Casino Gigs, Classical Music, and Younger Audiences

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to play a number of casino gigs.  These are often some of the best paying gigs for musicians of any stripe and the competition for getting into a roster of acts for them can be pretty fierce.

Last night after filling in for Sweeney Todd at CenterStage here in Louisville, a few of the musicians went out for some drinks and near the end of the night I had a conversation with a family member of one of the players about her experiences working at the local casino. She was relating how there’s been a bit of a push for bringing in Younger Audiences. This is often done by a shift in entertainment.

For example, there used to be cover bands that would play regularly, but now there are dance nights with DJs and featuring GoGo Dancers. While this serves to bring in that coveted Young Audience out for a good time, she also remarked that it’s the older patrons who tip far better (Younger folks tip poorly, if at all). Also, she’s observed that the older clientele, who are the better tippers and also bigger spenders in general, are put off by the entertainment and overall mood created by the party-like atmosphere.

The Bottleneck Blues Bar at an Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, MO. Photo by Jon Silpayamanant before a couple of gigs he played there.
The Bottleneck Blues Bar at an Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, MO. Photo by Jon Silpayamanant before a couple of gigs he played there.

I imagine this shift might also be in response to the proliferation of casinos and the loss of revenue due to the increased competition. Even in Nevada, where casinos abound, has shown a consistent net loss over five years despite having an increase in revenue. As Christopher Palmeri notes:

The closing could be a sign of things to come as the $38 billion U.S. gambling industry bumps up against two unlucky trends, a proliferation of casinos and still-skittish consumers in the wake of the financial crisis. Some 39 states have casino gambling of some kind, up from only two in 1988, and more Las Vegas-style resorts are on the way in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maryland. “They have saturation problems,” says William Thompson, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas who studies the industry. “We have a wave of new casinos coming.”

And, like other forms of entertainment (which casinos have practically become) there has been a push for younger audiences–using techniques similar to what some people are advocating for the Performing Arts and other forms of Live Popular Entertainment which are also showing declining audiences and a shift in how revenue is earned as I note here at the blog.

A pic Jon Silpayamanant took of the grandstand at the Monticello Raceway and Gaming (Monticello, New York) before an evening gig he played there.
A pic Jon Silpayamanant took of the grandstand at the Monticello Raceway and Gaming (Monticello, New York) before an evening gig he played there.

This quote could have Classical Music as a substitute for all references to Casinos:

One huge difference between younger and older customers is how casinos communicate with both groups. The gambling industry has been turning more to digital platforms as a tool for building relationships with tech-savvy younger customers.

“Many of the casino operators are using social media, such as Facebook and tweeting. They are talking differently to that younger customer than the baby boomer customer, who responds to a piece of direct mail,” said Jeff Hartmann, interim CEO of Revel, Atlantic City’s newest casino.

Emphasizing the growing importance of younger customers, Hartmann focused almost exclusively on millennials during a presentation in May before the East Coast Gaming Congress, an annual industry conference in Atlantic City.

“In short, they are our future. So we have to know how to reach, attract and hold onto them as the ‘New Gamers,'” Hartmann said in his presentation.

Hartmann said the gambling industry must invest in technology to make the casino experience more of a “social event” for younger customers.

“They’re true digital natives,” Hartmann said. “Internet, Google, Twitter, YouTube, etc., are their turf.”

Hartmann said he believes Revel has been positioning itself to appeal to younger customers through its heavy use of social media, its technology innovations and its array of resortlike attractions.

Internet and mobile gambling, which are emerging trends in Atlantic City and other casino markets, will also be crucial for attracting younger groups, he said.

“Provide a smartphone-friendly environment,” Hartmann urged the casino industry in its treatment of the younger generation. “The casino should be at their fingertips.”

Jamaal Russell, 23, and his 22-year-old girlfriend, Michelle Kelly, personify the highly coveted demographic group of younger casino customers. The couple, from Severn, Md., were enjoying their first visit to Atlantic City during a weeklong stay at Golden Nugget Atlantic City.

