Connecticut venue defies traditional logic, courts hipper clients

Contemporary top 40 music and casino entertainment might appear to be an unlikely juxtaposition, but Foxwoods is betting the two can successfully unite in a revamp of the gambling industry’s image.

The list of traditional casino entertainers runs a mile long with performers like Neil Sedaka and Wayne Newton. Tom Cantone, vice president of entertainment at Foxwoods in Connecticut, wants to toss in the likes of Ciara, Ludacris and Los Lonely Boys. “It’s evolving now,” Cantone says of the new gambling image. “The younger group is saving for Saturday night, not their retirement.”

He calls Foxwoods “one-stop shopping” for a previously untapped audience. “Casinos are different today. It’s sort of an adult theme park.”

Saturday evening could begin with a round of poker, a game Cantone says is red hot with young people. He boasts that Foxwoods is the only casino in New England to deal poker.

The night might continue at the Fox Theater, a 1,400-seat hall where artists like John Legend played some of their first performances. After the show, Foxwoods sells live recordings in the form of instant discs, alongside typical concert memorabilia, to bring in even more dollars.

Foxwoods’ Club B.B., a hip nightclub where Pink and LL Cool J have been spotted, adds to the youth appeal. It’s also attracted the likes of MTV, VH1 and NBC. Each net has featured the casino in its programming.

Despite Foxwood’s high profile, not everyone is convinced of the youth crowd’s spending potential.

Steve Blanck, vice president of Gayle Force Entertainment, says the goal is not to fill the concert hall, but to attract customers that will migrate to the casinos — the 40- to 65-year-old crowd.

Blanck insists young people aren’t financially appealing to the industry. “They’re not a gambling crowd. They’re not of any consequence.”

Billy Alan, president of booking company Billy Alan Prods., says the perfect casinogoer is someone with a significant disposable income — “big droppers,” named for the amount of cash they spend. Alan says those big droppers fancy the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck and Tony Orlando.

Foxwood’s Cantone disagrees, saying it’s a mistake to target a specific group when there are crossover acts like Josh Groban and Alicia Keys that attract all ages. “The baby boomer generation is the first of their kind that’s not going to grow old. They’re always going to think young.”

That puts Foxwoods in a unique position, to break the rules or fall victim to them. Cantone is confident that it’ll be the former. The casino plans to install two more nightclubs and new 5,000-seat venue by 2008.

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