The picture for entertainment venues in Las Vegas is starting to look a little brighter.
Effective March 15, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak loosened venue capacity restrictions to 250 people or 50 percent (whichever is less), and as a result casino operators announced that some of their shows will resume production at the end of this month.
MGM properties will reopen David Copperfield, and Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at the MGM Grand, Fantasy and Carrot Top at the Luxor, Australian Bee Gees at the Excalibur, and others. Caesars Entertainment will resume Absinthe at Caesars Palace, Extravaganza at Bally’s Jubilee Theater, and X Burlesque at the Flamingo, as well as other productions.
Also effective March 15 in Nevada, an event organizer may request a permit to host a gathering of more than 250 people such as a conference or trade show. That’s prompting the return to Las Vegas of a series of conventions in the coming months including the Tobacco Plus Expo, World of Concrete, Nightclub and Bar Show, Magic Show and (my personal favorite) the International Pizza Expo, all to be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Festivals scheduled to proceed later this year include the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend at the Orleans Hotel-Casino, Life Is Beautiful (downtown) and the Psycho Las Vegas music festival.
Why is it that Vegas venues are willing to operate at reduced capacity, whereas many concert venues find it a financial washout? A big reason is that these shows are not their only (or even primary) source of revenue. The shows are loss-leaders. A casino stands to make more money on support services than they do on the price of a ticket. If they can get a baby boomer in the door for a show, they can probably sell a hotel room, a few meals, drinks, and maybe get the patron to drop a few hundred bucks on the casino floor.
That doesn’t mean you’ll get comped for a front-row seat to see Lady Gaga, but there are a lot of mid-level acts that can get back to work even if they are playing to rooms that are at 50 percent capacity. Half-full is better than empty, and giving a high roller a few comp tickets to the showroom is worth way more than the cost of the seats.
I remember doing shows at one particular Las Vegas casino where the showroom manager made it very clear to me that he didn’t want the band’s set length to go past a certain length. “Don’t play too long. I want them out on the floor spending money,” he told me, referring to the patrons. That’s why casinos are willing to bet that safe operation at reduced capacity can be a winning combination.