Thunder Valley, Cache Creek Casinos Face Off in Battle of the Bands

From the Sacramento Bee - May 20, 2011

"It is not ironic, it is intentional," Thunder Valley spokesman Doug Elmets said. Upon learning Cache Creek had booked Fogerty to open its new venue, Thunder Valley sought its own piece of the Creedence crowd. "It is a competitive market out there."

"The (first) goal is to provide an entertainment option for the region," Elmets said of Thunder Valley's amphitheater, which will hold boomer favorites the Beach Boys and Chicago and, like Cache Creek's venue, is a "seasonal" structure built atop a parking lot. "Goal two is to get people of a particular demographic to come to the casino – either gambling or going to the restaurants or the spa."

 

 

On Saturday night, John Fogerty will play at Yolo County's Cache Creek Casino Resort while his ex-bandmates play Lincoln's Thunder Valley Casino Resort as Creedence Clearwater Revisited.

"I thought that was very ironic," Cache Creek entertainment manager Ben Slaght said of the Creedence Clearwater overflow. "It is like having the Rolling Stones with Mick (Jagger) and Keith (Richards) on one stage and the Rolling Stones with Bill Wyman" on another stage.

"It is not ironic, it is intentional," Thunder Valley spokesman Doug Elmets said. Upon learning Cache Creek had booked Fogerty to open its new venue, Thunder Valley sought its own piece of the Creedence crowd. "It is a competitive market out there."

Competition and the economy are reshaping the concert scene in Northern California and Northern Nevada. Tapping a level of act once more commonly found in Reno and Lake Tahoe casinos, Cache Creek and Thunder Valley also are drawing from a huge baby boomer market.

Boomers buoyed the concert business in 2010, when overall receipts decreased 12 percent, but Bon Jovi and the Eagles ranked among top ticket sellers, according to concert magazine Pollstar.

"The (first) goal is to provide an entertainment option for the region," Elmets said of Thunder Valley's amphitheater, which will hold boomer favorites the Beach Boys and Chicago and, like Cache Creek's venue, is a "seasonal" structure built atop a parking lot. "Goal two is to get people of a particular demographic to come to the casino – either gambling or going to the restaurants or the spa."

Thunder Valley narrowed its target age demographic after observing crowds for last year's inaugural outdoor season, begun as part of a celebration of its new hotel and spa. Glam rocker Adam Lambert's fan base skewed too young for a casino crossover and Tony Bennett's senior fans chose to go home, not burn the midnight oil at a blackjack table.

The casinos' lineups are nostalgia-based but include contemporary American (Jamie Foxx at Cache Creek, Train at Thunder Valley) and Asian acts (both casinos will offer Vietnamese-language shows) that appeal to casino regulars.

The casinos also could attract multigenerational music fans who buy tickets in fours instead of pairs.

Karen Teeple, 56, her husband, Thomas, 62, and daughter Kimberly, 21, traveled to Cache Creek Wednesday from Castro Valley to celebrate Kimberly's recent birthday.

"We'll definitely come back for the music, as a family," Karen Teeple said. They have seen the Eagles together, and smaller acts in Reno. The prospect of Fogerty-level acts at Cache Creek might keep them closer to home, Karen said.

Entertainment seekers consider "the distance and the attractions," said Ken Adams, a Reno gambling consultant. "The casinos are trying to influence that decision."

Northern Californians already were rethinking gambling excursions to Nevada before gasoline prices climbed past $4 per gallon. Tribal casinos have taken huge chunks of Northern Nevada's gaming trade over the past decade.

Reno casinos' ability to afford major music acts diminished with its gambling revenues, starting a vicious cycle. Fewer big-name acts "caused business to diminish incrementally," said William Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at University of Nevada, Reno.

Tribal casinos are swooping in to fill that entertainment gap while keeping eyes on the bottom line.

Revenue at the state's Indian casinos fell a combined 5.3 percent in 2009, according to a recent report by Irvine economist Alan P. Meister.

Red Hawk Casino, built in 2008 and burdened by debt, appears to have taken the worst hit locally. But Thunder Valley and Cache Creek also have been affected.

Thunder Valley's 2010 expansion has helped draw new customers, but its hotel is a scaled-back version of the one first envisioned. Cache Creek has put off plans for an expansion that included a 2,000-seat indoor-venue.

"Everybody's business has been affected by the economy," said Michael Traum, spokesman for Cache Creek. "You can either curl up in a ball and ask, 'Why?' or you come out swinging."

In erecting an outdoor stage a year after Thunder Valley did it, Cache Creek appears to be swinging directly at its competition.

"It is something we had researched doing for two years, but having them jump into the entertainment game, we considered it a good investment," Slaght said.

At 3,000 and 3,500 seats, the Cache Creek and Thunder Valley venues accommodate acts who cannot fill an arena but spill out of clubs and indoor casino venues.

Thunder Valley also might pick up business from nearby Sleep Train Amphitheatre, which is currently up for sale and puts on fewer shows and includes fewer genres than it did a few years ago.

"It seems like it is either country or the Warped Tour," at Sleep Train, said Laura Lamb, 41, of Wheatland, who lives close enough to Sleep Train to hear the music.

She still goes to Sleep Train shows, but is intrigued by Thunder Valley's outdoor lineup – and already goes to the casino's lounges and spa.

Lamb once flew to Mexico to see Sammy Hagar, and wouldn't mind driving to Cache Creek for "someone I really wanted to see," she said.

If Cache Creek can draw a Thunder Valley customer, or vice versa … that's the point, gambling analyst Adams said.

The casinos "are competing for the margin, and for the image of which one is the top casino in Northern California."

Personal tools