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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Global Gaming Expo: What Washed Up Acts?

14 September 2005

Las Vegas is no longer the city where entertainers go to die, a panel of Strip headliners told the keynote session of the Global Gaming Expo on Tuesday.

In fact, they said collectively, the spread of legalized gaming across the world is opening new doors for the entertainment industry.

During an hour-long discussion moderated by CNN's Larry King, singers Clint Holmes and Wayne Newton, comedian Rita Rudner, show producer Franco Dragone and boxing commentator Al Bernstein told G2E attendees the image of performers headlining a Strip showroom is no longer that of the washed-up entertainer.

"There isn't a stigma about playing Las Vegas anymore," said Holmes, who headlines at Harrah's. "I think performing here actually is on an equal footing with New York. When there are major tours by entertainers, Las Vegas is a stop on that tour."

Newton, who has headlined at several showrooms along the Strip since the 1960s, said pop culture also reflects the changing view of Las Vegas.

"In the 1970s, you couldn't do a television show from Las Vegas because you couldn't find a sponsor," Newton said. "In my view, Las Vegas has become the place to perform versus any other place in the world."

With production shows such as "Le Reve" at Wynn Las Vegas costing upward of more than $100 million to produce, entertainment is viewed as an important amenity in the overall Las Vegas experience for the 37.4 million people who visited Las Vegas last year.

In 2004, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's Visitor Profile, 82 percent of all visitors attended a show during their stay, up from 75 percent in 2003. Holmes said that for many visitors, Las Vegas might be the first time they see a live performance of any kind, such as an entertainer or musical.

"The entertainment complements what we do here," said Rudner, who headlines at New York-New York. "There is no better shopping than here and there are no better restaurants. There are a million ways to enjoy yourselves in Las Vegas."

Entertainment, either production shows, magicians, headline performers, or the recent addition of Broadway musicals, have been put in place to attract a visitor seeking attractions other than just gambling, the panel said.

The changing entertainment offerings also reflect the audiences, including the convention crowd, the panel said. It is rare to find a midnight show in Las Vegas. And showroom audiences are more dressed down, but that's also changing.

"It's interesting, but in the last five or six years, the audiences are dressing better," said Newton, reflecting on days past when audiences consisted of men in suits and ties and women in evening gowns.

Newton said Las Vegas showroom producers try to mimic success. When Siegfried and Roy were headlining, he said every casino wanted to add a magic act. The same holds true for Broadway shows, such as current productions such as "Mama Mia" and "Avenue Q" and future shows, including "Spamalot" and "Hairspray."

"The show has to be unique," said Dragone, who has produced "Le Reve" for Wynn Las Vegas and Celine Dion's, "A New Day" for Caesars Palace. "There are some shows that are just not going to work for some reason. 'Chicago' was a beautiful musical and worked for awhile, but it's gone."

Rudner offered her own wry take on the kind of Broadway shows that won't work in Las Vegas.

"Las Vegas is a fantasy town. I don't think 'Death of Salesman' is what people want to see," she said.

Dragone said the cost of producing a show for Las Vegas has risen significantly, adding to the pressure of making sure a performance is right for the audience.

When he produced "Mystere" for Treasure Island 10 years ago, the show cost $13 million to produce while the theater carried a $45 million price tag. Producing "Le Reve" cost $35 million while the theater was $75 million.

"I believe it costs more to produce a show in Las Vegas than on Broadway," Dragone said. "But I also see the day when we are producing shows in Las Vegas to be exported to New York."

Other gaming jurisdictions, such as riverboat casinos and American Indian gambling houses, are starting to seek out name entertainers and acts. All said they had been approached to perform in different markets, including foreign gaming destinations.

Bernstein, who commented on professional boxing for ESPN and other sports networks for more than 20 years, said Las Vegas still attracts the "megafights." However, riverboat and American Indian casinos are also using boxing to emulate the Strip to attract gamblers.

"A fight of major importance can create a lot of excitement," Bernstein said. "And, boxing has become a major force around the country. It's a great source of entertainment for Native American and riverboat casinos. It bring tried and true gamblers into their casino. Its important (in Las Vegas) as a megaevent because its a magnet for gamblers."

Global Gaming Expo: What Washed Up Acts? is republished from