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Casino Entertainment – Part 1, Perception of Concert Promoter vs. Casino Entertainment Director

Over the years, I have had a lot of Entertainment and Marketing people ask me to put together a series of writings on entertainment in the casino industry. Because of this request, I have put together the following series on casino entertainment. Some of these topics may seem elementary and be a refresher to some and to others I hope that I have provided some information to help make the next event a success. Hopefully, when you are done reading, you may also find a little humor and say to yourself “that couldn’t happen," and to some of you it does happen.

For many years, before getting into the casino business, I was a sound and lighting engineer for various artists and production companies around the country. I started in the casino business, when I began working for a production company as a sound and lighting engineer that was contracted with a local casino to supply production for numerous musical entertainment shows throughout the year. Because of my experience of working with various artists, negotiations of contracts (even writing some contract rider agreements for artists), planning various events and being a stage manager, I was asked by the casino and accepted the position of Entertainment and Promotions Manager. With my education in marketing, I started going beyond entertainment and developing marketing strategies, thus I secured a position in the marketing field of the casino industry. As a result of that decision, I now have over 26 years of experience with both Native American and commercial gaming organizations as a casino marketing executive. In my experience in the casino industry, entertainment and special events are always a part of the marketing department as it is considered a section of the marketing plan for acquisition, retention, and reactivation of players / customers. Some of the artists and agencies would joke with me, because they knew I had been on the other side of the contract negotiations and knew that I would red line a lot of clauses of a contract before discussions even began. I am extremely fortunate for my experience of being on the artist / production side of the industry and the casino side of the industry. I hope that what I share in these upcoming writings will assist with making your events a little smoother and a little more successful.

Entertainment Industry Perception of Promoters and Casino Entertainment Managers / Directors – There is a difference in the two.

There is a stereo-type perception of promoters in the entertainment industry. This stereo-typed perception of a promoter is the same from the agencies, entertainment management companies, production companies, venues, etc. The perception or definition of a promoter by everyone involved with an event is:

Promoter – (noun) (sometimes an adjective as it is at times referred to as a derogatory term to describe someone) – a person that contracts the entertainment.

  • Is not concerned with details in the contract and rider, including the production contract.

  • Always assumes a meet & greet with the artist and invites themselves along with family and friends to wait outside the dressing room door or tour bus during the day of the event to take pictures of all their friends with the artist(s) and ask for autographs.

  • Invites all their family and friends backstage (gives them a backstage pass to look cool) to drink beer and stand right in the middle of the main walkway between the stage and dressing room or stand in monitor world.

  • Always looks dumbfounded when asked about the provisions in the contracts that were agreed too.

  • Doesn’t have all the resources to fulfil the requests in the contract that were agreed too.

  • Over charges a lot of money for tickets and beer at the event and believes there will be a lot of money at the end of the event to not have to work the rest of the year.

  • Last, but not least, they look incredibly surprised when it is time for payments to be made for the expenses of the event including the artist fees and production fees.

Now before you jump to conclusions about this definition, I will say I have had the privilege of working with a lot of great promoters that would work their butts off and would sacrifice so much to fulfill the needs of a show and I enjoyed working with them. On the other hand, I have also worked with a lot of amateurs that can fit exactly into this definition or at least some form of this definition.

The Difference In Perception Between a Promoter and a Casino Entertainment Manager / Director

The Entertainment Manager / Director at some (not all) of the casinos I have had the opportunity to work with over the years came from a background of either playing in a local band and knowing a lot of the local artist in the area or has booked a few local bands in local bars. Usually for local bands in local clubs, the negotiations for performing are fairly basic – what time does the band start? How long does the band play? What is the pay? Is the pay based on a percentage of the door? Does the club provide sound and lights? Does the band get free drinks and if so what type of drinks? Now I know this may sound basic, but for some local clubs and local bands, this is all that needs to be agreed too and I have seen it written on a napkin and signed. For national artists there is more to the agreement, and it can become very detailed. For someone that has never worked with national artists and only local artists, it may seem overwhelming at times and contracts and terminology may look very foreign. It’s why I believe that anyone that is going to try and be a promoter should work as a stagehand and / or assist in different roles with a major national show and begin to understand the responsibilities of everyone involved to make a show a success.

The artist, production crew, and artist management, at times, perceives a Casino Entertainment Manager / Director has an advantage over an independent promoter and that is because of the resources of the casino. With the resources of the casino, the Casino Entertainment Manager / Promoter usually has access to hotel rooms (either on property, or off property), Food & Beverage, some form of a dressing room, some form of labor, and financial resources (artist fees, production fees, etc.). Unbelievably, some of these basic needs / resources are overlooked by independent promoters and when the crew arrives for load-in the promoter is surprised that there has to be a “meeting-of-the-minds” before load-in begins.

