That crazy casino carpet? Here's what's under it

The pattern for carpeting inside a casino can be, well, busy.

Why is that?

A few years ago, Wired theorized that bad carpeting is good for gambling. "That's a theory backed up by Dave Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research, at the University of Nevada Las Vegas," Pete Brook wrote at the time. "Schwartz theorizes that 'casino carpet is known as an exercise in deliberate bad taste that somehow encourages people to gamble.'"

Ciara Green laughs at the notion, without dismissing it. She is head of public relations for the Pechanga Resort & Casino on the Pechanga Reservation in Southern California. It's the largest casino in the Golden State, with a gaming floor larger than the one inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

"We at Pechanga are very aware of the so-called experts' opinions, and what they think the casino carpet design is maybe designed for," said Green. "We've heard everything from keeping you not looking down or making you stay awake ...(to) the more practical possibility of perhaps maybe hiding some little stains."

While she said she isn't exactly sure why carpet patterns are so complicated, Green said that at Pechanga, "we try and work in a lot of natural elements, kind of bring the outside a little bit in."

Another busy carpet. The casino floor at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.
Tanner | Ullstein Bild | Getty Images
Another busy carpet. The casino floor at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.

Turns out, what's under the carpet is just as busy, but a lot more cost effective. It's recycled casino carpet.

For years, Pechanga has been ripping out old carpet and having it turned into carpet padding. Other casinos do something similar, but perhaps not on the same scale. "All of it gets recycled, all 100,000 square feet," said Green. "It's about the same as two football fields, so it's a really, really big area."

The old carpet is sent to a facility in the Los Angeles area and converted into padding. Even the new carpet that goes on top is made from recycled materials, though not necessarily recycled carpeting.

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"Regular carpet and pad is not biodegradable," said Jim Whinery, who owns M W Floor Covering. His firm is in charge of the installation of new carpet and pad. "If you could understand how much carpet is in one of these casinos," he said, "it would be like an average house, say 150 yards (of carpet per house), you would take 1,000 of those houses and go dump them in a landfill. They don't do that, they recycle everything."

Green said while the tribe doesn't save money sending the old carpet to a recycler instead of a landfill, buying recycled pad costs 28 percent less than new, nonrecycled padding. Beyond carpeting, the tribe is weaving in recycling practices in other ways—"We recycle used cooking oil, we reclaim water droplets that are captured from a turbine that creates air conditioning."

California mandated in 2011 that at least half of materials coming off construction jobs go to recycling, a level Pechanga claims it has surpassed. It's now stretching toward a goal of recycling 75 percent of material.

"I was the worst recycler you ever saw, I was terrible," said Whinery, the installer. "After seeing what goes on here, and the state of our landfills, this is the best thing you could do for the environment."