Does Gaming hurt the Arts? By Jeffrey Compton January 26, 2014 at 2:15 pm In recent months CDC Gaming Reports has run several news stories and one commentary expressing the fear that a casino expansion could hurt a region’s performing arts. Since I have a personal and professional interest in both gaming and the arts (five years ago I wrote a guidebook on American performing and visual arts, and built a related website), I can’t ignore expressions of that fear. To put it bluntly, if I saw evidence that my two favorite worlds could not co-exist, I would find another way to earn a living. Does expanded gaming in the United States come at the expense of the performing arts? While one’s gut reaction may be yes (certainly more folks play slots than listen to Mozart), I have never read any well-documented study that this is actually true. People and organizations raising the argument do not supply facts; instead they base their claims on three myths. Myth #1 – Casinos, especially their showrooms, will draw audiences away from local performing arts This myth is based on the premise that there is an overlap in the target markets for performing arts and for casinos. Based on demographic studies I’ve read, and my own personal experiences, there is very little overlap. Arts audiences are generally wealthier and better educated than casino patrons. Those (like me) who enjoy both the arts and casinos do exactly that: they enjoy both, separately. Going to a casino is not a substitute for going to the theater – and vice versa. Joan Kroc, an avid high-roller slot player, gave National Public Radio its largest bequest by far: $200 million. And as we all know, two of the most important visual art patrons in the U.S. are Steve Wynn and his ex-wife Elaine Wynn. Perhaps an analogy will help: The audience for NFL football fairly closely matches the audience for gaming, but I have never heard someone argue that people will watch less football if a casino opens nearby. A few months ago, prior to the November elections, several New York performing arts centers argued that casinos would draw away (through better pay) acts that normally appear at their venues. I found that odd considering that the vast majority of programming at these venues consists of classical music acts (soloists, chamber music, orchestras), dance groups, and touring stage productions – none of which are of any interest to casino entertainment programmers. The arts business that could be hurt is the occasional large concert (generally country acts or older rock bands), which are cash cows. But (for example) the Saratoga Performing Arts Center seats a total of 25,000 people, far more than a casino. And arts centers with successful sales track records are always attractive, particularly since many acts prefer not to perform in a casino environment if there is an alternative. Myth #2 – The U.S. arts scene is in trouble I believe that the arts in America are doing quite well, especially when you factor in the recent recession. Consider the facts. In 1961 there were 23 regional theaters in the United States. According to the Theater Communications Group there are now “nearly 500 professional, not-for-profit theatres, representing every region of the country and ranging in staff size from 3 to 300 and in budget size from $50,000 to over $40 million.” According to Dance Online , there are now 110 professional dance troupes in the United States, which is more than in France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. In the last decade, several new art museums have opened or expanded in the United States, and none have closed. Yes, classical music in America is in trouble. Several orchestras, including those in Honolulu, Syracuse and Albuquerque, have recently shut down. The Philadelphia Orchestra (one of the “Big Five”) filed for Chapter 11. San Francisco, Detroit, and Minneapolis have endured long strikes, while many others orchestras are struggling with growing deficits. But none of these orchestras suffered because of expanded gaming in their neighborhood. Classical music (and jazz) has been the victim of long-term changing tastes. In the nineteenth century, classical music was “popular music”, frequently performed in beer halls. Today less than 1% of Americans can name a living classical music composer. And the costs of operating an orchestra are much higher (primarily due to labor costs, including medical benefits and pensions) than any other performing arts. As with American manufacturing, musician union “victories” of the past have come back to haunt the unions today. Myth #3 – Las Vegas is a Cultural Wasteland Culture-loving casino critics love to point to Las Vegas as an example of what will happen to the arts in America if casinos expand further. There are no classical art museums nor professional theater groups in Las Vegas. Broadway shows, especially those that have won the Best Musical Tony (The Producers, Avenue Q, Hairspray, Spamalot) have done poorly on the Strip. While that is true, Las Vegas is home to one of the newer symphony orchestras in the country, a new performing arts center, a wonderful gathering of three long-successful performing arts venues at UNLV, a growing visual arts neighborhood (in the former “Naked City” no-mans-land). Moreover, the world-class Utah Shakespeare Festival is just two hours away, and it considers Las Vegas to be a major market. Given that very few tourists come to Las Vegas to see the cultural arts (if they did they would go to New York or Chicago), and that no one moved there primarily for the cultural arts, I think the city should take a deep bow for its current arts offerings. So what has been the primary driver for the expanding arts in Las Vegas? The casinos. Why? Many casino executives are fans of the arts (I always saw several Las Vegas manager friends whenever I was at the Utah Shakespeare festival), and the casinos know that if you want top managerial talent coming to Las Vegas, you have to offer entertainment alternatives beyond Cirque du Soleil. The bottom line: American art lovers may not be interested in visiting new casinos in their neighborhood, but there is no reason for art lovers to fear them – and every reason to look to them for support of local arts institutions.