Doing Entertainment
In Tribal Territory

Booking entertainment in Tribal Territory may have once been something akin to the Wild West, but nowadays Indian casinos are a mainstream, $30 billion business. 
Kell Houston and Brad Bissell. 

And while countless acts from the 1960s and ’70s have resurrected their careers playing casinos, these rooms are showcasing an increasingly diverse selection of artists to draw the attention of everyone from 20-somethings to senior citizens.

“Casinos are becoming the point of entertainment focus in secondary markets,” said Houston Productions’ Kell Houston, adding that in some cases casinos are “pushing out a lot of small promoters and PACs that don’t have the funding. They’re becoming an entertainment monster. It’s good for our business.”

APA’s Steve Hauser noted just how much the casino biz has changed since the mid ’90s, when comp tickets were king and shows were used mainly to drive traffic to slot machines and table games.

“The dynamic of it has changed, and how we’re making our deals with casinos has changed,” he said.

The change in methodology has been a learning curve for some in the casino industry, said Signature Entertainment’s Lori Otelsberg.

“A lot of the agents don’t understand that the people that are our bosses are people from the poker room,” Otelsberg said. “They didn’t grow up in the industry and they don’t understand the process, so that’s challenging because we have to teach them along the way.”

Osage Nation Casinos’ Amy Tall Chief and Agua Caliente Casino’s Dan Pferschy noted other concerns – specifically, getting contracts done in a timely manner.

“Sometimes the paperwork is a little slow on the agency side,” Pferschy said.

Of course, agents had a few complaints of their own about the need for concert industry education in Indian country.

“I like when they rewrite the contract using the same template as the original contract, so when it comes back to the office, you think they didn’t mark up anything, but the words have all changed,” CAA’s Brad Bissell said.

The one thing all sides seemed to agree on was that it’s an exciting time to be in the casino world as demographics shift from Beach Boys fans to younger audiences.

“You’ve got casinos like the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas doing residencies with Bruno Mars,” Bissell said. “Indian casinos are going to jump on that trend and the hippest of the hip acts will already be acclimated to playing casinos.”

To that end, Otelsberg said her casino targets “new faces” by booking lots of packages, Asian and Latino entertainment.

Comedians, urban artists, cage fights, boxing, country, reality TV meet-and-greets and chefs are other ways to tap into younger demographics, Tall Chief added.

If the stigma of casinos being geared toward blue-haired bingo players hasn’t yet been quashed, younger artists might just be persuaded by the idea of filling their schedule (and their pocketbooks) by playing a secondary market casino on an off night.

“For Tulsa I prefer Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday shows,” Tall Chief said.

Houston agreed. “It’s important to look at exploring Thursday,” he said. “Thursday is the new Friday, after all. What happens on a Saturday night is you’re displacing your regular people. There’s a lot of benefits to looking at off-night entertainment.”

Off-night entertainment was music to the ears of Bobby Roberts Company’s Lance Roberts.

“I have one act that works seven nights per week – that’s Merle Haggard,” he said. “We’re always looking for those off nights. If a casino would do a Wednesday night or Thursday night that would help us out tremendously.”