Casinos going green to save energy, money

Step inside the newly rebuilt Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel and you'll find the typical blackjack tables, slot machines and loosen-your-belt buffet.

But your eyes – and nose – may detect unusual features.

During the day, half the casino's lighting comes from skylights. Drinks are served only in glasses: no cans or bottles. Some gamblers are smoking, but the air isn't thick with smoke. Outside, the roof of Bourbons 72 restaurant sports day lilies, ferns and hostas.

Turtle Creek, near Traverse City, bills itself a “green” casino, designed to make the lightest possible footprint on the landscape without sacrificing profitability. Its owners, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, are among a growing number of casino builders and operators interested in environmental stewardship.

Even in an industry closely identified with devil-may-care gluttony, going green makes business sense as consumers increasingly demand sustainable products and services, said Stephen Knowles, principal designer for Turtle Creek.

The trend is reaching even casinos in Las Vegas, long criticized by environmentalists for its extravagant use of natural resources.

In April, the Palazzo Las Vegas resort became the world's largest building project to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certificate from the U.S. Green Building Council. CityCenter, a resort complex under construction in Las Vegas, is among at least 10 casino-related projects nationwide seeking certification.

The 360,000-square-foot, $116 million Turtle Creek opened Tuesday and replaces a smaller casino that will be torn down and mostly recycled.

Going green boosted the price of developing Turtle Creek about 10 percent, but tribal leaders expect to save money in the long run.

Casinos often face a big obstacle to certification: satisfying customers who smoke. LEED requires separate smoking areas and systems to contain and remove smoke and monitor air quality, said Ashley Katz, spokeswoman for the green building council.

It's especially hard to limit tobacco use in a tribal casino, given its iconic status in American Indian culture. But Turtle Creek developers tried to do the next best thing by installing a purifying system.

Outdoor air is pumped continuously into the gambling area through vents in the raised floor. Smoky air rises to the ceiling and is piped through filters, cleansed and sent back outside.

“When you're standing next to someone who is smoking, you'll smell it a bit,” said Steven Feringa, tribal architect. “But the majority of the smoke is going to shoot up and away from you.”