Of course, given the diminishing returns that casinos are getting, it’s questionable if this push for a Younger Audience will help much.  remember, we’re talking about a demographic that has the highest unemployment rate, while being saddled with the most college debt, which means that their overall trajectory in their financial lives may also decrease as much as GenX has decreased since the Boomers.

Outside the Pend Oreille Pavilion before a gig. The venue is located at the Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, Washington. Photo by Jon Silpayamanant.
Outside the Pend Oreille Pavilion before a gig. The venue is located at the Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, Washington. Photo by Jon Silpayamanant.

All these amenities and the shift in entertainment geared towards bringing in a Younger Crowd could also be seen as geared towards cultivating a less affluent segment of the population. Again, as I’ve noted here many times, audiences can’t save live entertainment because they make up a small proportion of revenue going towards expenses.

Photo of the tour bus Jon Silpayamanant took outside the Pavilion at the Cypress Bayou Casino in Charenton, Louisiana before soundcheck.
Photo of the tour bus Jon Silpayamanant took outside the Pavilion at the Cypress Bayou Casino in Charenton, Louisiana before soundcheck.

By targeting audiences which are potentially lower wage earners, that revenue is likely to shrink even further while also risking losing the older customers which can actually increase the revenue. While casinos can’t create monopolies as Professional Sports can, with the proliferation of casinos and gambling across the country, there might be little they can do to stem the flow of gamblers. This is analogous to the proliferation of Performing Arts groups (not to mention the high quality of home entertainment systems) and how that’s affecting all live events.

 

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5 thoughts on “Casino Gigs, Classical Music, and Younger Audiences

  1. Using Revel as an example is terrible. They’re up for bankruptcy, have done horribly, went way over cost and had to cut out an entire tower from the initial design. Back in ’09 I helped do sound at a couple “show off how we are building” to investors. I heard the same rhetoric as the guy above. The company o worked for landed the gig to outfit fair portions of Revel, and, yeah…it’s all been downhill.

    The only really thriving casino in AC is Borgata. It is large enough to cater to everyone–has a AAA large venue, a smaller (but still large venue)–both those venues do a variety of acts– a couple clubs from posh to plebian, and tons of dining. It lives as a resort first and casino second. The resort attracts young crowds, and the casino gets money from everyone.

    Revel skewed too far, and it’s done very poorly.

    1. Revel might be a bad example, but right now (because until this conversation I hadn’t thought about Casinos at all) I’m curious about the whole field shifting. I’d been hearing things like this from folks over the years–about the Casinos going towards the resort focus (and many of the Casinos I’ve played over the years have that in their names– “X Casino and Resort”).

      It’s sounding a lot like Richard Florida’s ideas about bringing in the amenities to cities to draw in the younger crowd. And I think that’s the bigger point, given that this younger demographic has far less purchasing power than each previous generation, and is already starting out in a worse financial position which will give them less economic power in the future (which means poorer prospects for them being donors).

      This is one of those examples of me wanting to see what’s happening in other fields to see if the trends are corresponding with trends in other fields. At initial glance it looks like that’s the case. I’ll be collecting more data about this in the coming weeks I suspect.

    1. Thanks, Matt. I think that far too often people in various fields get too caught up in their own worlds and can’t see how the issues they are saying are unique to their fields aren’t so unique to their own worlds!

  2. Jon-

    There is definitely a sense that casino density is getting a little high. My mother lives up near Monticello and there was some hope that a casino would revive some of the old Borscht Belt resorts up there. But apparently a number of casinos that planned to establish themselves there backed out when they heard rumors that a casino might go in the next county down near the mega-outlet center, Woodbury Commons.

    A number of performing arts centers in upstate NY are a little wary about having to compete with the casinos for entertainers due to the casinos’ deeper pockets. I wrote about how they banded together in an attempt to ameliorate the situation – http://www.insidethearts.com/buttsintheseats/2014/07/28/the-arts-are-enough-of-a-gamble-without-casinos/

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