Country acts rely on casinos

That Trace Adkins video for “I Got My Game On” may coincidentally nail the attitude toward country music in Las Vegas.

In the comic video, Adkins is a rhinestone cowboy decked out in his Armani suit, “my custom-made (cowboy) hat, my alligator boots” and tons of bling.

Adkins sings a different tune today for the Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden arena. He wasn’t actually nominated for any award.

Neither was the MGM Grand Garden. Or the Mandalay Bay Events Center, honored in the past as the Academy’s Casino of the Year.

In the off-camera awards that were to be presented Saturday, the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut took the Casino of the Year honor, beating out the only local nominee, the Star of the Desert Arena at Buffalo Bill’s in Primm.

David Krause, head of marketing and entertainment for the Star of the Desert, believes Nashville felt the love from Primm, while perhaps feeling city-slickered on the Strip.

“Part of it is the service we give the acts and their techs,” Krause says. The arena caters to the crew, literally, by delivering food instead of pointing the way to the employees dining hall.

Krause also believes country acts stand out more with a few miles of separation. Adkins’ flashy video cowboy might be a symbol for the Strip, where country acts thrive, but still compete for attention alongside Cirque du Soleil. (For the record, Adkins says “O” is “the best show I’ve ever seen in my life.”)

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill can handle that kind of pressure. They did a three-night stand at Mandalay Bay last year. But move a veteran act such as George Jones or Randy Travis a few miles out of town, and suddenly it’s a bigger deal to folks in Barstow, Calif., if not Henderson.

The Academy has seen this category grow, too. It rightly has to acknowledge that casinos across the country are now the bread and butter for country acts.

Casinos have “become a part of everyone’s touring career at every level,” says Steve Hauser, who books the western part of the country for the William Morris Agency. “We use (the casinos) for routing all across the country.”

But Las Vegas stands out, and doesn’t need awards to know that. “We can have three or four acts (from the same agency) the same weekend because Vegas is Vegas,” Hauser says. During the National Finals Rodeo last December, he booked 21 acts within a nine-day window.

“Our country acts love going to Vegas,” he adds, citing the universal appeal of the restaurants and golf.

In the tongue-in-cheek video, the towering Adkins doesn’t look like he’s wanting for validation. Neither does the Strip. “I got my groove on, I got my smooth on …”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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