From Sin City to Sing City: How millennials made Vegas clean up its act
The young aren't interested in gambling, so pop star residencies are now the desert resort's big earner
Six months ago, Sahar Mohammadrabie up and moved to Las Vegas, the city synonymous with sin, but she couldn’t care less about gambling or parties: the Midwesterner is here for the music.
The 25-year-old is emblematic of a new generation uninspired by the lure of vice but seeking a wealth of entertainment – and giving the Vegas concert residency, once considered an artist pit stop before the pearly gates, a cultural relevancy it hasn’t seen in decades.
The residency – a series of shows performed in a single location – has long been a staple of the Las Vegas Strip, pioneered by pianist Liberace in the 1940s, Frank Sinatra a decade later and Elvis in the 1970s.
But after taking the back seat to slot machines, strip clubs and production shows like Cirque du Soleil, the concept is back with a facelift – and it’s flourishing.
“I don’t gamble and I’m completely sober; I came for the entertainment,” the Kansas City native Mohammadrabie said as she eagerly sought a glimpse of superstar Cardi B at the opening weekend of Kaos, a club branding itself as the desert city’s hot young thing.
Kaos manager Jon Gray said Mohammadrabie resembles the key demographic his team aims to reach: “A lot of Gen Y consumers coming to Las Vegas now are here for experiences, and gaming has not been a part of their culture.”
Gray, 35, noted that millennials came of age during the recession when “discretionary spending was pulled back”.
“They grew up in an era where the dollar was a little more valuable to the individual,” he said. “I think gambling it or risking it was something that they hadn’t thought of.”
Gray estimates that gaming makes up only about 40% of revenue, a flip from about two decades ago when gambling raked in about 70% to 80% of earnings.
But he hopes eventually club-goers – who pay anywhere from $40 to $2,000 to enter – will wander to the gambling room adjacent to Kaos that’s encircled by trendy restaurants and upscale cocktail lounges.
“I think that’ll lend itself to making people curious in trying out playing blackjack, or going to a craps game.”
Focus on performance
The Vegas powers that be credit French-Canadian megastar Celine Dion with reviving the residency form at the turn of the century, as theaters struggled to book top-tier talent.
Dion, 51, found enormous success after launching her first residency in 2003, raking in a reported $385m in ticket sales. Her current residency, set to wrap later in 2019, has scored at least $245.5m.
“You have to give her a ton of credit,” Gray said of Dion, who performs at the regularly sold-out Colosseum of Caesars Palace, making an estimated $500,000 per show.
“The staying power that she’s had, I think that gave a lot of other people confidence as well that they could fill a showroom for x number of dates.”
Now the city has seen megastars like Elton John, Cher, Mariah Carey and Britney Spears set up shop, exchanging the touring grind for lucrative comfort.
In the wake of their success the concept has seduced music’s contemporary royalty, including Cardi B, Drake and Latin trap superstar Bad Bunny.
The new venue Kaos – part of the Palms Casino Resort renovation, touted as the most expensive in Vegas history, with managers saying the cost is nearing the billion-dollar mark – prioritised showcasing musicians.
“Sprinkling that live performance into the nightlife space has really kind of pioneered more of the younger and up-and-coming acts to want to focus on residencies in Las Vegas,” Gray said.
Venue staff have kept the performance fees under wraps, but have said those costs aren’t included in the restoration fees.
But if the opening weekend is any indication, the investment is paying off: lines snaked around the block to get into the club as fans clamoured to see high-octane performers including Cardi, Colombian reggaeton star J Balvin and rapper G-Eazy launch their residencies there.
The stacked line-up also featured hip hop star Travis Scott and DJ Skrillex, who performed one night prior at the luxury club, which can host up to 8,000 guests.
Kaos boasts a sprawling 6,780-square-metre outdoor space connected to 2,700 square metres indoors, complete with cabanas and pools that revolve around large-scale commissioned Damien Hirst sculptures.
“It brings a different type of audience into Vegas – there’s different residencies every weekend,” said Tony Suarez, who doesn’t gamble but came hoping to catch a glimpse of Balvin.“We use concerts as an excuse to come over here,” the 28-year-old from Los Angeles said.Gray called the Vegas residency a “natural relationship”, saying entertainers love the vibe of Vegas while guests “come to let themselves go a little bit”.He called the resulting energy “electric”.Rap queen Cardi B, sporting a wide-brimmed, mint-green hat paired with a matching feathered gown, had guests dancing well past dawn to close out the night.“Let’s get it poppin’!” the Bronx rapper shouted to deafening cheers. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”