Thunder Valley Resort Has Its Eyes And Ears On Sacramento-Area Baby Boomers

From the Sacramento Bee - July 29, 2011

And it's deliberate, says Doug Elmets, spokesman for Thunder Valley and for the United Auburn Indian Community that owns it. "There's no question that we're looking for groups that appeal to a certain age demographic, primarily 45 to 75," Elmets said.

The thinking is "that they – these people in that demographic – will have discretionary income, presumably extra time on their hands, and may have a higher propensity to want to (wager), in addition to dining at the restaurant," he said.

The entertainment is a lure for potential customers for the casino. "What's music to my ears is not necessarily the band that's playing but the stream of people that are going into the casino rather than going to their cars (afterward)," said Elmets, who has represented the tribe for 15 years and has been with Thunder Valley since the day it opened.

 

 

If you take a look at the summer concert series lineup at Thunder Valley Casino Resort, you'll notice something almost immediately: They're all bands likely to appeal to baby boomers.

The Tubes. Chicago. The Doobie Brothers. Peter Frampton. Huey Lewis & the News. The Fixx. Wang Chung. Men Without Hats.

The list goes on.

And it's deliberate, says Doug Elmets, spokesman for Thunder Valley and for the United Auburn Indian Community that owns it. "There's no question that we're looking for groups that appeal to a certain age demographic, primarily 45 to 75," Elmets said.

The thinking is "that they – these people in that demographic – will have discretionary income, presumably extra time on their hands, and may have a higher propensity to want to (wager), in addition to dining at the restaurant," he said.

The entertainment is a lure for potential customers for the casino. "What's music to my ears is not necessarily the band that's playing but the stream of people that are going into the casino rather than going to their cars (afterward)," said Elmets, who has represented the tribe for 15 years and has been with Thunder Valley since the day it opened.

It's a smart strategy to ply them with music to pry open their wallets, according to William R. Eadington, professor of economics and director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno.

"The important role of entertainment for casinos goes back 50 years or so, when Nevada (Reno, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas), had prohibitions against advertising gambling," Eadington said. Basically, these were state laws (not federal prohibitions) that "said you couldn't show slot machines, card tables, etc., so entertainment was very important – something you could advertise – to bring customers to the casino."

About 560,000 of the region's residents, roughly a quarter of the population, are baby boomers between the ages of 45 and 64, according to 2010 census figures. Households led by someone in that age group drew about $26.5 billion in income during 2009, or almost half of the household income earned in the region.

Tribal casinos tend to draw "a relatively local crowd," Eadington said. "What Las Vegas can do that (casinos like Thunder Valley and those in Reno and Lake Tahoe) can't, is that they can bring an entertainer in for an extended period of time.

"There are tourists from all over the country and the world visiting Las Vegas, so you've got a long-term potential audience," he said. In places like Thunder Valley, "You get a lot of one-night stands because it's the entertainment that turns over, not the audience."

Choosing the audience you want to attract is the tricky part.

"For most casino operations, entertainment is a loss leader," the professor said. "You have to factor in how much the audience member is going to spend in other facilities. You're not likely to get back the cost of the (concert) production in ticket sales. So you have to look at restaurant sales and gaming. It really becomes as much a marketing thing as an entertainment thing."

Thunder Valley's decision to go after the Chicago-Doobie-Frampton-era audience makes financial marketing sense.

What Elmets, the casino spokesman, calls the baby boomer generation, Eadington calls the empty-nester demographic. Whether 45 to 75 (Elmets' targeted age group) or 40 to 60 (Eadington's cited demographic), both exhibit the same characteristics: They are financially stable. They've made arrangements for their children's educational needs. And they are getting to the age that they may not be as physically active sports-wise as they once were. Sitting at a gaming table or a slot machine may have more appeal to them.

Elmets said Thunder Valley uses entertainment to introduce people to the property. "There are many people who have never been to Thunder Valley or for that matter to a casino, and to have an act that maybe they've been a follower of or have great memories of, as a way to get them to come to the casino is our goal.

"Thunder Valley is a casino resort," he said, emphasizing "resort." It "has a AAA four-diamond hotel, a spa, restaurants and bars. And an integral part of anything like that – any spa-like operation – is entertainment.

"Candidly, many people come for the entertainment and don't go into the casino," he said. "But it's definitely a benefit for the casino if not only do they come to listen to the music but that they take advantage of everything the casino has to offer.

"If not on that trip, then maybe on another."

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