Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Music Biz hits it big @ casinos"

from (by way of Reuters/Billboard)

The music industry is striking it rich at casinos.

As casino venues target concertgoers from all walks of life through creative artist bookings, the effort hasn't gone unnoticed by those in the business.

"If you're an agent, you love casinos," says Greg Oswald, a William Morris agent for such acts as Big & Rich, Hank Williams Jr. and Lynyrd Skynyrd. As new casinos boomed in the past 15 years, "it's found money," he adds.

Most casinos are proactive in booking top-selling rock and pop acts, with the specific intent of drawing younger gamblers. But, as Oswald says, casinos appeal to a broad base of fans, therefore allowing booking opportunities for multiple genres.

For some country acts in particular, casino venues have proved to be a beneficial asset when routing a tour. "Frankly, for a lot of artists in the country business and other genres, it has saved their bacon," Oswald says, adding that many casinos still draw older crowds. In 2007, Kenny Rogers, whom Oswald books, will play 30 casino dates nationwide.

Tom Cantone, VP of sports and entertainment at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn., says live music is a major component in modern-day casinos.

"You really have to get into the event business to drive traffic and revenue on a consistent basis," he says.

This summer alone, Mohegan Sun hosted 164 events across its three venues -- the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena, the 400-seat Wolf Den club and the 330-seat Cabaret Theatre. In 2006, 51 shows at the arena grossed $15 million and drew more than 387,000 fans, according to Billboard Boxscore.

Mohegan Sun recently broke ground on a $740 million project set to include a House of Blues, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurant and store, and a 1,000-room hotel. Full completion is scheduled for 2010.

Steve Gietka, VP of entertainment for Trump Entertainment Resorts in Atlantic City, N.J., oversees booking at venues in Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza and Trump Marina. He says that while live entertainment certainly helps sell hotel rooms and fill restaurants and nightclubs, there's a price to be paid.

"Because we're casinos, and agents, artists and managers believe that their artists help us drive gaming revenues, we typically pay premiums when compared to regular promoters," Gietka says.

Indeed, William Morris' Oswald says that casinos are in a good position to buy plenty of talent. "They have ancillary income in the form of bar, food and obviously, casinos," Oswald says. "So it's easier than the guy who is only going to make money from the box office."

But there are also challenges with casino venues, No. 1 being overbooking, according to Oswald. In some markets, casinos are bringing in act after act, which can sometimes exhaust the local fan base.

"They've made it real hard to sell tickets," Oswald says. "The fans are spoiled because they can go down to the casino on any Friday night and there will be a big act." As a result, promoters are forced to lower ticket prices to attract concertgoers, he adds.

But hosting too many concerts has never been a problem for Mohegan Sun, which is owned by the Mohegan Tribe. Arena concerts scheduled through October include such diverse acts as Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Big & Rich featuring Cowboy Troy, Van Halen, Mana, Maroon 5, Phil Lesh and Kelly Clarkson.

And with the 25-and-older demographic expanding, Cantone remains confident that casino bookings will reflect their tastes. "It used to be where an older market went to have their entertainment fix. But now the twentysomethings are going. If you're young, want to go out and play poker or blackjack, then catch a cool concert, where else can you go?"

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