BY LON BRONSON
The Las Vegas lounge scene is not completely dead, but it smells real bad. With few noticeable exceptions (Stations properties), most casinos are shunning our glorious Vegas heritage of providing free lounge entertainment. This hasn’t happened overnight; ever since the Mob lost out to Howard Hughes we’ve been descending on this not-so-slippery slope. Think about it: Forty years ago you could see Louis Prima for a two-drink minimum. Today? Right. Why not? Intangibles. It’s problematic for accountants to show a paper trail from an excited lounge patron to a gaming table — and register his losses as a result of hearing the Count Basie Orchestra. Intangible. Tourists who fly in from all over the world for the sole purpose of seeing a favorite lounge act might tell a casino host — but it’s never put into the lounge’s revenue column. Intangible. The perceived concept of getting something for nothing from the megaresort — which is relentlessly harvesting your cash from the second you enter. Intangible.
As a result, in the pursuit of tangible profits, the megaresorts have done one of three things with their lounges.
1) Pay to play: This is sheer genius. Rent the lounge, at a premium price, to fledgling acts with Vegas stars in their eyes. The act’s only source of revenue is whatever ticket sales they may get. The casino supplies no marketing/advertising support (that would cost money). Result: Revolving door of mediocrity. No individual act can possibly compete with the thousands of dollars being spent weekly on headline entertainment marketing. Nobody buys the tickets, so the act runs out of cash in short order. Survivors of this scenario include hypnotists and impersonator track acts. Advantage: Bad Hypnotists. Disadvantage: People won’t pay to watch lame acts. Thus, an empty lounge.
2) Disco nightclub: Turn your lounge into Vegas’ newest craze, “The Club.” Looks like nothing but easy money here: Charge a $20 cover, rape everybody on the drinks (water: $10), and get $500 for a table near the action from conventioneers who equate real estate location with *** acquisition. Advantage: Dorks with lots of money who still can’t get laid. Disadvantage: It costs money to get your lounge to resemble Studio 54. A lot of money.
3) *** off: No lounge entertainment, period. Put in slot machines. Now people might start going to your pricey new Broadway production. Advantage: Steve Wynn. Disadvantage: Steve Wynn. Look, I’m not advocating socialism here. We’re all in the game to make a buck. All I am saying is give the ghost of Louis Prima a chance. Find a way to cook the books so the lounges do show a small profit (we all know that can be done). Hire Prima’s contemporaries. Give away Kansas, Flock of Seagulls and Three Dog Night for two drinks (and along the way, even some lesser-known acts that merit it — guess who? No, actually I meant Burton Cummings’ The Guess Who).
The Mohegan Sun hotel-casino in Connecticut has been doing just that. You should see the line that forms for the free David Cassidy show 24 hours before downbeat. And what is within arm’s reach of that long line, my friends? Gaming. Shopping. Restaurants. Talk about a captive audience. It’s classic bait and switch. Baby boomers will spend even more money once they’ve heard Steppenwolf and had a few Smirnoff Ices. The corpies could still learn a thing or two from the carnies. Make it tangible. Harvest on. Thanks for listening. I’m here all week.
THE LON BRONSON ALL-STAR BAND PERFORMED AT THE RIVIERA FOR 13 YEARS BEFORE MOVING TO THE GOLDEN NUGGET IN 2004. HIS SHOW WAS CANCELED IN OCTOBER.