Casinos expand genre of shows, special events

Sep 30, 2008 7:04 PM

By David Stratton |

Casinos have long used entertainment as an inducement to attract customers and provide a revenue stream away from the tables and slot machines.

From lounge acts and acrobats to championship fights and trained orangutans, entertainment offerings were limited solely on the creative juices (and pocketbook) of publicity directors.

But as commercial gaming has spread and audiences have become more diversified, entertainment directors are finding that what has worked in the past doesn't necessarily work today.

Moreover, selling out a 2,000-seat Michael Bolton concert doesn't necessarily result in increased gaming revenues, according to Rick Harshman, vice president of marketing at G.A. Wright Marketing.

In G.A. Wright's 2008 Gaming Trends report, Harshman cites numerous instances in which casinos have diversified their entertainment menu to pique patrons' interest and bolster revenues.

"You need to decide early on what your overall direction and plan is, such as how to drive casino revenue, reward your top players, increase F&B's bottom line, build brand awareness, or all of the above," Harshman said. "It's okay to test and slightly deviate from your plan, but there needs to be a baseline and benchmark to understand how entertainment is driving your revenue goals."

A recent trend has been the introduction of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) events such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) into a casino venue.

Harshman said MMA events typically draw larger audiences than traditional prize fights, as well as younger customers.

"Because they are a younger demo, they have a dramatic positive effect on food and beverage operations during the event," Harshman said.

Harshman added that casinos heighten interest by featuring pre- and post-MMA events in which fighters meet and greet fans - the strategy is to further draw these new patrons into the casino.

Another trend in entertainment programming involves making the event more interactive with customers. These include celebrity chef demonstrations, game shows and home improvement shows.

An example of the latter, home improvement, is the four-week Decorating Dollars promotion, which has been used successfully in 20 casinos across the country.

The promotion features TV's celebrity designer, Doug Wilson of "Trading Spaces," working with players while offering a chance to win up to $250,000.

Decorating Dollars is the brainchild of Grand Productions, which also produces Destined for Cash featuring cast members from "Desperate Housewives," Dance Like a Pro, and Win Some Dough, which features judges, celebrity contestants and professional dancers.

Another recent trend involves using celebrity chefs.

"They are filling resort hotels with gamers who attend their cooking seminars, book signings and photo opportunities," Harshman said. "Casinos are taking advantage of this trend by creating a cooking demo stage and hosting these celebrity chefs in the bingo hall during the week."

One area that remains mostly untapped, Harshman said, is bringing quality Asian entertainment to the casino, where Asian gamblers are known to be the most prolific.

"For the most part, Asian entertainment comes in the form of a world-class sushi chef or an Asian bistro and pho restaurant," he said.

An exception would be an Arizona casino that staged a World Cup of boxing with Thai fighters matched against a Mexican boxing team.

"The casino was packed before and after the event," Harshman said. "The remarkable statistic was, in between fights, the Thai fans flooded to the casino - once they found out they couldn't bet on each boxing match, they supplemented their betting on the casino floor."

And that, Harshman pointed out, has always been the underlying goal of casino entertainment. Whether it's Bobby Berosini's trained apes or MMA's Ultimate Fighters, gaming revenue should be at the forefront of every programming decision.<-->