SURREY — With the closure of the Summit Theatre at Langley’s Cascades Casino, operators of Elements Casino in Cloverdale are looking to pick up the live-entertainment ball, so to speak.
Michael Worth, who is just two months into his role of GM at Elements, said the casino’s 300-seat Dragon Lounge could become busier in the coming months.
“Doing more live music here is something we’re definitely looking into doing, and I’ve got our marketing team on that,” Worth told the Now-Leader.
“It’s something I’ve been talking with our team about, because I think that will have a big impact for (Cascades), with their theatre closing and going with bingo,” he added. “It’s probably going to hurt them a bit, and there’s not many venues around where people can go for that type of entertainment – full-service, anyways.”
Operators of Cascades Casino have closed the 420-seat Summit Theatre to make way for a new bingo hall opening in February. The changes are part of the casino’s 23,000-square-foot expansion.
The Langley property is operated by Gateway Casinos & Entertainment, while Cloverdale’s Elements is owned by rival Great Canadian Gaming Corporation.
At Elements, live entertainment was to be a major focus of the casino when the renovated and rebranded facility was opened in December of 2015. Great Canadian spent close to $11 million to refurbish the 56,000-square-foot property, formerly known as Fraser Downs Racetrack Casino and first opened 40 years ago.
The venue’s live-entertainment venue, originally called Escape and since renamed Dragon Lounge, was created in what was a multi-tiered clubhouse area where patrons watched harness racing. To start, the Escape stage featured dance bands and other performers two or three nights a week, but that schedule has not been followed at Dragon Lounge in recent months.
“We started scaling back (live entertainment) six or seven months ago, and we really haven’t done much in there,” Worth explained.
“It’s a good size, and it’s also gone through some physical changes,” he added. “The stage has been moved from the front entrance area, to the left of the door, to the back, by the bar, so the music is playing people as they walk in, it’s hitting you, instead of having to go into the room.”
Currently, the most popular event at Dragon Lounge are the Desi Nights – billed as “Surrey’s only monthly South Asian event” – held there on the last Friday of every month, in partnership with Decibel Entertainment and A-Town Presents.
“For that, we get a packed house, and it’s been growing over the past six months,” said Amar Sohal, Great Canadian’s regional marketing co-ordinator.
“For our Desi Nights, it’s a lot more of a lounge/club feel in here,” Sohal added. “The response to that event, people like the safe environment and they don’t want to drive to Vancouver all the time, and this is on that level, with the top-quality DJs, everything.”
The next Desi Nights event is set for Jan. 26, featuring no cover charge.
Other than that, the only other public event on the Dragon Lounge calendar at the moment is an “Afternoon Delight” concert on Jan. 29 featuring a Michael Bublé tribute singer. The $20 ticket includes a pasta lunch buffet and performance starting at noon.
“We’re still tweaking what we have in here,” Sohal explained, “and we’ve tried some different things – Vietnamese nights, Chinese nights. So adding things like Desi and Bollywood nights, that’s part of the experimentation here, and we are looking into offering more weekly events, but that’s still in the works right now.”
The Dragon Lounge is also rented out for private banquets, staff parties and other events, Worth noted.
“We’re still looking at different options (for the lounge space), what’s going to move the needle for people,” he added.
Reached on Monday (Jan. 8), bandleader Dan Hare said the local casinos have been good for bands, including his own, and that he hopes operators of Elements do decide to host more live entertainment at Dragon Lounge, moving forward.
“Two years ago, when they renovated, they had big plans for the room, in a nightclub setting and they could do sort of corporate events in there,” Hare said. “But I don’t think the energy was there, and the budget was dropped and it all ran out of steam.
“To bring it back,” Hare continued, “they would have to have sort of a mindset reset and just say OK, we’re going to put some energy into this, hire somebody or have somebody to make sure it flies, put more budget into the bands and get bands that actually draw people, and stage events rather than just hiring bands. They have to have a different mentality, because you have to stage an event and create a hype around that, rather than just hiring bands and just expecting people to wander in.”
As for the Summit Theatre closure in Langley, Hare said he was a bit surprised to see that happen.
“I thought they could have made it dual-purpose, instead of completely repurposing it as only a bingo hall, exclusively, maybe it could have been repurposed as duel-purpose, to find a way to make revenue during the daytime and then keep the bands there on the weekends, but apparently that wasn’t in the cards and they’re going to make it exclusively a bingo hall.
“It’s too bad,” Hare added, “but I’m thankful for still being able to do this for a living. Things are a little tighter but I’m able to weather that, and the band is doing as well as ever, as far as that goes. It’s a little more challenging and we have to come up with different shows and maybe travel a bit more, whatever, to continue making a living at this. I’m happy, it’s good.”