Theatrical entertainment is by its very nature expensive and every booking affects many people in addition to an audience. Over the past 50 years, entertainment has become exceedingly layered in Las Vegas and committing the right show at the best time possible with the desired end result is as calculated as a championship chess match.
When I arrived in Las Vegas in 1976, the goal entertainment accomplished was forthright. You booked headliners who attracted gamblers… plain and simple. You had a dinner show at 8:00 p.m. with the meal served beforehand and then the headliner returned and did a midnight show. That’s why we laughed when the town did away with the midnight show and people called a hotel asking what time the midnight show was. There were even some 2:00 a.m. shows, which in today’s terms are the hours the nightclubs fill. For those guests who weren’t in the showroom but who were gambling, the lounge acts were nestled next to the casino providing excitement.
Those days are long gone and the stakes are even higher for entertainment to pull its weight. No longer can entertainment be a loss leader with the sole purpose of attracting gamblers. Today every department at a resort has to produce for the bottom line. Just imagine the pressure to book theright money grosser nowadays. That’s why so many resorts and venues have two- and four-wall agreements putting the financial risk on backers or entertainers themselves.
If you study Las Vegas carefully, you’ll notice many shows make the big announcement that they’re opening but there’s little hoopla when they quietly close or slip out of town. It’s sad when you think about how much money was invested and lost.
Since gaming isn’t the main draw anymore for Las Vegas—the city has been turned into a Disneyland potpourri of entertainment choices—each selection must be carefully considered when booking. As for the visitors, the myriad of options can be overwhelming:
Superstar Mainstay Headliners—This is a huge investment for properties. When they know a star can mega-draw like Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey and Britney Spears, they sign them to resident engagements. Entertainment gurus watch the global music scene and strike when the iron is hot, like Planet Hollywood signingAmerican Idoljudge Jennifer Lopez to an exclusive long-term engagement starting next year.
Often foreign superstars are booked for seasonal events such as Chinese New Year and Cinco de Mayo because they attract international travelers and often the better gambler.
Arena Headliners—Mirroring most major cities, the big arenas like at the MGM Grand and 20,000-seat Las Vegas Arena under construction behind New York-New York book not only stars and music groups but big events like the professional bull riders.
Big Production Shows—Over the past 20-plus years, Cirque du Soleil took over this genre that was once occupied by shows like the “Folies de Bergere” and “Casino de Paris.” The only retro production show left is “Jubilee!” at Bally’s.
Comedy Shows—These are desirable because they are more cost effective, eliminating extreme production expenses. There are many comedy clubs around town and the Venetian found a comedy niche booking only women in “Lipshtick.”
Major Mega Events—No longer is entertainment focused totally inside a property in an attempt to capture the audience and not let them go. As a destination, Las Vegas hosts colossal events like Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), Rock in Rio, and downtown’s Life is Beautiful that create citywide tourism benefitting everyone.
Smaller Shows—Nestled among all the above entertainment choices, there are smaller more cost effective shows that can still delight.
Ultimately, showbiz entertainment is a vital component to a destination like Las Vegas and other gambling outposts. With that said, booking entertainment at casinos can be a crap shoot. It was easier in the Rat Pack era when you knew who would attract the most desirable gamblers; but in this day and age with the Millennials all bets are off. Las Vegas’ big money maker now are nightclubs starring expensive world famous DJs—a formula that does not work for every casino destination.
When booking a new show or act, it’s very important that you know exactly why you are scheduling that form of entertainment. Other factors to consider: Is the entertainment cost effective? Does it fit your destination and property goals? When doing a cost analysis, you need to consider marketing costs, which more often than not is the downfall for the four-walls. They think the hotel will do it for them and they won’t.
If a show or entertainer garners publicity, that’s an added bonus. American’s Got Talent winners like ventriloquist Terry Fator and last season’s magician Mat Franco headline their own shows on the Strip and attract positive recognition.