August 29, 2009

Why no Native performers at casinos?

Actor/musician Gary Farmer triggered an interesting exchange about Native performers at Indian casinos on Facebook:Gary Farmer:  Finally, on the same day I go to the Isleta casino owned by the Isleta Pueblo south of ABQ and attempt like the last two years to get a gig at their local club within the casino. I am told that, "We tried Indian bands but they don't tip and we can not make money off Bud Light." By the end of the day...I felt like I was in the twilight zone....How we suppose to grow as a society when the darkness prevails...?

Chris Matinet:  Doesn't the casino make enough money?....It would be in their best interest to have Indian bands playing there....Don't u think?

Marie Warne:  What the hey??? Totally unbelievable...and this is in the heart of Indian Country? I think you did cross into the 'twilight zone' Gary....Geez!

Robert Upham:  I think our Indian casinos can sell a unique identity if they would have a little courage. We need to define ourselves and they will come. Why do we have to serve up the same product as Vegas or Atlantic City?

Rob Schmidt:  Shortsighted, I'd say. Building awareness of Indians as a thriving and entertaining people ultimately will make the casino more successful.

Trace A. DeMeyer:  When I started to work for the Pequot, I heard the same thing. Whites who play slots at casinos don't go to see Native bands. It's the white guys who manage the casinos who make the booking decisions. The few bands like Robert Mirabal and Brule who did play Foxwoods didn't draw big crowds. Gary, you can't make new fans if you can't play the casinos. Don't give up....

Rob Schmidt:  Right, Trace. But the Indians who own the casinos and oversee the white managers should be thinking further ahead than than the next quarter's profits. If they emphasize Indians as a "brand," they may attract more curious customers. They also may persuade the public that gaming really is about helping many Indians, not enriching a few ones.

Rob Schmidt:  Creating "Indian awareness" is the reason Indian casinos use Indian motifs in their architecture and decor. It sets them apart and helps them establish their "brand." If they didn't think this was useful, they presumably wouldn't do it.

Hiring Indian entertainers (and other Indian talent) is the same idea. It helps create brand awareness and set Indian casinos apart from others. It may not contribute directly to the bottom line, but neither does the architecture and decor.

In short, it's all about positioning Indian casinos as a separate and distinct kind of venue. Something different from the usual run-of-the-mill casino or card club. If you want pure gaming, you go to Vegas or Atlantic City. If you want a bit of ambiance and culture, you go to an Indian casino.

Everything else on the property has an Indian "vibe." The names, the symbols, the food, etc. Native performers can contribute to this vibe too.
Comment:  I've actually written a few articles on casino entertainment. For instance:

Tribal circuit lit by top talents
Casinos Miss a Bet with Native Entertainment

So I feel I know something about the subject. <g>

As I indicated, there are several possible benefits from employing Native performers. 1) Attracting more customers. 2) Attracting a different demographic of customers. 3) Branding the casino as an Indian kind of place. 4) Creating goodwill with the public--especially decision-makers who question the Indians' bona fides.

Naturally, casinos can't just give Native performers one or two shots and then say it didn't work. They have to book and market the performers on an ongoing basis to build their following. For example, put them on Wednesday nights--a la the Native band Inkompliant at Pechanga--or whenever business is slow. Let them prove themselves over time.

For more on the subject, see The Facts About Indian Gaming.

P.S. As usual, I've edited the comments slightly to make them more readable.

Below:  Isleta Casino & Resort.

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