outdoor concert venue.

“At the center of the casino is the V Lounge, with its dramatic curved feature wall and mosaic of high-definition monitors,” Marianne Berg, a senior interior designer at Carrier Johnson, said. “From a design point of view, we wanted to increase the energy within the space, and so we tried to tap into the energy of the creek. The energy of the space draws patrons in.” That energy comes from carefully placed key design elements throughout the property, including the natural daylight the team created inside the casino, as well as the curved walls and the beams of light released from the stained-glass windows.

“We really wanted to create a unique property experience for our guests here, and we have done that by creating a refined, contemporary look where glamour comes alive through natural materials and colors,” Scannell added. “Through the use of more contemporary colors and materials, like glass and stainless steel, we’ve created a warm, contemporary feel.”

The combination of materials the team used has fashioned a cozy, yet modern, feeling within the casino expansion, and it wasn’t left to chance. “We created warmth consistently by never looking at each design element by itself,” Berg noted. “For example, the colored glass pieces were always considered against the steel, and the steel against the carpet, and then again to the colored glass. We always viewed everything as a whole, and that really worked for us to provide a warm texture and feeling throughout the property, while at the same time ensuring a unique contemporary concept.”

Key Players
Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians
Viejas Enterprises
Perini Building Company
Carrier Johnson
Carrier Johnson Team Members: Marianne Berg; Randall Cramer, NCARB; and Edward Polk, ASID
Structural Engineer:
KPFF Consulting Engineers
M/E/P Engineer:
Bechard & Associates

Krista Reiner can be reached at (701) 293-7775 or editor1[at]


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