Casino Niche Pays Off for Las Vegas Firm

Swiss Services of Nevada Inc. has found a "safe bet" providing millwork for the casino industry.

By Beverly Dunne

When it comes to casino millwork jobs, "the harder the project, the more comfortable we feel," said Guy Maillaro, project manager for Swiss Services of Nevada Inc. "It separates the men from the boys." Casino jobs account for 85 percent of the company's total annual sales.

"We don't want the projects that any shop can do," Maillaro added. "Give us 10 weeks to complete a 10,000-square-foot job and we'll find a way to do it." It is the Swiss Service's love of the challenge that keeps architects and designers returning to the 180-man shop. "Our dedication to quality, service and creativity has secured a reputation for distinction in architectural millwork, construction and design circles alike," said Abbott Elkind, owner.

One such fast-track project was the redesign of the Treasure Island lobby -- it took Swiss Services three shifts of working day and night to complete it on time. All of the millwork -- the mouldings, doors and door cases -- were custom.

Another challenge on the project was the raised panel ceiling. Since light and light reflection were incorporated into the design, Swiss Services worked side by side with the architect on every plug and mold and every cast in the ceiling. Furthermore, the ceiling, walls and casework had to accommodate electrical wiring, plumbing, sprinkler systems and fire alarms. A mock-up that was built prior to project approval enabled Swiss Services to incorporate housing for all these elements, Maillaro said.

The casework was also complex in that each piece had to be built of wood so that it could have a GRG (glass reinforced gypsum) mold cast from it. Because of the short time frame, however, some wood pieces that were to be cast in GRG were used on-site and finished to match the stone look. Despite the complications on the project, Swiss Services delivered it in a little over two months. "Not many companies could have pulled off that miracle," Maillaro said.

Yet, delivering complex projects on time and under budget is business as usual for Swiss Services. For Harrah's Hotel/Casino in Skagit Valley, WA, the shop had 14 weeks to complete the 80,000-square foot project which included an extensive amount of specialty millwork.

For example, the restaurant buffet area called for a "Carribean-style" roof that featured rough timbered trusses and accommodated exposed conduits and a sprinkler system. The lobby bar required false shutters, wall panelling and many one-of-a-kind trims. The main casino room needed custom millwork grids created. In addition, the room featured wall coverings, murals and art glass -- the procurement of which fell under the scope of Swiss Services. On casino projects, the millwork company acts as a general contractor and is responsible for subbing out any other work. The company accesses many specialty suppliers to fulfill the custom millwork needs of a casino project.

Casino projects also require "value engineering" -- cost- and time-saving methods of manufacturing, Maillaro said. Brought in during the design phase of a project, the shop can recommend how a less expensive material will achieve a desired result. For instance, Swiss Services recommended using laminates rather than veneer in the lobby of the Stratosphere when it was built a few years ago. Because of the extreme wear the wall panels would take and the advances in laminate technology offering a realistic-looking wood grain product, the suggestion was taken. "Two years later, the lobby still looks great," said Clay Markham, senior project designer for Paul Steelman Ltd, the architect on the project.

With average projects requiring $200,000 to $10 million worth of woodwork to be completed in six to ten weeks, the shop is set up to accommodate fast-track production. At the heart of the facility is the millwork department. Lumber is cut to size on a ripsaw and then run through a Profimat 23 six-head moulder from Michael Weinig Inc. All profiles are ground in-house to maintain accuracy, Maillaro said. "Having our own tool room allows us to monitor the production of every profile," he said. Mouldings are finished on a Makor profile finisher.

Panel processing is handled by an Alfa 45D computerized panel saw and Record 2 CNC router from SCMI. These machines have helped increase productivity, Maillaro said because programmers can download CAD files from the office.

Finishing also plays a large role in casino work. Swiss Services has a spray booth, HVLP spray guns and, according to Maillaro, talented finishers. Faux finishes are especially important, Maillaro said, as they enable designers to achieve the look of a more expensive material, such as wood grain, marble or steel, with a less costly product, such as plywood. Mirage's Esplanade required 88 specialty finishes, he said, many of which were applied on site.

Swiss Services was originally a drycleaning business started in 1941 by Elkind's parents. As it was founded during World War II they named the company for Switzerland as a tribute to its neutrality. By 1973, the company had changed its focus and was renovating rooms, suites, lounges and restaurants for Holiday Inns and Ramada Inns on the East Coast, which led to work in Atlantic City casinos.

In search of better weather and a better economy, Swiss Services relocated to Las Vegas in 1992 and established a millwork shop. Its first project was Treasure Island's Buccaneer Bay facade. A 3,000-room remodel at the Mirage followed, for which Swiss Services delivered a floor a week. Providing quick turnaround, as well as quality and competitive prices enabled the company to grow from 3,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet in five years.

"There is no job too large, too small or too intricate for us to bid on competitively. Our ability to maintain the beauty of the project while providing form and structure has earned us a name that our clients trust," Elkind said. Swiss Services' customers are a virtual "who's who" in Las Vegas -- Mirage Hotel & Casino, Treasure Island, Planet Hollywood at the Forum, the casino at Orleans, Arizona Charlie's renovation, the ITT Sheraton Desert Inn, Motown in New York, New York, and its latest, Bellagio.

Its scope of work also includes Harrah's Hotel/Casino in Riverport, MS, the Western theme expansion of Bally's in Atlantic City and Player's International in Lake Charles, LA. The company also completed a casino in Manila.

"With exemplary projects throughout Las Vegas and Atlantic City, we have the experience and the commitment necessary to delivery this challenging, growing industry to all corners of the world," Elkind said.

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