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Expanding Their Horizons

Hanging on the walls of the Star of the Desert arena’s green room are portraits of performers who have played the 6,208-seat venue at Buffalo Bill’s in Primm.

Alan Jackson. Reba McEntire. Dolly Parton. Joan Jett. Ringo Starr. Snoop Dogg.

Feel free to spend a moment deciding whether Joan, Ringo or Snoop is the most out-of-place name on that list. David Krause would be happy if you do, because that would mean rethinking your notion of what’s happening at the triplex of resorts about 30 miles south of Las Vegas near the California border.

During the past year or so, Krause, vice president of marketing and entertainment for Terrible’s Primm Valley Resorts, and Lydia Holler, the resorts’ entertainment manager, have worked to expand the roster of formerly country-heavy entertainment offerings at Primm. And, through ticket giveaways, room-and-concert ticket combos and other novel twists, they’re trying to persuade Las Vegans that there is, indeed, fun to be had only a half-hour’s drive away.

It’s a hefty order, given Primm’s previous image as a haven for country acts.

"We love country. Country has been good to us. We’ll by no means turn our back on it," said Krause, who has been at the Primm Resorts for about 18 months. Upcoming shows do include, for example, Wynonna, Lee Ann Womack, Dwight Yoakam, and Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton.

But "there are a lot of other genres," Krause added, and that’s why The B-52s, Patti Labelle, B.B. King and The Village People with Sister Sledge and Rose Royce also will be performing at the arena during the next several months.

The genre-expanding effort seems to be working, sometimes to the surprise of Krause, Holler and others at the property.

"When we booked Snoop Dogg (for June 25), Lydia and I were probably the most hated people on the property because no one understood it," Krause said. "And all of a sudden we had 4,200 on a Wednesday night to see Snoop Dogg. That’s unbelievable."

The more diverse concert roster is one tool Krause uses to persuade Las Vegans to make the trek south on Interstate 15 and sample the entertainment, gaming and dining options at Buffalo Bill’s, Primm Valley Resort and Whiskey Pete’s, the three resorts owned by Herbst Gaming Inc.

As a further inducement, the resort hands out at least 560 free tickets to every show — four-wall shows, in which an outside act leases the arena itself, are excluded — through its own ticket site (www.primmconcerts.com). As many as two tickets can be obtained per show per household for Ticketmaster’s $3.55 handling fee alone.

"Not all are nosebleed section," Krause said. "We pepper them everywhere."

It seems to be working, Krause noted. "We’re seeing a 10 percent increase in ticket sales the week of the concert versus six months ago or even a year ago, and we can attribute that to our free tickets offer."

That’s because fans who go to the site for free tickets but find them gone often end up buying tickets anyway. According to Krause, Las Vegas ZIP codes represent about 33 percent of concert ticket sales, up from 10 percent a year ago, while Las Vegas-area ZIP codes represent about 8 percent — versus 2.5 percent a year ago — of the resorts’ gaming database.

It helps, too, Krause said, that concert ticket prices are kept relatively low.

"We’re not out to gouge," he said. "We know you’ve got to drive 35 miles or 25 miles to get here, so we’re going to make the prices cheap enough to kind of offset your gas.

"You’re going to see the lowest price on boxing events (at) $10, and on Patti Labelle, it’s $39 or $34. We’re not saying, ‘If we sell 1,000 tickets at two (more) bucks, what are we gonna (make)?’ We’d rather have you come down to experience our property. Then, you’ll come back and be loyal to us."

What prompted Carol and Joffre Johnson and friends Daniel and Meg Piguet to trek down from Centennial Hills and Henderson Saturday to see the Beach Boys? "It’s a free concert," Meg replied, smiling and, jokingly, taking on a tone of a parent talking to a particularly dim child.

The travel time isn’t a hardship, Carol said.. "We’re friends, so it gives us a chance to talk on our way out here."

The Beach Boys concert — which drew about 4,900 fans, Krause said — was the first show that Tom and Patricia Pollard caught at Primm. They live in Henderson, and Tom said the drive to the state line is no more vexing than traveling from one side of the Las Vegas Valley to the other.

"Sometimes, we’d drive up to the Cannery at the other end of town," Tom said. "When you think about it, it isn’t much different."

"They’ve been doing some good things," Patricia said. "We’re really happy to see it. You get tired of the crowds in Vegas."

"In fact, we’re looking at Three Dog Night (in December)," Tom added. "But the free ones are already gone, so we may come back and look at that again."

Debbie Smith and Paul Blevins drove in from Henderson and figured on having dinner and gambling a bit before returning home. The Beach Boys tickets were free, Debbie joked, but "they’re gonna get their money for the tickets."

For Las Vegas-area concertgoers who do wish to stick around after a concert, the resorts offer a ticket and room package on selected shows in conjunction with KXPT-FM, 97.1, in which fans can score two tickets and a room for $97. Room and ticket packages also are offered for every other show, albeit at a slightly higher price, Krause said.

The idea is that fans can catch dinner, watch a concert, have a drink or two and enjoy a minigetaway before driving back to town. And, in that respect, Primm’s half-hour or so distance from town actually works in the resorts’ favor.

"It’s far enough away that you don’t think you’re in Las Vegas," Krause explained, "but you’re still close enough to not have to spend a ton of money."

Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, finds it interesting that "they’re actually looking to attract Las Vegas’ population to come to Primm." That’s a hefty order, he added, given that "Las Vegas probably has, on any given night, more entertainment options than any city in the world."

But he doesn’t think the distance will, by itself, make or break the resort’s chances of creating a Las Vegas-based clientele.

"If you’re a hard-core Ringo fan, you wouldn’t mind making the drive," Bongiovanni said. "If you live in L.A., 30 minutes is nothing. That’s just halfway across town."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.

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