Construction Spotlight: Emerald Queen Casino

Fitting a large gaming facility gracefully within the urban fabric

By Guest Author, Brett Ewing, AIA, NCARB
Architectural Photography by Doug Walker Photography

The new Emerald Queen Casino balances the eye-catching flash of a Las Vegas-style resort with memorable references to Puyallup Tribal culture.

The 310,000-square-foot facility, which opened June 8, relocates the tribe’s existing gaming operations to a highly visible site along Interstate 5 near downtown Tacoma, Washington.

The full-service gaming facility includes approximately 100,000 square feet of slots and table games, a 2,000-seat event center, five food and beverage venues and two parking garages with direct access to the gaming floor.

Raising the Bar

Brett Ewing, AIA, NCARB Photo Credit: Alissa Esposito

The design and integration of Emerald Queen Casino into Tacoma’s urban infrastructure sets a ground-breaking precedent for the future of gaming. As Tribes begin pursuing developments closer to cities to increase their return on investment, new solutions are necessary for an urban site to accommodate the expanse of a gaming floor.

The project utilizes an innovative solution to fitting a large gaming facility gracefully within the urban fabric. Due to site and infrastructure constraints, the gaming floor and amenities are strategically placed four levels above the ground floor, spanning over two city streets and supported structurally by two parking garages. This approach creates a breathtaking building that is highly visible from the highway and provides panoramic views to downtown and to the culturally significant Mt. Rainier and Puget Sound.

Emerald Queen Casino reclaims the lost space above a restrictive city grid, effectively modifying the footprint of traditional gaming facilities. The design team implemented original strategies and navigated the limitations of air rights to design within the legal parameters of upward urban development. The casino breaks the rules of traditional gaming design and paves the way to a new future for urban Tribal entertainment facilities.

There are growing opportunities for Tribes across the country to build gaming facilities within urban settings on unclaimed land trusts. Emerald Queen Casino is the first of its kind to build above ground spanning multiple sites and streets.

Celebrating Culture within Design

Emerald Queen Casino brings the glitz and glamour of a Las Vegas-style resort to the Pacific Northwest, while paying homage to Puyallup Tribal culture. The design team collaborated with Puyallup cultural leaders to develop an interior design concept that celebrates and tells the story of the relationship between culture and Tribal land base. Coast Salish artwork created by Puyallup Tribal members is featured throughout the facility.

Guests experience both the flash of Las Vegas and the Puyallup Tribe’s rich history concurrently. When approaching the entrance, patrons are received with open arms by two wooden welcoming figures, carved in the style of the regional Tribes of the Pacific Northwest by Puyallup Tribal member Shaun Peterson. The figures’ outstretched arms and upward palms signify welcome and acceptance.

The casino also distinguishes itself among the major players in the gaming industry by incorporating large windows and daylighting into the gaming floor, maintaining guests’ connection with nature and providing sweeping views of Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound and downtown Tacoma.

The casino’s interior is finely crafted through many layers of functional and aesthetic considerations. From the organization of the casino floor, to the fluid ribbon geometry and the carefully selected materials – every aspect of the design contributes to an exciting, immersive and vibrant experience, emblematic of Las Vegas.


The food venues are strategically positioned along the casino perimeter, which allows for an open and flexible layout of the gaming floor. Curving pathways take casino guests on a journey and amplify their sense of discovery.

Ribbon ceiling elements draw visitors deeper into the space and highlight a rich elegance and feeling of luxury through the use of thousands of sparkling crystals, highly reflective finishes and dynamic lighting.


Many elements of the design are purposefully organic, which allows for renewed experiences as people move around the gaming floor and unites Las Vegas glamour with culturally-informed design.

Interior elements subtly weave in and draw influence from the textures, shapes and colors of the mountain, river, forests and sound that define Puyallup Tribal land. Traditional and contemporary Puyallup art, cultural patterns and language adorn the casino. Additional pieces of artwork by Peterson, including a mural and story poles, ornament the casino’s interior. From the bold black and red exterior to the organic textures that give life to the interior, a powerful, modern and resilient Puyallup culture is expressed.