Seth Yuof: How Bean Counters Killed Las Vegas Entertainment; Will Music Save It?

By Seth Yudof

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 | 2:38 p.m.

Editor’s Note: While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. We continue today with Las Vegas producer and manager Seth Yudof, who offers opinions prompted by a proposed entertainment council.

Slowly, painfully and without anesthetic. That’s how the brilliant entertainment of Las Vegas has been killed off over the years.

Once upon a time, lounge singers were international stars and shows were unique spectaculars. Booze flowed freely at bars and lounges, which featured world-class entertainment until the wee hours of the morning. All of this created a general euphoria in casino customers, as well as a connection with them that kept them gambling on property.

Now, you walk into a high-end casino and see a show for $150 a ticket. Do you want to hang out in that casino afterward? After being wallet-raped by that show, I bet that the average person wants to leave that building as quickly as possible and find something more affordable to do.

How much money are casinos losing by attempting to make a profit off everything guests do rather than actually keeping them entertained and happy so that they spend their money on the casino floor — like our mobster forefathers intended?!

Show tickets are harder to sell than ever, and the natural scapegoat is the new nightclub with its overpaid DJs. But that’s not really fair. The nightclubs are actually having the same issue.

I believe the problem is that there is an oversaturation of shows, nightclubs, restaurants, etc. Since guests are rarely offered loss-leading entertainment or meals anymore, their pockets are systematically emptied before they have a chance to see all that Las Vegas has to offer. And the shows, no longer supported financially by casinos, suffer the most.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Las Vegas. A whole style of music was born out of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin’s Las Vegas shows in the 1950s and ’60s, but doesn’t it seem like the only defining entertainment coming out of our town in the past two decades is the imported Cirque du Soleil shows?

Surely, that is the result of the expectation that outside show producers have deep enough pockets to fund their entire production. Even Las Vegas-born Louis Prima Jr. (our management client) had to go on the road to find success, leaving the town in which his father virtually launched the entertainment scene.

But I see a musical light on the horizon. Let me explain.

Las Vegas sprouted in the desert as a completely fake oasis and adult playground. Little of what is associated with this town was originally here, so all of the superlatives were brought in: the best designers, the most talented performers, the most beautiful women and the greediest mobsters.

To create this spectacular-but-fake culture requires a lot of talent. For decades, would-be actresses and rock stars have moved here because they could find steady work serving cocktails or singing in lounge bands, even if stardom ultimately escaped them. But it was only a matter of time before all of this imported culture amounted to something culturally significant.

As I look around our tiny larger-than-life city, it seems like we are on the verge of a great new era of entertainment. We finally have a few international stars as regular headliners on the Strip again, and great new music is again originating from Las Vegas.

Tony Hsieh is investing heavily in downtown, turning it into something that resembles my hometown of Austin, Texas. It is becoming a place where people want to be. And all of those musicians who moved here to make money but are now having trouble finding work? Well, now they are making original music.

Exciting bands such as the Killers, Imagine Dragons and Panic! at the Disco have emerged from Las Vegas. The momentum that is developing here didn’t occur to me until my company recently signed a management deal with the Seattle-based band Eclectic Approach. They were actually excited that their management team was in Las Vegas, which they perceive to be a hotbed of new music.

I’m really looking forward to this next chapter in Las Vegas’ story. I’m optimistic that the entertainment and fun, which originally drew people to the middle of the desert, will be coming back in a big way. I truly hope that the casinos begin to embrace and encourage that, remembering the time when they would seek out the most talented and creative producers rather than the producers with the deepest pockets.

If they do, we will all win.

Check out our other guest columns today from Lisa Dawn Miller-Hackett and Sandy Hackett of “The Rat Pack Show,” and Wednesday from hypnotist Marc Savard; photographer Jeff Mitchum, who just opened a gallery at MGM Grand; and Charissa Davidovici of Sugar Factory.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.