Casi­nos still got game, but stage is draw

> En­ter­tain­ment no longer merely a side­line to lure gam­blers to ta­bles

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Cover Story - By Mark Jor­dan

Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

For a long time, casino en­ter­tain­ment was as­so­ci­ated with cheesy lounge acts — third-rate Si­na­tra wannabes and crusty ma­gi­cians who let the trick out of the bag as of­ten as not.

But in re­cent years, casi­nos like the ones in Tu­nica have re­vamped their en­ter­tain­ment of­fer­ings, bring­ing in hip­per, top-tier mu­sic acts and buzzed-about shows like the Cirque du Soleil pro­duc­tions in an ef­fort to lure younger, more en­ter­tain­ment-savvy con­sumers in the door.

“Peo­ple his­tor­i­cally as­so­ci­ated casi­nos with B-or C-acts or what we call old lounge acts,” says Ricky Busey, vice pres­i­dent for Har­rah’s Tu­nica. “Don’t get me wrong: Tom Jones is a good draw. But what we’ve found is there’s a whole au­di­ence of 25-to 40-year-olds who are looking for an en­ter­tain­ment night out where they can see a great show.”

All of Tu­nica’s casi­nos fea­ture some sort of live mu­sic, usu­ally lo­cal bands play­ing be­fore a bar on the casino floor. But a hand­ful of op­er­a­tors — Gold Strike, Har­rah’s, Horse­shoe, Sam’s Town, and less fre­quently, Fitzger­ald’s— raise the stakes by reg­u­larly fea­tur­ing big-name en­ter­tain­ment as well in larger con­cert halls. Th­ese venues — rang­ing from the cozy 800-seat Mil­len­nium The­ater at Gold Strike to Har­rah’s more ex­pan­sive 2,300-seat Event Cen­ter — of­fer a wide range of acts, from clas­sic coun­try leg­end Ge­orge Jones to rap­per Snoop Dogg.

Casino con­certs, of course, are all part of a wider ef­fort to lure bodies through the doors in the hopes that they’ll gam­ble, thus feed­ing Mis­sis­sippi’s $2.7 bil­lion gam­ing in­dus­try. But live en­ter­tain­ment is be­com­ing a big­ger piece of the casi­nos’ pie. Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Gam­bling As­so­ci­a­tion’s 2009 sur­vey of gam­ing in­dus­try trends, 51 per­cent of casino vis­i­tors at­tended a show on their visit. Con­se­quently, gam­ing op­er­a­tors are beginning to see them­selves as be­ing not just in the gam­bling busi­ness but also in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness.

“Gam­ing used to com­prise more than 75 per­cent of all ex­pen­di­tures, but that’s not true to­day,” says for­mer Mem­phis Con­ven­tion & Vis­i­tors Bureau head Mar­shall Mur­daugh, a gam­ing in­dus­try con­sul­tant who sees casi­nos mov­ing to­ward giv­ing cus­tomers a more com­plete en­ter­tain­ment ex­pe­ri­ence. “Casi­nos are pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the de­mo­graphic char­ac­ter­is­tics of their vis­i­tors, and they’re match­ing those char­ac­ter­is­tics with the kinds of en­ter­tain­ment that peo­ple like.”

Up­com­ing Tu­nica casino shows:

Gold Strike, 1010 Casino Cen­ter Drive. The Temp­ta­tions, 8 p.m. Satur­day; tick­ets are $29.95. Mi­randa Lam­bert, 8 p.m., Nov. 7; tick­ets are $39.95. Neal McCoy, Dec 19; ticket price TBD. Wayne New­ton, Dec. 31; ticket price TBD. Tick­ets are avail­able at the Gold Strike gift shop or call 1-888-24K-PLAY (5-7529). For more in­for­ma­tion, visit gold­strike­mis­sis­sippi.com.

Har­rah’s, 13615 Old High­way 61 North. Lenny Kravitz with K’Naan, 9 p.m. Oct. 31; tick­ets are $50, $60 and $70. Snoop Dogg, 9 p.m. Nov. 7; tick­ets are $31 and $41. Rob Thomas, 9 p.m. Dec. 4; tick­ets are $46, $56, and $66. Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots, 9 p.m. Jan. 2; tick­ets are $45, $55, and $65. Tick­ets are avail­able at the Har­rah’s box of­fice and through Tick­et­mas­ter. For more in­for­ma­tion, call 1-(800)-946-4946 or visit har­rah­stu­nica.com.

Horse­shoe, 1021 Casino Cen­ter Drive. Brian Set­zer Or­ches­tra Hol­i­day Show, 9 p.m. Dec. 11; tick­ets are $45 and $100. Aaron Lewis of Staind, 8 p.m. Jan. 23; tick­ets are $45, on sale Nov. 14 at the Horse­shoe box of­fice and through Tick­et­mas­ter. For more in­for­ma­tion, call 1-(800)-303-7463 at horse­shoe­tu­nica.com.

Sam’s Town, 1477 Casino Strip Re­sorts Blvd. Dar­ius Rucker, 8 p.m. Nov. 14; tick­ets are $40 and $50. In­gram Hill, 8 p.m. Nov. 25; tick­ets are $15. Wynonna Judd, 8 p.m. Dec. 5; tick­ets are $45 and $55, avail­able at the Sam’s Town Box of­fice and through Tick­et­mas­ter. For more in­for­ma­tion, call 1-(800)-456-0711 or visit sam­stown­tu­nica.com.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Rap­per Snoop Dog, who will ap­pear at Har­rah’s Nov. 7, is among big-name acts be­ing brought to Tu­nica’s casi­nos.

Coun­try singing star Mi­randa Lam­bert plays Gold Strike Casino on Nov. 7.

The Temp­ta­tions bring their cool har­monies to Gold Strike on Satur­day.

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