Ever wonder how casino’s, big and small, manage to get the top name acts as well as guest-pleasing entertainment like meet and greets with hugely popular TV shows stars? It starts with the casino buyer. And how do you get to be the number one casino buyer in the industry? Just ask Kell Houston, president, Houston Productions and longtime Raving Consulting partner, Gaming Entertainment.
His peers and members of the (International Entertainment Buyers Association) voted for Kell in 2012, 2014, 2016 (winners are not eligible the year after) as the top Casino Buyer of the Year in Nashville last month. He credits this award to, “Giving personal service to each and every client. We create partnerships. We build successful programs. For example, in Oklahoma, we have created some strong success in casinos that currently don’t have venues for shows, with celebrity appearances/meet-n-greets with stars from Game of Thrones, and Sons of Anarchy. As a company, my goal is to provide unique and ahead of the curve ideas, as well as the traditional concerts.”
If you read the testimonials on his website, or chat with many of his clients, both commercial and tribal, they’ll say that Kell's value lies in is his expertise at providing the right entertainment for their casino’s brand, as well as his uncanny ability to make the right entertainment choices for their demographic.
Chris C. Archunde, director of marketing, Port Madison Enterprises, shared, “Kell does a great job bringing different genres of entertainment to us. He isn’t one to just ‘shop properties’ with the same artists, as some buyers do. He works closely with us to determine what we’re looking for within our budget and this has allowed us to present new and dynamic entertainers to our market.”
If you don’t know Kell, you’ll recognize him as the guy who is a head taller than most men and always has a sincere smile on his face. You’ll see him at most every industry trade show, either on a panel or “working the floor.” “Kell has been our go-to-guy for our clients for almost 15 years because of his integrity and complete knowledge of gaming-specific entertainment. He is also a huge advocate of tribal gaming and cares deeply for every client he works with,” shared Dennis Conrad, President & Chief Strategist, Raving Consulting.
Luckily for the industry, Kell’s plans to be a high school music teacher were waylaid during college, after hearing bands like Blood Sweat and Tears and Chicago. He realized that he too could be a horn player in a rock band.….and so his career began in entertainment.
Growing up in a musical family, his passion for music started at age six with piano lessons. He then started the trombone in 4th grade, and played in band and orchestra all through junior high and high school. For several years he played across the country; had a couple of record deals fizzle out, and was the founding member and manager of a popular funk band, Epicentre, in the Pacific Northwest. They ended up being signed with Stevie Wonder’s company and spent about a year in Los Angeles recording with him and playing gigs around Southern California. Kell even recorded on Tower Of Power’s “Back to Oakland” album.
When life on the road came to an end, he pursued and educated himself on the business side of the music industry. One of the companies he worked for before forming Houston Productions was instrumental in introducing Kell to tribal gaming, which was just starting to come to life. He was able to use his educational approach in a very new marketplace. Kell adds, “Today, Indian Gaming is a $30 billion a year business and my company is at the forefront. We currently work with close to 30 Tribal casinos, buying talent and helping build successful entertainment programs across the country.”
You name the entertainer, Kell has worked with them. However, some of the more interesting projects came about because of the teamwork and the timing. For example, he shared:
“We booked ALICE COOPER at the Little River Casino Resort. The casino provided a place for him to rehearse all week for an upcoming tour, and at the end of the week had a sold out concert.
“Just as the group was breaking big, we were able to get the FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE, at Chinook Winds Casino Resort. The show was tied into a Portland radio station and we sold out in 24 hours.
“Back years ago, I had THE DIXIE CHICKS, playing at the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas, just as their record skyrocketed. It was like the Beatles had shown up!”
When asked what he sees for the future of casino entertainment, he replied, “Live music will always be around. That experience cannot be artificially produced. The success of the big festivals with iconic groups proves a point. The music of these people will live on, in many forms. And talent is everywhere.”