There are no official numbers yet, but a quick glance at showroom bookings for the first half of 2010 seems to show a slight decrease from the previous year.
That’s not a surprise, considering the double-digit monthly beating the Atlantic City gaming industry has been taking from increased competition in neighboring states coupled with the global economic recession. But the pull-back from entertainment is likely to be a temporary one as casinos here begin to aggressively fight to win back market share that’s been siphoned away by slot parlors in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.
In the very near future, the war to win over gaming customers won’t be waged on casino floors, but will take place in a most unlikely venue: showrooms, theaters and arenas.
“Entertainment is going to make a big difference,” says Jeff Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. “We have to offer our visitors the amenities other places don’t have. Entertainment is a very big part of that.”
Vasser says he’s hoping to see more concerts, touring shows and special events coming to the 12,500-seat Boardwalk Hall in 2010.
Although Pennsylvania is looking to even the playing field with Atlantic City by moving closer to allowing table games in its slots-only casinos, it will still lag behind when it comes to its overall entertainment product, according to one entertainment booking agent.
“One of the biggest reasons we’re not seeing more in the way of top acts going to [Pennsylvania’s] casinos is financial,” one agent explained. “Because of the [gaming] tax structure in Pennsylvania, it’s hard for the [casino operators] to justify spending $100,000 or more for an act. Most of the [casinos] in Pennsylvania didn’t even bother to build dedicated venues [for shows]. On the rare occasion when they’ll do a show, they’ll put it in a ballroom.”
Pennsylvania casinos pay roughly 58 percent in state taxes, while Atlantic City casinos average around 14 percent.
Although the showroom lineup into early June looks sparse, that doesn’t meant it’ll remain that way. Unlike the past, where casinos would often book their venues a year or more in advance, the casinos today sometimes book shows with as little as six weeks lead time.
The Borgata, which has taken the lead in both the number of shows presented and the caliber of the artists, tends to leave holes in its schedule in order to take advantage of last-minute opportunities when openings are created in a major artist’s touring schedule.
But Borgata does have several major names already lined up for the first half of the new year. Not surprisingly, each is considered an arena act and will be bringing their shows to the casino’s more intimate 2,200-seat Event Center. Mariah Carey headlines Borgata on Jan.2, with Lady Gaga set for Jan. 16 and rapper Jay-Z scheduled for March 13.
With a very pro-entertainment new divisional president on board, Caesars Atlantic City looks like it’ll finally be getting some use of its 1,500-seat Circus Maximum Theater, which was remodeled to the tune of $15 million two years ago but has rarely been used for public shows. Acts that appeal to a baby-boomer demographic seem to be attracting Caesars interest, with blues artists including B.B. King and Buddy Guy (Feb. 13), Mark Knopfler (May 8) and the ’60s rock band Jethro Tull (June 12) playing one-night stands. See current list of acts scheduled at acweekly.com.
Following is the current list of acts scheduled in Atlantic City:
Borgata: Jan. 15-16, Jim Norton; Jan. 16, Lada Gaga; Jan. 17, Lisa Lampanelli; Feb 5-6, Lewis Black; Feb. 12-13, Aaron Lewis; Feb. 13, Jay Leno; Feb. 14, Rufus Wainwright; Feb. 14, Kid Rock; March 5-6, Jon Stewart; March 12, Alice in Chains; March 13, Jay-Z
Caesars Atlantic City: Jan. 8, Dwight Yoakam; Feb. 13, B.B. King and Buddy Guy; April 24, Gipsy Kings; May 8, Mark Knopfler; June 12, Jethro Tull
Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson on his upcoming Atlantic City show at Caesars, Oct. 6.
Atlantic City showrooms have traditionally turned to revue shows in the first few months of the new year, and 2011 is no exception.