March 06, 2014 5 min read

When I telephoned Gary Nellis on Dec. 19 for an interview, he certainly sounded calm. Talk about the eye of a storm. Nellis, who headed up the electronic install at the brand-spanking-new South Coast Casino in Henderson, Nev., a city that hugs the southeastern rim of Las Vegas, didn’t actually answer the cell phone; someone on his crew answered for him as he discussed business on his other cell phone. Momentarily, he switched over, andwith mind-boggling calmness, talked to me about the task of getting a big electronic install done under pressure. The most recent addition to the string of Coast Casinos—which includes the Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, Orleans and Suncoast—the new South Coast, which sits on 60 acres, has an 80,000-square-foot casino and race book area, 150,000 square feet of convention, exhibit and banquet space as well as a 25-story tower with 650 hotel rooms and 54 suites.

The complex also sports a bowling alley, a bingo room and an already much-talked-about 4,400 seat equestrian center complete with 1,200 climate-controlled horse stalls. The casino was scheduled for a soft opening on Dec. 20. The doors of the casino flew open to the public on Dec. 22. Please note the date listed in the first paragraph. Nellis stood amidst the nearly completed but not nearly done Race and Sports Book area where he and his crew were just getting the passel of televisions to work. The audio/video jacks are on the front of the TVs, not the back, and prior to our conversation, Nellis had just rigged monitors so they could feed cords through the back to work with the already-made cabinets. Because they aren’t a big, for-hire operation, Nellis had set up shop wherever he could find the space, constructing needed items as they went, jerry-rigging where they had to, inventing solutions along the way. Other dilemmas included short-term storage of equipment; he had carefully wedged equipment into any available room or other low-traffic nook-and-cranny until the moment of installation. Nellis told me this kind of pressure is par for the course. He’s what you’d call an “old salty.”

A sound engineer for more than 30 years, he started in 1968 at a legendary hotspot, the Desert Inn. His first sound engineering gig was with Jerry Lewis, and for the next 10 years the big names just kept coming. Nellis went to the MGM Grand Hotel in 1988, where he worked with the likes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, The Lawrence Welk Show and The Carol Burnett Show, to name a very few. Nellis has beenwith Coast Casinos for the last 15 years. Gradually over time, he has transitioned from the engineering side of audio to the installation process. The current job is his biggest one to date. Nellis explained that after everyone and I mean everyone, the carpet installers, the air conditioning guys—is done, it’s audio and technology installation showtime, and, said Nellis, “by that time, everyone is just ready to open.”

Well, isn’t that just great? So, what’s the point? Point is, that between all the equipment, the deadlines and general craziness, the connective tissue that makes great sound is people. People have to give a damn. With cell phone in hand, Nellis walked me from room to room, zone to zone—giving the audio rundown. Already installed were 60 or so Radian audio speakers, sprinkled around the Race Book and Sports Book and a lounge area with a subwoofer, all powered by QSC amps. He also used a Mackie mixer, a Rane equalizer and a dbx 128 subwoofer synthesizer. How does it sound? “Excellent,” Nellis said. “It’s very clear, the highs are very distinct and the lows are all there. The mid-range is there. It’s a very good sounding system.”

It’s great moment of pure freedom when an installer checks the sound system. And, of course, they test with their own music. I would have never pegged Nellis as a Bocelli guy, but that is exactly what he played. “It was beautiful,” he said of opera’s current hot Italian tenor. “It’s like you’re there listening to him in the concert hall. You could get shivers.” In the Bingo Room are 8-inch overhead Lowell speakers, with Lowell 7-inch bat cans. There are, in fact, more than 1,000 speakers of this kind all over the hotel and casino, facilitating the music and page system as well. Nellis added a 70-volt transformer to give better frequency response. And he got the good ones. “You get a better sound, a full, rich sound that way,” Nellis said. “A cheaper transformer cuts off the lows at a certain frequency, and these 70-volt transformers let more of the bottom end through.” Still in the Bingo Room, you’ll find two Shure SCM800 eight-channel mixers combined to offer 16 channels of audio input which control individual Shure radio mics, a CD player, an antennae distribution system, a power amp and the eight Shure handheld wireless mics—each with a SM58 head. Since the “cosmic bowling” phenomena kicked it, with its crazy mix of lights and music (which usually gets cranked) still in full tilt, the bowling area needs a great sound system with DJ capabilities.

High overhead, Nellis installed three QSC 502 amps and 10 Radian subwoofers along with 64 Atlas foreground wall-mounted speakers, “and I’ve got ‘em in stereo,” Nellis said. “There are two aisles of bowling—one on the left and one on the right— and on each aisle, we’ve got 32 of the Atlas speakers.” The DJ can plug into a Mackie mixer. Two meeting rooms adjacent to the bowling area each have small, six-speaker systems with TOA wall-mounted amps. The banquet room area will sport more than 120 Radian speakers and QSC power amps. Because the room can split into two, there’s an FSR room combiner. Nellis set it up so all the meeting rooms can hook up to the system as well. In the exhibition hall, Nellis installed 70 Sound Tube speakers along with QSC amps, Mackie mixers, Raine EQs and dbx limiters. Nellis contracted Pro Sound, a company that does major audio installations, to complete the audio in the Equestrian Center, which is something of a “crown jewel” for the casino. Pro Sound has offices in Las Vegas and Miami and has an impressive list of past jobs, which includes the Wynn Las Vegas, the arena for the San Antonio Spurs and arguably one of the new audio wonders of the world, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

At press time, the install had not been completed, but Gilbert Burke of Pro Sound was scheduled to head up the effort. A native of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, Burke worked for many years as a television audio electrical engineer in Los Angeles before moving to Las Vegas in 1990. The Equestrian Center isn’t his biggest job by a long shot, but he said it’s certainly one of the most interesting. “The job is unique in the sense that there is no other equestrian arena attached to a hotel anywhere in the Western United States that we know of,” Burke said. And there certainly are some challenges. “We have a lot to fight here because the arena area, there’s all that concrete, then all those seats—not very good acoustics. But then, we have dirt, which gives really good acoustics,” Burke said. “We have to get a blend going in order to get good coverage throughout.” Burke will use 20 EAW speakers as well as Atlas speakers for paging. QSC amplifiers will power up the main arena. Burke also plans to install a Yamaha mixer. While this is something of a simple equipment blend, Burke said they are very excited about doing the job. “It’s great to be a part of something like this, something that is trendsetting,” Burke said. “After some of the other hotels and casinos see this center and this installation, they just might want to build an equestrian center.”