Alicia Keys, And Other Big Acts, Play In The State’s Casino Debate

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Troy Siebels, of Worcester's Hanover Theater, says competition from the proposed casinos would be the death knell for his performance venue. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)
Troy Siebels, of Worcester's Hanover Theater, says competition from the proposed casinos would be the death knell for his performance venue. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

What does Alicia Keys have to do with Massachusetts' proposed casinos? Well, if you run one of the dozens of live performance venues in the state, resort-style casinos mean competition for pop and rock acts of her caliber.

Keys is playing at Connecticut's Foxwoods Resort Casino this weekend. Troy Siebels would have loved to snag her for his stage. He runs the Hanover Theater in Worcester — about 60 miles from Foxwoods.

"Alicia Keys, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, those are all acts that could play this size facility," Siebels said. "Those are headliner acts for us, and those are the things that are our bread and butter."

During a sound check for a recent act — The Chieftains — Siebels described the ongoing battle between his theater and the performance venues at Foxwoods as they compete for talent. But, he says, it’s not much of a competition. Casinos can pay a lot more. And then there’s something in the casino-artist's contract called a "radius clause."

"In my opinion it’s extremely crucial."

-- Foxwoods Casino's Bruce Flax, on the importance of artist venues to casinos

"The shows, once they get booked by a casino performing arts venue, can’t play another venue within 100-150 miles, within sometimes several years," Siebels explained.

Foxwoods has also blocked Siebels from booking touring musicals, like the Broadway hit, "Hairspray." Now, with the casino gambling bill back on the table in Massachusetts, Siebels says more competition would be the death knell for his Hanover Theater.

Jeff Poulos is the executive director of StageSource, of the Greater Boston Theater Alliance, which represents 200 New England theaters and 2,000 theater professionals. Poulos agrees with Siebels, saying many venues in Greater Boston would also be vulnerable: "The Cutler Majestic Theater, we have the Opera House, we have the Citi Performing Arts Center where the Schubert and the Wang are," he said.

"The fantasy would really be to have no gaming here in Massachusetts," Poulos said, "but the reality is it’s coming, and so if it’s coming, (we need) to make sure that it’s done responsibly and with the best interests of the residents of Massachusetts and the communities that we live in."

Poulos, along with Siebels, say local performance venues revitalize communities and create jobs. That’s why they are advocating for an amendment to the casino bill so that casinos be built without performance venues. They’ve brought that idea to members of the newly formed Cultural Caucus on Beacon Hill, including Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem). Keenan supports the casino bill, but believes it’s important for elected officials to listen to these cultural concerns.

Hanover Theater's Troy Siebels (Andrea Shea/WBUR)
Hanover Theater's Troy Siebels (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

"I think people are aware of the issues and we just have to, if we can, try to address it as the bill comes forward," he said.

But some are skeptical that casinos should go without live entertainment venues. Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere) is also on the Cultural Caucus. And she’s a major proponent of casinos. She believes concerts and musicals should be part of the gaming package.

"I feel it would be a great addition to tourism here because it’s just another card in our deck to offer to tourists when they come," Reinstein said, "and tourism is a huge part of our economy in Massachusetts."

So, are performance venues crucial to the casino experience?

"In my opinion it’s extremely crucial," said Bruce Flax, an entertainment executive at Foxwoods. He also said he believes it would be pretty unlikely that a developer of any new resort-style casino would build one without performance venues.

"To me a casino can’t exist for very long and be successful without having something to drive business to the casino besides gaming," Flax said.

But that doesn’t dissuade Hanover's Troy Siebels. As he reaches out to senators, he hopes they’ll consider his amendment so he won’t have to duke it out with casinos — in his own state — when he’s trying to book acts like Jackson Browne or Engelbert Humperdinck.

This program aired on March 12, 2010.

Headshot of Andrea Shea

Andrea Shea Correspondent, Arts & Culture
Andrea Shea is a correspondent for WBUR's arts & culture reporter.



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