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Casino Shows Are No Longer Just For Your Parents

Moderator: Billy Brill | Billy Alan Productions
Ken Ashley | CAA
Jon Bow | Thunder Valley Casino Resort
Paul Davis | MGM Resorts International
Nate Herweyer | Paradigm Talent Agency
Noel Largess | APA
Neal Morgan | Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort
Seth Shomes | United Talent Agency

For as long as the Pollstar casino panel has been going, and moderator Billy Brill was quick to note it’s been 27 years now, the buyers still want you to know they’re not operating a bank here.

“It has to stop where the band says they get a raise because we’re making money on those slots,” Billy Alan Productions’ Brill said. Casino venues these days are expected to turn a profit apart from any gambling, especially when $90 million casinos are owned by stockholders.

UTA’s Seth Shomes said it sometimes pays to back off when making deals.

“You really have to take a long-term approach as an agent,” Shomes said. “It can’t just be about banging the casino over the head for every dollar on one show. If you really want to do volume on these shows you have to come up with fair deals. A fair deal has to be one that still both parties are comfortable with.

“If you want bands to monetize the casino world, let them win every now and then to get more business,” Shomes said. “We’ve done that, for example with Aaron Lewis, who always does great… Sometimes you hit a little harder for the money, sometimes we pull back and do whatever is fair so we can come back and work again next time.”

“We always encourage the it’s-a-marathon-not-a-sprint approach,” MGM Resorts’ Paul Davis said.

“The agents that are in this room that take a really good approach … those are the ones we can keep doing business with. A lot of casinos you can bring the artist back two or three times a year, year after year. Those approaches work much better than ‘Let’s just do this one time and get every piece of skin we can and then pull out.’”

The panel is titled not just for your parents anymore, and the younger generation isn’t hitting the slots and tables like they used to, which means the content has to be creative, cater to a younger audience that wants the whole entertainment experience but still not alienate core fans.

Neal Morgan, entertainment manager at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in North Carolina, said today’s casino business as a whole is “talking about more of an overall entertainment” experience, operating as a standalone venue that can’t rely on the gaming patrons anymore.

That can mean less traditional type of entertainment offerings.

“We booked ‘The Price Is Right’ and it sold out immediately, and really surprised us,” Morgan said.

“I really can’t believe how rabid people are to go to ‘The Price Is Right.’ I love it, I’m not complaining by any means but it’s surprising.” He said they added a second date that was on its way to selling out.

Morgan mentioned other events such as the “Brew BQ” microbrew event paired with music, and the “American Cornhole League, the game where you toss the bean bag,” which he said he could see becoming popular like the World Series of Poker.

Paradigm’s Nate Herweyer, who is co-head of the agency’s casino division, and handles the West Coast, Upper Midwest and Canada, said the content can differ from market to market.

“Reggae is something that’s working well on the West Coast,” he said. “Our casinos in the Midwest had never heard of them, but on West Coast reggae shows make great sense and do good business. So that was something that was not necessarily expected when I took over that territory.”

But overall, artists playing the casinos “are sort of in that gray area between maybe not in the upward swing of their career anymore but not on the way down. They can still go out and do hard-ticket tours but will also supplement and have no problem playing a casino environment also.”

And playing that casino environment does have its challenges, such as pleasing tribal members with meet and greets and other VIP perks simi-lar to private or corporate events.

And just like at those private or corporate events, it’s paramount to get everything in the offer upfront and to be sure to remember the artist needs to be happy as well as the VIPs.

“It needs to be quick and easy for the artist,” Shomes said. “When the artist starts saying they don’t want to do these again is when the artist gets there and it’s just bedlam.”

“When doing negotiations with the agent and therefore getting to the manager, just be upfront about what the expectations are. And put it in writing, then you usually don’t have any problems. The artists just don’t like surprises.”

“It’s all about communication.

At the end of the day there’s always the compromise,” Brill said. “As long as everyone wants to do good business, there will be good shows.”

– Ryan Borba