The approximately 2,400 square feet of broadloom carpet laid throughout the gallery at 80 Washington Square East is manufactured by Philadelphia Commercial, part of their “Call of the Wild” line. This particular pattern is called Good Times, with the What a Blast colorway. Both its 20-year commercial warranty and its dizzying scatter of particles suggest its intended purpose as “hospitality carpet,” to be installed in high-traffic areas that seek to amplify the experience of being in a space away from work or home, an exceptional site of leisure, travel, or play. Along with hotels and movie theaters, casinos are the most extensive users of such carpets, flooding their floors with notoriously garish patterns to produce a visually riotous ground which cries out to be seen yet is supposed to be ultimately ignored, just one component part in an overall plan for the derangement of the senses.
There are varying accounts as to why casino carpets are so busy, colorful, and tangled that they become almost painful to look at. Some in the industry suggest that this ugliness is wholly intentional, driving the eyes upwards towards the screen or table at hand to consolidate focus on the process of gambling itself. Others claim that the carpets are there to disorient and, combined with the lack of clocks and exterior windows, to further cancel any sense that time passes outside the space of the casino and the rhythms of the game or machine itself. According to Bill Friedman, author of Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition (the Bible of casino design), the lack of out- side light means that carpets become
a crucial element to bolster brightness and feed into the excitement of players, “because the only time visitors see the floor in front of them is when they are walking around the casino. Reasonably intense colors amplify players’ excitement as they approach the gaming equipment. Players do not look down at the carpet while playing, so the coloring is not a distraction.”1
However, the most commonly cited reason for the chaotic patterns is also the most practical: to hide dirt and wear and therefore retaining the image of permanent newness. As Bill Hughes, the Director of Marketing Operations at the Peppermill in Las Vegas puts it: “You don’t want a real plain carpet because people drop cigarettes on it and spill drinks on it.”2 Friedman concurs on this point, insisting that carpets “should have a small or tight pattern, so the inevitable nonremovable stains will be less likely to show.” But his continual emphasis on excitement — as in his claim that gamblers “are high-energy people [...] looking for thrills”— belongs to an industry model that has rapidly declined. The bulk of profits no longer comes from high-risk, high-reward games like blackjack and poker that resulted in familiar images of the card counter or hustler aiming to beat the system and strike it rich. Instead, contemporary casinos profit not from volatility but from volume, from the “slow-bleed” grind of video poker and virtual slots that promise no big score but hours and hours in what Natasha Dow Schüll calls “the zone” of interaction with rigorously tuned and adaptive software.3 Spectacular as they may be, the carpets are no match for the chaotic system of information displayed on the screens themselves, interfaces that cause the surrounding world to vanish, leaving a space where time is measured by adrenal flow, declining funds, and how many cigarettes fill the ashtray.
If the carpet that spans the gallery derives from techniques of distraction, disorientation, and concealment, the gray paint that covers its walls emerges from a history predicated on opposite tendencies, promising focus, neutrality, and the clear visibility of desired effects. Its tone is known as “Middle Gray” or achromatic gray, a reference standard in photography used to calibrate light meters and in conjunction with a spot meter to achieve adequate exposure. Posed precisely between absorption and reflection, Middle Gray works to produce a flatness against which technologies of vision and recording can be tested neutrally. In this way, the gray hinges on the prospect of carefully mediating an intended outcome without introducing any interference that will skew a result. This is the reason that the gray is also used extensively in digital image work, to calibrate LED screens and to coat the walls of color correction and editing rooms, seeking to create a bracketed space that will avoid any distortion. For all its differences, then, the gray circles back to a proximity to the casino carpet. It is a tone designed to target the point of intersection between a technology and those who make use of it, facilitating a duration of total focus and binding with screen and software that permits one’s surroundings to fall away and cast no shadow over an activity able to forget the creeping passage of time.
The windows and glass doors of the gallery are coated with three shades of semi-transparent vinyl manufactured by Solar Graphics: Smoke 5, Rich Red, and RC-3. Unlike the internal ND filters of Act 1, these vinyls were not designed to generate an even reduction of light across the spectrum but rather to produce aesthetic and technical effects.
To enter the gallery, one passes between two sets of red doors, similar to the light-lock double doors of the Rainbow Casino in Wendover just northwest from the barracks. The first doors encountered from Washington Square are coated in RC-3, or “Rose Chocolate,” produced by a subsidiary of Solar Graphics, Lightgard Spectral Control Window Films. It is a carefully calibrated hue intended for “manipulating light transmissions in Vivariums,” filtering out “the UV blue-green spectrum” to create lighting conditions that will not disrupt the diurnal sleep cycles of nocturnal creatures under laboratory containment and observation. The second set of doors are coated in Rich Red, which claim no scientific proper- ties but which, in both name and hue, analogically reproduce the casino’s fantasy of luxury and exception. The light that enters the gallery, both through the doors and the Smoke 5 of the windows, is doubly processed, its brightness canceled and restored only by the projections and monitors that fill the space. No matter the weather or time of day outside, it’s always twilight within.
1. Quoted on Anthony Curtis’ Las Vegas Advisor, online at: https://www.lasvegasadvisor.com/ question/2005-07-31/
2. Quoted in “There’s a Reason for Quirky CasinoCarpet Design,” Floor Daily, online at: https://www. floordaily.net/flooring-news/theres -a-reason-for-quirky-casino-carpet-design
3. Natasha Dow Schüll, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 199.