Seneca Allegany Resort’s outdoor amphitheater has a capacity of 6,000. (Courtesy Seneca Gaming)

New York venues have their own identities

SENECA RESORT CASINOS
City: Allegany, N.Y./Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Venue: Seneca Allegany Events Center/Seneca Niagara Events Center
Capacity: 2,380 inside; 6,000 outside/2,232 inside; 6,000 outside

The Seneca Gaming Corp. owns two casino properties in upstate New York with live event venues. They’re both called the Events Center and Seneca Gaming books them both, but don’t get the idea that they’re indentical twins.

“Buffalo is the main feed for both properties,” said Christian Printup, Seneca Gaming’s senior executive director of entertainment and special events who books both venues.

But Seneca Allegany Resort, a little more than an hour south of Buffalo near the border with Pennsylvania, draws attendees from Erie, Pa., and Ohio, he said. Eighty-five miles away, Seneca Niagara Resort, blocks from the famous falls, pulls from Rochester and Southern Ontario. 

Printup said he does not often book the same act in both properties, letting demographics help determine which casino is the best fit for an act.

“Niagara is closer to Buffalo and Toronto, and it has a more urban feel to it; Allegany is on the Southern Tier, which is more laid back,” he said. “Allegany would be country and classic rock; Niagara typically is a little broader, more R&B.”

Printup is a big fan of “making decisions based on data and using data to drive future decisions. I really look at past performance. I look at genres and what’s trended well over the year and look at artists that are strong or will be strong and get them early.”

Big shows that have played Seneca Niagara include Kiss, Santana, the Steve Miller Band, Steely Dan and Culture Club. Seneca Allegany welcomed Toby Keith and Trace Atkins, Hank Williams Jr. and Ringo Starr.

“The I Love the 90’s Tour turned out exceptionally well for us,” Printup said.  “We also ran Throwback Thursday events that were well attended.”

Seneca Niagara opened in 2003; the Events Center opened in 2005 with Alice Cooper. That property also has a 444-capacity room called the Bear’s Den Showroom that showcased Young MC, Tone Loc, Lisa Lisa, Shannon and Tiffany in 2018. 

“The Bear’s Den, to me, is our premier experience,” Printup said. “No matter where you sit, it’s a premium seat. It has a thrust stage and it’s beautiful.”

Seneca Allegany opened in 2005; the Events Center opened in 2007.

Printup, who has been in the casino venue business for over 20 years, has seen a lot of change during his career.

“Soft, all-paper, all-comped shows are a thing of the past,” Printup said. “We try to sell. We look for cash sales. When I got into the casino business entertainment was looked at in the same way as a buffet, a loss leader.”

Things started to shift about 2008. “Casino venues are great to play. The artists are treated like royalty, and it started to get noticed by the industry. Things have improved dramatically in the last 10 years.”

Cash sales, once a small slice of the revenue picture, are now driving the market, he said, while acknowledging that shows “that will at least cover the artist guarantee are definitely the goal.”

Many things factor in when you get to the bottom line and EBITA, he said.

Helping is the fact that both properties own their production equipment. “We don’t have to rent,” he said. “We have sounds and lights and a crew of 50-plus people.”

Melissa Free, Seneca Gaming’s senior vice president of marketing, said entertainment is a huge part of the Seneca marketing strategy. 

“We like to be able to offer different amenities in order to stay competitive, and entertainment is a big draw,” Free said. “We have a nice mix of genres that appeals to our current guest as well as piques the interest of those who have never been to our properties.”

The percentage of tickets that are reserved for gaming guests depends on the show. 

“We look at the genre, discuss it with the right departments and come up with the right mix of cash and comp tickets,” Free said. “But for the right guest, there will always be a ticket available.”

Entertainment and marketing work hand in hand when it comes to building the event calendar, she said. “It’s definitely a team effort to make sure we have the right offerings and events throughout each month.”

Concessions are run in-house. “It’s mostly bar sales,” Printup said.  

Printup sees the meet and greets, and the issue of whether casino venues should get a piece of the action, as “a bargaining chip. We use it for give and take.

Instead of asking for a percentage of the lift, I can get 20 to 30 players in there.”

“Everything and anything related to a show is monetized these days,” he said. “You see that with the VIP packages, ticketing and the meet and greets.”

Ticket prices are $45-$145 at Seneca Niagara (though Kiss commanded $255) and $35-$95 at Seneca Allegany.

Printup recalled hosting Kiss in August 2017 as a highlight at Seneca Niagara. “Everything clicked and we created a long-lasting memory not just for the guests but for the whole city. Their coming was on all the news stations. They are one of the biggest names that ever played the city.”

Free also has great memories of the Kiss stop. “The energy was palpable.” She also recalled the Toby Keith concert, which was “more of an experience. We set up an area to play games, win prizes and engage on social media. The crowd loved that show.”

Printup said the biggest challenge he’s faced was when weather canceled an outdoor Rob Thomas and Counting Crows show. “Because of severe winds we had to move the show inside with three hours’ notice, where we only had room for 3,000. Seeing everyone pull together was wonderful, though, and we got everyone who was able to get here into the room.”

Free wishes she “had a larger, dedicated space for our concerts, although our team does an incredible job transforming our convention space and our parking lots into a concert venue.”

The Seneca Niagara Events Center was awarded the showroom of the year award at the 2017 Casino Entertainment Awards during the Global Gaming Expo.

 

CHANGING THE GAME: 

The Show goes on: Agua Caliente maintains strategy of featuring big stars
Cantone means can do: Mohegan Sun exec still helping redefine casino entertainment business
This place is cooking: Michigan’s FireKeepers keeps that Midwestern flavor