A few years ago if you wanted to see a major, nationally known entertainer like Bill Cosby, you would have left Mississippi for New Orleans, Memphis or another major metropolitan area. But the advent of legalized gaming in Mississippi has brought more than slot machines and blackjack tables. It has also completely changed the quantity and quality of entertainment offerings in Mississippi, bringing big-name entertainers into the state on a regular basis.
Chuck Anthony, president of the casino division of Florida-based T. Scorman Production, books entertainment at casinos throughout the country. Anthony said most people would be shocked at the entertainment offerings now available in Mississippi. And since the entertainment is being used to attract guests, the entertainment is subsidized; most casinos don’t make money off the ticket sales. That means tickets are more reasonably priced than in most other venues.
“People are getting a good bargain,” Anthony said. “There is no better entertainment bargain in the country than in Mississippi. There are no better casino operators than in Mississippi, and I deal in 12 states.”
Anthony said the quality of entertainment offered at casinos is improving all the time. Good entertainment options are part of the entire experience casino resorts want to offer to customers along with gaming and good food.
And how do the big name entertainers feel about coming to Mississippi?
“Mississippi has lost its backwater image,” Anthony said. “The entertainers are dying to come now. They love it because they are treated so well. I’ve been doing business in Mississippi since the first year with Splash Casino and Casino Magic. At that time, the entertainers didn’t know what I was talking about. Now they do. If they are booked for an act, they know where they are going.”
Anthony said he is impressed by what Mississippi casinos offer.
“Beau Rivage is as close to Vegas as you can get,” he said. “And the Grand is certainly right there with them. I also see some of the smaller properties like Treasure Bay and President’s Casino upgrading their product, and it is great.”
Beau Rivage has an indoor circus and dance performing troop, Cirque Du Soleil, whose performances of Alegria can be described as nothing less than stunning. Beau Rivage publicity describing “spectacular feats of aerobatics” is not an exaggeration. The performers come from countries around the world.
New Palace and Casino Magic are smaller Coast properties that, nonetheless, have surprisingly good entertainment offered at little or no cost. The same week the Beau Rivage opened, the showroom at New Palace was packed for a melodramatic song and dance production called Wild Wild West. The production comes to Biloxi during the off season, performing in Branson, Mo., during the height of the tourist season.
Casino Magic in Biloxi has only a small showroom, but packs a tremendous punch with its new Hot Stuff, a Vegas-style review. The cast includes Kurt Larson and Regina Powers, who perform an energetic and unusual combination of music, dance and magic, and Tyler Linkin, whose comedy and juggling skills have promoted one reviewer to call him “Seinfeld with balls.” Linkin has appeared in a number of television spots. Hot Stuff is performed free six days a week, and the small showroom is actually used to advantage to give an intimate feel to performances.
Professional boxing has also become big in Mississippi since the advent of casinos. Recently The Sun Herald in Biloxi seemed more excited that Michael Jordan was present than that there was a championship fight between Roy Jones Jr. and Reggie Johnson.
“Many cities or regions experience defining moments, and those long anticipated events show that they have arrived, been placed on the map,” wrote Sun Herald report Geoff Pender. “The Coast had one of those moments Saturday night. Grand Casinos’ Jones-Johnson unification bout brought hype, glitz, live HBO coverage and celebrities.”
Ernie Stebbins, executive director, Mississippi Gaming Association, says you only have to look at the weekend edition of The Clarion-Ledger to see that major entertainment is booked across the state on a regular basis.
“We have top name acts across the state from Tunica to Vicksburg, Vicksburg to the Gulf Coast,” Stebbins said. “It is unbelievable. You can see anyone from top country stars to some of the tremendous Motown acts I grew up with. At the Silver Star they’ve had everyone from Bill Cosby to Wayne Newton in one month. I don’t think anyone can call us an entertainment backwater any more because we have top name acts throughout the state.”
Stebbins said before gaming state residents would have had to leave the state to see top entertainment. Now, instead, out of staters are flocking to Mississippi. Stebbins finds it amazing that one of his favorite musical groups, Sawyer Brown, will be playing soon in Lula at the Lady Luck Casino.
“Today the casinos have theaters nearly on every property,” he said. “There is no question people are looking for more than gambling. If you are in the right location, you can appeal to a much broader market by offering entertainment, good restaurants and outdoor recreation like golf that bring a whole new clientele to your property. If you look at the financial plans for most of the casino operators in the state, and also the other venues like Nevada and New Jersey, they plan for their properties to make a considerable return on investment from hotel and restaurant side. It isn’t just gaming revenue that is building these properties.”