While I’m not usually one to dwell on celebrity culture or magnify further the outsized attention lavished on our city’s most public residents, there’s something interesting behind what’s happening with Katy Perry and Resorts World, the new mega-resort on the Las Vegas strip. In the spring of 2021, Perry signed a deal worth $168 million to appear at the new Resorts World Theater, a splashy, 5,000-seat venue located in the Conrad Las Vegas. She opened her run on December 30, 2021, as reported by the Montecito Journal’s intrepid star spotter Richard Mineards, along with the usual array of celebrity media outlets.
The two-hour extravaganza featured a mind-bending array of oversized sets, including a giant talking toilet. Perry covered most of her catalog and encouraged her fans, the KatyCats, to sing along — as if they needed any encouragement. The show, which is titled PLAY, runs through Saturday, January 15, and then picks up again in March for another three weeks, from March 2-19, with Perry appearing at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Tickets begin in the low three figures, last I checked, and top out around $800 for the first five rows. Knowing Las Vegas, there are more expensive plans for those who would like to take advantage of the new theater’s VIP options, which include the inevitable bottle service and so on.
I enjoy Katy Perry’s music, and she’s a terrific good sport. When I spoke with her briefly in advance of the multiple benefits she played in the aftermath of the Montecito mudslides, she could not have been more personable or attentive. Reading reviews of PLAY made it sound like some fun, especially when Mark Gray, the critic for Rolling Stone, compared the sets and the overall vibe to Pee-wee’s Playhouse, a cultural landmark for my generation. Yes, apparently, she plays a “Katy Doll” and gets tossed in a giant toilet, but hey, who said this was going to be tasteful? Do you not remember her singing “Peacock” at Dos Pueblos High?
Whether or not any of us make it to the show, it’s a sign of something that we will see a lot more of soon, and that’s Las Vegas resorts making huge bets on entertainment. Multiple factors are driving this development, and the intentional and unintentional consequences are likely to have impacts far beyond the Strip.
The first factor dates back to this May 2018 Supreme Court decision that opened the door to legal sports betting throughout the 50 United States and online. Although it’s taken a few years to mature, state by state, the pandemic and the NFL have contributed to an acceleration in the shift to online sports betting that has and will continue to take a big bite out of one of Las Vegas’s most lucrative legacy monopolies.
In anticipation of this shift, and as a music-festival-inspired spinoff in its own right (see Electric Daisy Carnival), the early years of the 21st century saw a pivot at the major resorts toward high-priced nightclubs featuring celebrity deejays and bottle service. When COVID knocked that phenomenon down, if not out, the resorts began planning other revenue streams. Outdoor events remain viable, but perhaps not so much on the Strip, where the 2017 mass shooting of attendees at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival took place.
So, what’s an economy dependent on vast numbers of tourists and large-scale popular entertainment to do? One strategy, and the one that’s at work here, is to team up and get bigger and better organized. The partners behind Resorts World Theater are an excellent case in point.
Resorts World proper is owned by Genting Berhad, a giant Malaysian multinational with interests extending beyond casino resorts into things like palm oil plantations, energy, and other industries. They bought the land and built the 3,500-room Resorts World Las Vegas facility using expertise, capital, and leverage acquired through their casino resorts in Malaysia, Singapore, the Americas, the United Kingdom, and the Bahamas. They have a fabulous database of international travelers who love to gamble.
Hilton operates the hotels. There are at least three different Hilton luxury brands involved — the Las Vegas Hilton; the Conrad Las Vegas (where the RW Theater is located); and the boutique Hilton label, LXR. Finally, to ensure that the RW Theater never lacks top-name acts, there’s a third partner, AEG Presents. AEG is the company that brought you Coachella and, through its partner brand Goldenvoice, books the Santa Barbara Bowl, among many other venues.
It all adds up to a big payday for Katy Perry and a big question for the entertainment industry. How will the ongoing transformation not only of Las Vegas but of the American southwest, including greater Los Angeles and little, but still great, Santa Barbara, participate in what promises to be a period of rapid growth and unpredictable change? Will Padaro Lane real estate prices be affected? How could they not?