A new casino in Katrina-ravaged Mississippi helps a small AV firm get back on its feet.
On the casino floor, awash with high ambient sound and light, high-definition displays dot the back wall but few loudspeakers adorn the ceiling.
Credit: Ian Vaughn
SOLUTION: Use residential equipment for superior performance and install ambient noise controllers to balance the weak loudspeaker coverage.
IN BAY ST. LOUIS, MISS., WHERE THE SURGE from Hurricane Katrina washed homes off the shore, a devastated town has gotten a new lease on life in the form of the Silver Slipper Casino. The newly constructed casino not only brought revenue and jobs to the area, it gave a small AV firm a chance to start over.
Michael Rosato, CEO and founder of Cinemagic Audio-Video in Bay St. Louis, says he and his six employees lost homes, trucks, and tools in Hurricane Katrina. After taking a year to recover, he tried to approach the Silver Slipper Casino Venture management team in May 2006 to bid on the new job and revive his company.
When he finally got an appointment with Alan McClure, chief information officer, and Chad King, IT manager, Rosato learned they had already signed a deal with an electrical contractor to complete the AV part of the project. Hoping they'd keep him in mind for the second phase of the casino—a hotel, conference center, and condos—Rosato persevered.
In the meeting, McClure asked Rosato to look at the AV design plans. “All he had was speakers, speaker placement, and TV placement on the blueprint. That was it,” he says. “He had nothing of the electronics that push that.”
Rosato explained that additional equipment would be required to make those products function. “I'm finding that it doesn't matter if it's a commercial or high-end residential installation, people just don't have the proper budgets in their head for it. They quote the cheapest price for a 42-inch [display] at ‘Joe's AV,' but they ‘Joe'sthey don't understand that it's just just one piece of the puzzle,” he says. “Part of what we do is educate people about what is appropriate.”
“We had huge holes in what we were planning,” McClure admits.
Though they had hired a contractor for sound, Silver Slipper management planned to install the video themselves. But with time running out, it became clear they needed an AV designer and installer's expertise. The casino hired Cinemagic Audio-Video to complete and install the AV design. Opening night was just six weeks off, plus the casino was still under contract with the electrical contractor for the main audio system. Rosato had a daunting task ahead of him.POWER PLAY
McClure had big plans for the casino's $225,000 AV system—40 to 50 TVs for sports programming and in-house advertising, an audio system for background music and paging, a stage area for a projection screen and live performances, and a high-end experience in the casino's fine dining restaurant the Blue Bayou Bar & Grill, all with high-definition video. But with about 60,000 square feet of space and high sound levels, it wasn't possible to achieve the casino's goals with the given budget.
Rosato convinced CEO Paul Alanis, COO/General Manager John Ferrucci, and McClure to invest in high-end products for the bars and restaurant and praised them for having the forethought to spend the extra money so late in the project.
With a new budget and less than two months to design, order, install, and calibrate the system, Rosato began with the power source. “The whole community, which is still a mess from Katrina, was rebuilding at the time and the casino was going to be at the very end of the electrical plant, so we knew we would be subject to outages and fluctuating electrical voltages,” Rosato explains. Using a Richard Gray Power Co. RGPC Powerhouse allowed him to put a rack of equipment plus four plasmas and a projector on a stable, clean electrical source.
Rosato then turned to the audio. The electrical contractor specified 125 JBL Professional CTRL-6-C 6.5-inch two-way in-ceiling loudspeakers for the main casino floor; however, he spaced them too far apart, creating dead zones that would be especially apparent when the paging system was in use, which incorporated phones and a TOA Electronics WM-5220 wireless condenser handheld microphone. Rosato consulted TOA and used its D901 digital mixer, M-9000 digital matrix mixer/amps, and DA-250FH multichannel digital amps to process and amplify the audio. He also used eight TOA AN-001T ambient noise controller modules and 16 TOA AN-9001T ambient noise-sensing mics to provide automated volume control, balancing the paging system and the main floor's volume.
“I have nothing but good things to say about [TOA]. All we could do was make sure that it was equalized properly and that there was no distortion going into the speakers to begin with,” Rosato says.
Cinemagic Audio-Video surrounded the casino's Island Bar with Triad InCeiling OmniRound8 loudspeakers.
Credit: Ian Vaughn
While the casino was obligated to use the electrical contractor's design for the main casino floor, Rosato took over audio for the casino's other main gathering places. To achieve an upscale feeling, Rosato used residential gear instead of standard commercial equipment. In the Blue Bayou Bar, he used the Arcam AV9 audio processor; the Stage Bar and Island Bar each have an Arcam AVP700. “Arcam is not considered pro gear, however its specs and performance are everything pro gear is looking to be,” he says. Triad loudspeakers, also predominantly residential gear, surround all three areas for their clarity, sealed-box in-wall design, and custom paint-matching service. The Blue Bayou's glass doors keep it acoustically isolated from the main floor, but because the other locations usually play the same background music, overlapping sound wasn't a concern. Even when live musicians perform on the stage, the casino encourages audio bleed-over to attract customers to the area.
Rosato acknowledges that his decision to use what some might consider residential products was unconventional. “I think the predominant thing is [commercial installers] are just not familiar with these companies and what they have to offer,” he says. “In a big venue situation, it is more like the Mack trucks of the industry—the volume level of it, the durability of it—not as much attention is given to the detail of the end product and how much clarity is coming across it. I was trying to give the casino a step up in certain areas I considered important, [with products] that had more finesse rather than the straight-up punch of standard pro gear.”SEEING THE LIGHT
Rosato was able to design most of the video side of the system from scratch. At the Stage Bar, he flanked a 13-foot Da-Lite Electrol projection drop screen with Plasmaimage HD-250 50-inch plasma screens from another residential manufacturer, DWIN Electronics. In Rosato's opinion, plasma screens are the best display choice. “I just don't use LCDs above 26 inches. I don't like the line structure and their color accuracy is not correct; their black levels are off,” he says.
Because the Stage Bar is open to the casino floor, Rosato had to account for the presence of ambient light. “The lighting on the casino floor is constant, so we chose really high-end plasmas with a separate out-board processor and video switcher.” He also went with a 4500-lumen Mercury 5000HD projector from Digital Projection to overcome the casino-floor light. Ideally, he would have installed a DNP Supernova projection screen, which is specially made for high ambient light situations, but it wasn't available in the size he wanted at the time. “So we went with a standard high-contrast screen and it does fine,” referring to the Da-Lite Electrol. “It's bright and punchy under the circumstances.”
Residential audio gear adds to the upscale impression of the Blue Bayou Bar.
Credit: Ian Vaughn
With the exception of some minor calibrations, the casino opened on time, Nov. 9, 2006—but it was close. “The day we opened there were still table saws and painters and plasterers and everything else still out on the floor working an hour or two before the public was walking in the front door,” says McClure. As for the AV system, he's most happy with the quality of the video but admits the electrical contractor's sound system is lacking. “If we're at 25 percent occupancy, it works incredibly well, but once we're up at 75 percent capacity it's just overwhelmed.” A new loudspeaker design is on the agenda for the casino's second phase of construction, scheduled to begin at the end of this year.
Even though it meant doubling their AV budget to $500,000 less than two months before opening day, McClure admits that the higher-end equipment was worth the money. “It wouldn't have been the experience we were looking for if we'd done it based on the original budget, the original specs, and the original equipment.”
Rosato hopes that his project inspires other Katrina-afflicted AV firms to get back on their feet. “Everybody in this town is still trying to recover from this catastrophe and we never really will,” he says. “That we survived something like that should be [a signal] to other AV contractors to press on in the darkest moments.”