As Atlantic City continues to struggle to recover from Hurricane Sandy, the storm has complicated concert bookings and resulted in cutbacks on casino entertainment, industry officials say.
One labor leader who represents theater workers said the number of casino shows announced so far represents a clear dropoff in fall and holiday entertainment compared to years past. He said he believes entertainment is a key part of the mix of nongambling attractions Atlantic City needs as it fights for customers in the hurricane’s aftermath.
“In addition to over the summer months, this is the time of year when the casinos need something to bring customers to Atlantic City. Entertainment is one of those things that Atlantic City casinos do better than any of the other area casinos,” said Darrell Stark, business agent for Local 917 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
There are some estimates that Atlantic City will not fully recover from Sandy until the end of 2013’s first quarter, and that is when people will start coming back in droves, said Bill Ingram, a concert promoter and president of Platinum Productions in Philadelphia.
“I guess they (the casinos) are trying to take a wait-and-see approach about booking certain types of entertainment,” Ingram said.
The casinos might have had concerts penciled in that either were canceled by the performers or scrapped by the casino. When factoring in the conditions of the hurricane-ravaged feeder markets of North Jersey and New York, some shows might have bitten the dust before they were publicized, Ingram said.
“There are two philosophies: Should we scale back and try to keep the money that we have, or should we rev up our entertainment and try to let everybody know that we are back in business?” Ingram said.
Ingram said his concert promotion company is doing the same number of shows in Atlantic City in the first half of 2013 as it did in the first half of this year, including the second annual All Stars of Hip Hop concert Jan. 19 at Boardwalk Hall and the Superstars of the ’70s Soul Jam on Jan. 20 at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
“They (the casinos) might be a little nervous saying, ‘We can’t put on this expensive event and tell our employees if it doesn’t go over that we are asking some people to take layoffs,’” Ingram said, referring to job cuts and furloughs in the gambling industry.
Casino executives, though, insist they are committed to offering an ambitious entertainment lineup through the fall and winter. Some casinos say they have not scaled back their entertainment.
“We’re not cutting back,” said Eric Fiocco, senior vice president of marketing for Tropicana Casino and Resort. “We are not taking the road of cutting back on any of our marketing or entertainment.”
Jeffrey Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, said Boardwalk Hall has had virtually the same number of concerts this year as last year. There were 16 concerts in 2011 and 15 so far this year.
Don Marrandino, president of the Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Showboat casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp., said his company has sponsored a series of major sports and entertainment events to Atlantic City in the past 30 days alone. Among them was Operation Hat Trick, a charity hockey event Saturday at Boardwalk Hall to benefit Sandy relief efforts.
“With sell-out concerts and A-list entertainment slated for the coming weeks and well into 2013, some of which has not been announced to the public yet, it’s clear that Atlantic City is on the routing map for major concerts and acts,” Marrandino said. “The question isn’t if Atlantic City is cutting back, rather, who is touring and available, and at what price?”
Marrandino characterized December’s concert lineup at Showboat’s House of Blues as “off the charts.” Acts include The Roots and Jane’s Addiction. Entertainment at other Caesars Entertainment casinos includes 3 Doors Down at Caesars and DJ Pauly D at the Pool After Dark nightclub at Harrah’s.
Fiocco cited celebrity chef Paula Deen, R&B songstress Gladys Knight and 1970s dance-music masters KC and the Sunshine Band as examples of Tropicana’s headliner entertainment. Tropicana’s biggest draw this year has been Theresa Caputo, star of the TLC reality show “Long Island Medium.” Caputo has sold out four shows in Tropicana’s 2,000-seat theater, Fiocco said.
Tropicana, however, will not stage its Christmas show this holiday, bringing it to a close after about a 10-year run. Fiocco said the Christmas show wasn’t canceled because of its cost. Instead, he said, Tropicana decided to concentrate more on headliner entertainment around the holidays.
Revel, Atlantic City’s newest casino, hosted a concert Friday by hard-rock superband Aerosmith. Revel is bringing in hip-hop star Kanye West for three concerts Dec. 28-30 and DJ Tiesto for New Year’s Eve. But no other shows have been announced for Revel’s main concert venue, the 5,000-seat Ovation Hall.
Ingram said he called about the availability of Ovation Hall but was told the dates he was looking at were on hold.
“I guess it’s kind of hard right now,” Ingram said of the entertainment cutbacks at the casinos.
Revel CEO Kevin DeSanctis noted that 2013 is shaping up as a big year for Ovation Hall, as well as the casino’s HQ Nightclub and its smaller concert venue, The Social.
“In 2013, we intend to book about 60 shows, in addition to mixed martial arts,” DeSanctis said in a statement. “We expect to be heavily programmed in Ovation Hall, The Social and HQ in the new year.”
DeSanctis called Ovation Hall’s first year of entertainment “stellar.” In addition to Aerosmith and Kanye West, big-name performers have included Beyonce, Maroon 5, Avicii, the Black Keys, the Eagles and Journey. Revel also has focused on booking top DJs to draw crowds to its nightclub.
“When discussing entertainment, however, it’s important to note that nightlife’s entertainment lineup is equally important to our business in attracting visitors,” DeSanctis said.
Stark, the labor leader, maintained that Atlantic City’s present-day entertainment scene falls short of the 1980s and ’90s, when casinos ran their own revues six nights a week, in addition to offering headliner entertainment. One consequence, Stark explained, is that theater technicians who belong to Local 917 are losing work.
“Many of the local’s technicians have been hurt economically due to the entertainment cancellations caused by Hurricane Sandy and the overall reduction in currently scheduled weekly entertainment in Atlantic City at this time,” he said.
Cutbacks in casino entertainment appear to be even more glaring when looking at the concert listings in Philadelphia and Camden. Justin Bieber, Bob Dylan, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the Dave Matthews Band, Rihanna and Pink have been scheduled between this month and March to perform at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. They have all played in Atlantic City previously, but none is currently booked.
The same thing is true with Smashing Pumpkins and The Killers, each booked next month into the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden.
Most of these shows are promoted by LiveNation, the world’s No.1 producer of live entertainment. Jim Sutcliffe, a LiveNation director of marketing, said there has been no change in the relationship between his company and the Atlantic City venues.
LiveNation has done shows at Boardwalk Hall, Revel, the Taj Mahal, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and other Atlantic City casinos.
“Look at Madonna, Lady Gaga, Keith Urban, Sting, Kevin Hart, Louis C.K. and Pitbull — to us it seems like Atlantic City is vibrant and is as contemporary as ever,” Sutcliffe said about LiveNation shows that were held earlier this year in Atlantic City. “You look at acts that are playing or not playing Atlantic City. I think the reasons are the same in 2012 as they are in any year.”
Some acts may have wanted to play both markets, but will do Philadelphia first and perform in Atlantic City on a subsequent leg of a tour. Some may do only 20 dates on their entire tour, leaving no room for Atlantic City, Sutcliffe said.
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