Joe Santiago is a popular guy.
As Station Casinos’ vice president of entertainment, he receives numerous requests from friends, family and even strangers looking for free entry into concerts.
"Not only do I get hit up for tickets for Station Casino events," he said. "I get hit up for entertainment events at venues where I used to work and even requests for tickets to venues where I have never worked. It never ends."
Santiago oversees booking of concerts and comedians for 15 venues at eight properties for Station Casinos.
The 37-year-old father of three books an eclectic mix of talent, ranging from free blues shows at Boulder Station to classic rockers REO Speedwagon and Joe Cocker and modern chart toppers Gnarls Barkley and Nelly Furtado at other venues.
Santiago replaced longtime Station Casino entertainment executive Judy Alberti in March 2006 when Alberti left to become chief executive officer of Dodge Theater in Phoenix.
Santiago surprised some industry watchers by leaving MGM Mirage, with its large venues and Strip presence, to join the neighborhood casino company. One of his first duties was to oversee, and keep quiet, the surprise Sting concert for the opening of Red Rock Resort in April 2006.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas graduate started in sports marketing as an intern before switching to entertainment at the Thomas & Mack Center.
He left concert booking for a couple of years to work on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority events team through R&R Partners. The position included a stint as the managing director of the Las Vegas Bowl, as well as helping coordinate the Western Athletic Conference Championship and events in Laughlin.
Santiago returned to Thomas & Mack in 1998 when new facility director Daren Libonati offered him the associate director position.
He said he left Thomas & Mack Center in 2005 because the gaming companies were luring concerts and special events, such as the circus, away from the arena.
Although Santiago’s office is at Boulder Station, he spends a lot of his time traveling between venues ensuring things run smoothly for the artists and the property.
Question: How did you come to work for Station Casinos from a similar position at MGM Mirage?
Answer: There was a dinner hosted by Creative Artists Agency out of Los Angeles. All the entertainment people in town were there. Judy Alberti made the announcement she was leaving, and I think Stacy Columbo (Station Casinos’ vice president of marketing) was scouting out people who were in the business. We got to talking and one thing led to another.
Question: Was there a big change from working for a big Strip operator to the neighborhood casino market?
Answer: Working in the smaller venues and being opened up to a whole new segment of the entertainment market which I never really knew about. Before I was booking large shows like Linkin Park, U2 and Metallica. Now I’m booking jazz, classic rock, young country and rhythm and blues.
Question: With whom does Station Casinos compete when booking talent?
Answer: We compete with the Hard Rock Hotel, the Palms, the Cannery and South Point. Obviously, we’re not competing for the arena shows. We compete with the small to midsize venues, 1,500 to 2,500 seats.
Question: How competitive is the Las Vegas concert market?
Answer: It is extremely competitive. Once we have opportunities, we feel can succeed in our venues. We go at them 100 percent as does everybody else.
Question: How did you get started in the entertainment booking industry?
Answer: I had a sports marketing internship at UNLV when a new athletic director, Jim Weaver, came in 1992 and cleaned house.
I heard I was about to lose my position so I went down the hall to a friend running the concert and special events promotions and told him I needed something. I got hired in corporate sales for the Thomas & Mack Center. Then the booking coordinator left and they needed somebody to fulfill all the onuses of the artist agreements during the heyday of the concerts.
Question: What is a typical day for you?
Answer: If it is not a show day, I am on the phone with agents and managers, working on a performance, talking to (the various Station Casino) general managers. On a show day, depending on how many shows we have, I’m hands-on when I have to be. It’s fun to be involved with the guest interaction and working with the band.
Question: Do you have to be at all the big shows?
Answer: We are a pretty small staff. I have four people that report directly to me plus production managers at the different properties. I am around every show day. Once the concert’s over and we finalize our settlement, I leave. They can be long days.
Question: How do you decide which show gets booked for which property?
Answer: Each property has its own philosophy for the shows it likes to book, how much it likes to spend on an act. That’s a function of how many seats are in the room and what the standard ticket price is. It’s a math calculation.
Question: How much input do you receive from the individual properties when booking?
Answer: The general managers are involved. It’s good to have an alliance with the properties because you each have ownership of booking that show. We have great team philosophy.
Question: Is there any artist or event that stands out as the best you’ve been involved with?
Answer: There are so many shows I could say was my favorite. Just having the opportunity to be there and watching Sting open Red Rock was phenomenal. There has been so many I’ve been involved with I’ve been fortunate to see a multitude of talent at all the venues I’ve worked at.
Question: What is the most interesting request you’ve had to deal with from an artist?
Answer: Rose petals in the toilet and baby lambs in the room. I won’t name any names, but that was the most bizarre.VITAL STATISTICS Name: Joe Santiago. Age: 37. Position: Vice president of entertainment, Station Casinos. Family: Wife, Julie; daughters, Jillian and Jenna; son, Jake. Education: Bachelor’s in business management, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Work history: Marketing, University of Nevada, Las Vegas athletic department, 1992-1993; booking coordinator, Thomas & Mack Center, 1993-1994; booking and advertising manager, Primm 1995-1996; managing director of Las Vegas Bowl, R&R Partners, 1996-1998; associate director, Thomas & Mack Center, 1998-2005; vice president of entertainment, MGM Mirage, 2005-2006; vice president of entertainment, Station Casinos, March 2006-present. Hobbies: Running, golf. Favorite book: "109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Lost City of Los Alamos" by Jennet Conant. Hometown: Albuquerque, N.M. In Las Vegas since: 1990. Quotable: "I am around every show day. Once the concert’s over and we finalize our settlement, I leave. They can be long days." Station Casinos concert and entertainment listings can be found at the company Web site, www.stationcasinos.com.