I admit it. I’ve been procrastinating writing this blog. Why? I wasn’t sure I knew enough about the specifics of the casino and cruise markets. I thought carefully and realized, I can write about these markets from an entertainment buyer’s perspective — mine — as well as marketing insight. Perhaps I can enlighten about the business of entertainment. What I’ve discovered is how very similar these two markets are, and for the sake of keeping the blogs to a reasonable length, I’ve decided to split them into two.
The casino and cruise line markets have a lot in common. Both are complicated because within both markets, there is a vast variety. No two venues or corporations are exactly alike so it’s difficult to pin point what an entertainment buyer is seeking. Consider the casino market.
What came to your mind? Most likely, Las Vegas or the ailing Atlantic City boardwalk. Las Vegas is overwhelmingly filled with one type of casino… the commercial casino. This kind of casino is typically built near hotels and restaurants, and/or they are built to create a tourist destination in an otherwise desolate location — precisely how a major resort city was created in the desert in 1931. What happened to Atlantic City? My guess — marketing and programming. I will also factor weather into the equation.
Casinos, no longer restricted to Nevada and New Jersey, are now popping up in many states for various reasons (i.e., jobs, tax programs). Their goals are to make lots of money and build a loyal following. In Las Vegas, entertainment is typically what sets one casino apart from another. Headliner celebrities, such as Britney Spears and Celine Dion, have been given their own showrooms and multi-year contracts to draw in large crowds; Vegas has mastered this for decades. Remember that guy named Elvis? He was one of the first to take up concert residency in the late 1960s. At other casinos, Broadway hits like Jersey Boys or the highly successful Cirque du Soleil franchise contribute to attracting visitors to their tables.
At the Maryland Live! casino in Hanover, headlining talent has not yet been needed to attract crowds. The casino is built in a remote area next to a large mall and the crowds literally arrive in bus loads. Currently, it is the only “game” in town. The entertainment venue located within the casino has been able to program a few mid-level acts and “fun” nights (karaoke, pub-n-paint) in a lounge that was built for hundreds vs. thousands because the novelty of casino gambling is still new in the state. But on August 26th at 9pm, that is going to change. Caesars Entertainment will open its Horseshoe Casino in downtown Baltimore, and Caesars is known for programming exceptional entertainment…and a rewards program available in its 40 resorts and casinos (Maryland Live! is a stand alone)…and the only 24-hour bar in Baltimore…and these two casinos are MAYBE a 20-minute drive apart.
Maryland is going to get really competitive when the MGM Grand brings their casino complex to the National Harbor area in two years. Both the Baltimore and National Harbor casinos have one major thing going for them — location, location, location. Entertainment options abound in the downtown and waterfront locations so it will be interesting to see what Maryland Live! does to attract guests.
Adding to the competition, Dover Downs Hotel and Casino in Delaware lost a major part of their crowd (Marylanders) when Maryland Live! opened in 2012. They do what any smart commercial casino does; they hire premier acts and put up billboards right outside the DC border. I don’t know about you, but I would take a short road trip to see Bill Cosby or Babyface, especially since I’m not a gambler.
It’s clear that entertainment is a major attraction for commercial casinos, but what about racetrack casinos? There has been a major shift in the horse racing industry and the biggest initiative around the country to save them has been the argument to add slot machines and gambling to the tracks. In Maryland, the entire issue of legalizing gambling was primarily made around the tracks in order to revitalize this dying sport. However, when it came down to it, legalizing slot machines made way for separate casinos when the argument was made around taxes going to fund education vs. saving horse racing. It appears many racetrack casinos have gotten a new message — entertainment attracts.
In nearby West Virginia, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races realized what they needed to do to “enhance the destination experience” (i.e., keep Maryland gamblers coming). In July 2014, they opened their 1200 seat Event Center, located near the casino floor, where they program “first rate entertainment” such as Sinbad and Travis Tritt. At Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in New York, they offer some mid-level live entertainment for a “complete entertainment experience.” In 2012, Southland Park Gaming & Racing in Arkansas expanded their event center as part of an $11 million dollar renovation to keep its status as the “most popular regional entertainment destination.”
Tribal casinos are quite a bit more complicated because they must adhere to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Two of the IGRA’s goals are to promote tribal economic development and self sufficiency, so I can safely state they also exist to make a lot of money, presumably for the reservations they sit upon. Native Americans were able to set up their casinos because the US Courts granted them tribal sovereignty (reservations are not controlled by the states) and the benefits of gaming became available to many impoverished tribes.
Tribal casino revenue has been in the billions. However, most of this was made by two casinos outside the Boston/New York area and those in major population hubs. Tribal casinos elsewhere don’t tend to do as well and the majority make just enough to cover their expenses. But it is certainly not for lack of providing entertainment in varying degrees.
The Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut houses a 10,000 seat arena where John Legend, Alan Jackson and Josh Groban are scheduled to appear amongst a vast schedule of varying talent. At the Foxwoods Resort and Casino, also in Connecticut, you can enjoy performances by Lewis Black, Slash, Iggy Azalea, or take in a theatrical show such as A Bronx Tale. These casinos are among those making the most profit and they certainly know that operating similar to a commercial casino is key.
Yet the smaller tribal casinos I researched also provide entertainment incentives. From the Choctaw Casino in Oklahoma to the Prairie Knights Casino in North Dakota, be it country acts, tribute acts, comedians or karaoke, the door is open for talent. The markets just seems to keep growing. At every turn, more and more are realizing entertainers and talent provide a complete experience that attracts and sells!
Now may be the time to shine the light on your talent.
Contact me about ways I can creatively work with you.
© 2014 Felicia Barlow Clar, photos and content.
No permission granted for reposts or prints unless author is fully credited.