How to differentiate YOU, as a Casino Entertainment Manager / Director and NOT as an Amateur Promoter

  • DO NOT sign a contract or rider that has not been thoroughly reviewed and discussed with the artist agency or artist management and with the production crew.

  • Have the casino attorney or an outside attorney review the contracts. A lot of times an attorney will not have any idea (or care) what the rider specifies as that is negotiated between the casino and the artist agency or management. The attorney is only reviewing the legal language in the contract. Don’t think the attorney is going to negotiate the contract for you. That is your responsibility as the Casino Entertainment Manager / Director. The attorney does not know what you can provide or are willing to provide.

  • Read all the contracts thoroughly, including artist contract(s) and rider(s) and production contract(s) (whether using the artist production or an outsourced production company contract). Write down any questions that may come to mind while reviewing the contract. Don’t ever think that a question is a dumb question – always ask!

  • Don’t ever get frustrated that a tour manager is constantly emailing you or calling you. Be incredibly happy there is constant communication and that he / she, as the tour manager, is supplying you with information, as this will keep any surprises from taking place the day of the show.

  • Remember who the people are that are putting together your event, the stagehands, the production crew, the cleanup crew, security, etc. These are the people that can make or break your event. They are usually the first people to arrive the morning of the event and the last to leave. Their time and duties are just as important as the artist. Treat them that way. As has been said many times; when you compare the hours and the hard work the production crew and stagehands put into an event, they should be getting the artists’ pay and the artist’s salary and the crew should get the artist’s salary.

  • Just as you should be in constant contact with the tour manager leading up to the day of the event, be in constant contact with all departments at the casino that are impacted by this event, because at some point every department will be impacted by an entertainment event at the property (i.e. if you need to park a 53’ semi in one of the parking lots, you may want to alert security, valet, surveillance, facilities (if it needs to dolly down), etc).

  • Don’t keep all the information to yourself. I have seen many times a promoter keeps all the contract rider information in a briefcase and believe that he / she can do it all themselves. Sharing information can keep a show from becoming a disaster.

  • Understand your venue and its limitations – no matter if it is an outdoor or indoor venue, showroom lounge or convention room. How much weight will the roof maintain to hang sound and lighting, how high is the ceiling, how many trucks can be docked at the entrance, how far is the stage from the loading door, etc. Yes, some of these questions can be asked by your production person / stage manager, but there are questions that should be answered quickly. Knowing answers to some of the basic questions about your venue will keep you from making bad decisions. If your venue is only able to hold 300 people, has room for a small straight truck to fit into the dock area of the property, the walk from the loading dock to the stage in the venue is 400 yards, and your ceiling has a load limit of 1000 lbs., you will not want to bring in the 12 semi-truck, 6 tour bus George Strait Show (I know that is a far reach, but you get the point).

  • Make safety a priority! If you are putting together an outdoor show, make sure to have a weather crisis plan in place. Who should be on the plan to be contacted, in what order anyone should be contacted, who is the weather service provider, etc. Make sure the production people that are supplying the roof, stage, sound, lighting etc. have all the permits and are involved with the decision of the show.

  • Even though the show / event is on your casino property, make sure that all regulations are followed, this will also slide right into making safety a priority

  • Be the level-headed down to earth entertainment person especially when deciding who is going to perform at your venue. I have heard it repeatedly from Casino Entertainment Managers / Directors; “The General Manager is a huge Eric Clapton fan and wants me to try and get him in the lineup for entertainment this year.” And you know that your budget is only $16,000 and your venue only seats three hundred people. I know that the General Manager is your boss and makes a lot of executive decisions, but as the Entertainment Manager you must educate the executive team and make sure that the entertainment is right for your casino property and that your venue can accommodate. This leads to working with the host department. Find out what or who your players want for entertainment. Your host should be asking the players and communicating with you – and again what the players want and not what the host wants. You start to ask some of the casino employees that are in contact with the guests, and you guessed it, everyone on the property becomes an entertainment expert on who or what kind of show should be at the casino. Remember, the employees are not the ones spending the money at the casino, your players are and the other employees at the casino do not know the limitations of the venue.

This is a small sample. There is so much more to discuss and in the next upcoming segments on casino entertainment we will dive in deeper into all these areas including negotiating contracts, understanding riders, and how to get the true ROI from your entertainment and not just looking at the entertainer’s fee. Look for more in the upcoming weeks. Until next time,

Concert Promoter Humor – Don’t become one of these punchlines to a joke:

  • What do you throw a drowning concert promoter? Your contract rider

  • Why do concert promoters have a clear conscience? Because it is unused

  • What’s the difference between an honest concert promoter and a UFO? People have reported seeing a UFO

  • How can you tell if a concert promoter is dead? Wave money around

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