Will Casino Shows Be Allowed After Nevada Gov. Sisolak’s COVID Announcement?

Posted on: December 13, 2020, 01:36h. 

Last updated on: December 13, 2020, 02:23h.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) is planning to make an announcement at 4 pm PT today (Dec. 13) about the future of COVID-19 restrictions on gaming properties and other businesses. But no matter what he says, casinos were already struggling with his existing restrictions.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman has called Gov. Sisolak a dictator
Andrew Dice Clay pictured above in 2019. The comedian was one of a handful of performers who chose to put on a show while Nevada had a cap of 50 in the audience. (Image: Michael Schmelling/The New York Times)

During the press conference, the governor can choose to extend the current three-week, 25 percent cap, lessen it, or make it stronger. It has applied to gaming floors, restaurants, and bars, and was put in place last month.

Another cap was put in place in November by the governor that prevented more than 50 people, or over  25 percent capacity in casino showrooms, which ever number is lower.

The 50-person occupancy limit on showrooms made it difficult for entertainers and casino operators. In fact, Sisolak’s earlier 50 percent capacity directive — or no more than 250 in the audience — was challenging enough, James Sammataro, a Miami-based entertainment lawyer at Pryor Cashman, said.

He is co-chair of the firm’s media and entertainment practice group. Sammataro has represented such performers as Enrique Iglesias and large studios such as Sony and Warner Brothers.

Even the 250-person limitation was close to a guaranteed loss-leader,” Sammataro told Casino.org. “In almost every other instance, such stark caps would result in a cancellation of the performance.”

He points out that casinos “are driven by different economic considerations…. The ability to offer intimate access can be used as a point of distinction in attracting high-end clientele.”

Fire Department-ordered capacities in the Las Vegas theaters also can “vary dramatically,” he added. The Luxor holds between 1,000 to 1,500 seats. The Bellagio’s O Theater seats 1,800.

The MGM’s capacity is approximately 5,200 for residency shows. The Zappos theater can hold up to 7,000.

“While show-specific, and dependent on the production costs, the rule of thumb is that you’re shooting for a capacity minimally in excess of 72 to 75 percent, and much higher on premium nights — Thursday through Sunday,” Sammataro said.

Even that is a broad estimate. A consistent 72 percent capacity would get a show “immediately canceled” in some venues, Sammataro added. Other shows have a higher break-even number, unless it is a private show.

But attendance can be different now, given the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many artists are participating in event-quality live streams, where they are performing in close to empty venues for the sole purpose of streaming the event,” Sammataro explained. “Until touring resumes in earnest, atypical arrangements — be it performing in front of small audiences, or the Flaming Lips performance in huge plastic bubbles — will not be summarily rejected.”

In addition, Kamal Moo, an entertainment attorney based in Los Angeles who has represented such performers as Janet Jackson, said promoters “will calculate what sales need to be achieved in order to at least break-even and hopefully make a profit.

“Given these restrictions, my guess is that they would likely need to raise the price of individual tickets in order to make up the difference,” Moo told Casino.org. “However, it’s unclear if people would be willing to pay those higher prices.”

With current COVID-19 restrictions, “It’s hard to imagine casinos trying to mount shows in their bigger rooms for the time being,” Moo added. Last month’s tighter restrictions led to many canceled shows on The Strip, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Andrew Dice Clay Goes on With the Show

Still, some performers went on with the show. One well-known example was comedian Andrew Dice Clay, who performed over Thanksgiving weekend at Tropicana Las Vegas’ Laugh Factory.

Earlier, the room was set up for an audience of 80. They lowered it to 50.

That is in sharp contrast to him selling out Madison Square Garden for two consecutive nights in 1990.

Performances of other comedians are scheduled to continue tonight through later this month at Las Vegas’ Laugh Factory. The expected performers include Tim Gaither, Adam Ray, and Quinn Dahle.

Also, Pauly Shore is scheduled to perform at the Delirious Comedy Club at the Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino on Dec. 18 and 19.

But, overall, the economic impact of Sisolak’s 25 percent cap led Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman to label him “a dictator.” She said his November COVID policies will be “crushing to the city.”

Many Tours Canceled

“I know that entertainers are in a tough position right now,” Kamal Moo added about the national entertainment scene. “Many tours have been canceled over the past several months, and it’s unclear when things will be able to resume.”

Moo explained that live shows are usually a reliable source of income for entertainers. “It’s putting a squeeze on their ability to make money,” he said about pandemic restrictions.