Casinos still got game, but stage is draw
> Entertainment no longer merely a sideline to lure gamblers to tables
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.
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.