Top entertainment acts can hook big 'whales' at casinos

Nov 25, 2008 5:06 PM

by Mark Mayer |

The entertainment dollar for casino resorts remains essential for a venue’s existence, but the economic climate may reduce the number of "A" list acts that appear.

"There’s nothing wrong with signing a $20,000 band that can put on a great show to make clients want to come back to that resort," Gil Cunningham, CEO of Neste Event Marketing out of Nashville, told a seminar at the G2E Expo. "The acts we sign are driven by the type of performance the customer wants."

Cunningham said "A" list or headliner acts would receive upwards of $250,000 for a show and exceeding $1 million if booked for a private corporate event. "B" acts will get from $50,000 to $250,000 for shows and "C" would be below $50,000.

"The perfect example of how important entertainment is to casinos happened a few years back at Harvey’s Casino in Lake Tahoe," Cunningham said. "Harvey’s wanted five major summer concerts for their parking lot. This was prior to Harrah’s acquiring the property.

"We gave them acts like ZZ Top, Tim McGraw and Alice Cooper," Cunningham added. "Because of this, Harvey’s was able to attract three ‘whales’ who had never set foot in their casino before. They wound up dropping $1.5 million in one night. We’ve been booking summer acts for them ever since."

Lenny Talarico, director of events for MGM MIRAGE, said that the major concern in booking entertainment is being able to bring the customer back in.

"It could be a major headliner, a volcano like the one used at Treasure Island, or simply a car drawing," Talarico said. "The biggest event MGM MIRAGE does all year is New Year’s Eve and you can’t get a ticket for it. The event is all for steady customers who like our product and spend a lot of money in the casino."

Talarico said that corporate events are especially expensive because there is no publicity.

"Being that the show is private, there is a greater demand for the entertainer to provide his time to perform," Talarico said. "It all comes down to budgeting and making sure your customers are happy with what you are giving them. We want them to remember their experience, tell others about it and come back with them."

Mark Sonder, a nationally recognized producer and buyer for his own company, said that it is becoming more common for one act to play several venues during a stay.

"Willie Nelson just did that here in Las Vegas, playing one resort north of the Strip and another on the south end," Sonder said. "Multiple dates among casinos are a moneysaver and works especially well in today’s economic situation."

Cunningham said that Las Vegas long ago was famous for Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack bringing enormous business into the casinos. He admitted that a hotel breaking even or even losing a few dollars isn’t that bad.

"Resorts naturally aren’t in the business to lose money, but if the major players are happy and betting in the casino, they will be satisfied," he said. "Casinos have to be more creative these days in saving money. Partnering with radio stations to promote an act is one way to do that."