As Massachusetts advocates worries, venues across region say casinos can be a positive for the arts

Pittsfield, MA – The statewide gaming proposal has legislators and arts advocates in the Berkshires worried that the casinos may draw people in who would otherwise attend a show at one of the county's smaller performance spaces or other cultural venues.

As Massachusetts legislators mull the details of the bill, arts organizations in states that already have casino gambling say there may not be a need to worry.

"I understand why the arts community would be concerned, but I don't know if it's a well founded concern."

That's Cynthia Clair, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, Connecticut, which advocates for and runs arts programming near two casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, about 50 miles east of the city.

Clair said that the type of performance artists that book shows at the casinos are typically nationally or internationally known headlining acts, and that ticket prices are typically higher than would be expected at local venues.

"The couple times that I've have looked at shows that were appealing to me, I was looking at $250 tickets and I was quickly disinterested."

"I think most of the acts that are going to the casinos; they're on tour doing places like Madison Square Garden. I just don't think that the kind of acts that they are booking are going to compete with smaller venues."

Clair also said there was a matter of demographics, noting that while she thought many people visited Connecticut to go to casinos, she was unsure what type of crossover they would have in attendance at cultural venues.

That sentiment was shared by Curt Mosel, vice president of marketing and public relations at Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania-based ArtsQuest, which this year opened the ArtsQuest Center at Steel Stacks, a four story performing arts venue and "cultural campus," less than a mile from the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, which opened in 2009.

Since it's inception in 1984, ArtsQuest has organized Musikfest, a celebration of traditional and contemporary music that this year featured acts like 90s alt-rockers Stone Temple Pilots and Bard College alums Steely Dan; here's Mosel on the casino.

"They've been supportive of our programming; they sponsored our main stage at Musikfest and have committed to continue that even with the opening of their own entertainment venue in 2012."

"They sponsor the deck in the ArtsQuest Center, actually, on the third floor, that is the Sands Deck. And they also advertise in our publications that we produce to promote proximity and basically, coming down to one and come to the other. They but tickets for our events and they share them with our high rollers. We can't say anything but positive about our experience with them."

Of course, Mosel admitted, there is a limit to the number of entertainment venues one region can support.

"If four more venues opened up that were of equal size, could it eventually dilute the dollars that could be spent locally? Without a doubt; we're not looking at this totally blindly."

Even as developers consider a new arena for minor league hockey in the same vicinity as ArtsQuest, the Sands, and minor league baseball, Mosel said it will simply open the door for a new type of clientele to discover the artistic and cultural offerings of the area.

"To me that's more going on, and it again attracts a different type of audience that's going to have overlap."

"It's just going to make this area bigger, it's going to make it more attractive to the corporate community, it's going to help that corporate community that's already here attract and keep young employees because now they don't have to send them on a bus down to Philly or to New York to see entertainment that they couldn't have in the past because we're offering it."