Casino Forum, Hello!

With gaming companies drifting away from the loss-leader days of entertainment and the drop remaining the most important factor, moderator Billy Brill of Billy Alan Productions – after hinting that a special guest would be dropping by – got right to the point of this annual panel: How do you make money at a casino room?

Lars Sorensen of Snoqualmie Casino in Washington said the casino’s core customers as well as new customers are in mind when booking acts for its 1,000-seat ballroom and 2,200-capacity outdoor venue.

“We’re trying to reward [core customers]. Many of them get tickets through our player’s club and obviously we’re trying to bring in a performer that appeals to those guests,” Sorensen said. “But we also are unique in the sense that we’ve been given the flexibility to create some festival ideas for outside and tried some different things inside. We research new artists that are on the cutting edge that we’d like to take a shot at.

“But we’re not going to stay with just the current casino customer. We’d like to find the next generation.”

Brill asked Jay Byrd of William Morris Endeavor if casinos are being more aggressive in fighting him on his fees.

“For the most part, casinos …want to start booking shows that are going to make them money and use their venues as a hard-ticket sort of venue,” Byrd said. “A lot of the time when I have a fee for a certain artist that may far exceed what they can afford, they’ll look at me and say, ‘No, I can’t afford that. I need to make money on my show.’ So I’m getting a lot of pushback now.

“It also involves the marketing rep at the casino being smart about the type of act they select. They may think, ‘If this A-level act is going to come in, I’m going to make a lot of money.’ The problem is that a lot of the time that act may not be in line [with] the traffic in that particular market.”

Brill then asked Mark Prows of MGM Mirage in Nevada if he looks specifically for acts that will bring in gamblers.

“The key objective for us obviously is to attract a wide variety of people attending our shows,” Prows said. “But if [an act] doesn’t have a casino base it’s not going to have a market draw for us, especially in the arena shows.

“Obviously we’re an anomaly with many of the other casinos because of our two arenas in the family – Mandalay Bay Events Center and MGM Grand Garden Arena – and we have a long history of the types of shows that we book. In the Grand Garden and Mandalay Bay we’re not looking for quantity of acts, we’re looking for quality.”

It was at this point that Brill announced the “special guest” had arrived – Larry King. The former CNN anchor proceeded to take over the mic and the room.

“It’s a pleasure to be here. You’re all affiliated with casinos, so you’ve got a lot of my money,” King said.

The TV legend told the audience that he has mixed emotions about his semi-retirement from CNN, saying “It’s like watching your mother-in-law go over a cliff in your new car.”

But he made a pitch for a new career move in the works – he’s going to do standup around the country, telling stories from his experiences at CNN and his life. After tossing out a couple more jokes, King turned the panel back over to Brill, who promptly said, “How do you follow that? It’s like following Idi Amin!”

Brill resumed the discussion by asking C.J. Strock of Podell Talent Agency if he bases a fee on the size of the room or uses the standard fee when booking an act like Cyndi Lauper.

“I think capacity and fee price all go into the total equation, unlike 10 years ago when it was one price for anything anywhere,” Strock said.

Brill then asked Lori Otelsberg of Signature Entertainment Promotions if fees are going up or down when she books a room.

“I think fees are going up, especially classic rock. It’s getting more difficult. “ Otelsberg said. “One thing people forget is not only are we competing with entertainers, but both of my casinos do car giveaways every week. That brings in more people than any of the concerts I’ve done in seven years. Giving away a $60,000 car brings in a bigger draw. I think a lot of artists are forgetting that there’s other competition for marketing at casinos.

“It’s hard for me to spend all this money on a concert. They cut my budget in half this year, so we’re looking to bring in a lot less and make it more of a value.”

However, Mary Lien of Northern Quest Resort & Casino in Washington said there are times when she will book an act just to make a statement.

“Where we’re at, we’re a bit isolated and our competition isn’t that heavy compared to larger cities,” Lien said. “To bring someone in like Ringo Starr, Kellie Pickler or Reba, we’re making a statement. We want everyone to know this is who we are and what we have to offer.

“It’s not always about the drop, it’s about the statement, too. Those people are going to come back because they had a great experience. You have to look at that as well.”

Sorensen added that by being smart, using what is available, and creating a consistent income stream by building a rapport with an act, casinos will create a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Brill also said there’s reason to be positive about the future.

“I think the bottom line at the end of the day, whether you’re an agent, talent buyer or general manager, is it’s all about singing for your supper,” he said. “Every day when you wake up and go into the office, it’s a new day and a new opportunity. We’re in a fantastic business.”


Pollstar Live 2011 Panel Index