Casinos’ gamble on rock pays off

Bands head to off-the-beaten-path venues

The noise from slot machines is clearly not the only sound coming out of casinos these days.

During the last decade, thanks to the presence of venues such as the Hard Rock Cafe’s the Joint and the House of Blues, rock ‘n’ roll performers have found a home in Las Vegas after years of bypassing that entertainment mecca of the West.

And casino rock is certainly not limited to the Vegas Strip. Now we’re talking about Mt. Pleasant, Mich.; Camp Verde, Ariz.; Rama, Ontario, Canada; Grand Ronde, Ore.; and Verona, N.Y.

“They pay nice guarantees, they attract very appreciative audiences, and it helps us in our routing,” says Bruce Cohn, manager of the Doobie Brothers, noting that about 10% of the band’s shows are in casinos.

Off-the-beaten-path venues such as casinos, state fairs and corporate gigs have been a boon for midlevel acts, which can now string together a series of dates between more traditional gigs.

Dwight Yoakam, for example, is skedded to play 33 shows between Aug. 23 and Nov. 3. The sites include rock halls (the Fillmore in San Francisco and Cleveland’s Palace); casinos in Vegas, North Carolina, Bossier City, La., and elsewhere; a handful of performing arts centers; an amusement park; a winery; and a rodeo.

Casinos are at the front of that pack because of their locations and upgraded showrooms, which several people say attract fans who haven’t necessarily seen the band before.

“It comes down to a lot more younger people are going to casinos now and the talent is changing to accommodate them,” says Johnny Podell, a partner at the booking agency Evolution Talent Agency.

“Venues have upgraded their production dramatically, and everybody realized there’s work available there.”

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