Las Vegas was historically synonymous with live musicians playing in all the casinos and clubs. They were in every nook and crany in Las Vegas. But, with each passing year, a decreasing number of venues offer the real deal. So, where have all the live entertainers gone? While not extinct, but nearly so, the answer is simple: expensive tax laws sourly mixing with club profit goals and our continuing economic challenges.
Nevada’s live entertainment law passed in 2003, went into effect on January 1, 2004, and was modified in 2005. By Nevada Gaming Commission and State gaming Control board guidelines, gaming venues are required to pay – depending on the property’s gaming license (restricted or non-restricted), number of tables and/or slot machines and occupancy – between 5 and 10 percent casino entertainment tax from their gross receipts for hosting live entertainment events.
The tax kicks in when live performances commence or when a cover is being charged for the host venue, whichever comes earliest.
Neither you, the physical club nor the DJ counts as live entertainment – thus the meteoric DJ growth in Las Vegas. Thing that do count: singers, dancers, magicians, dancers, actors, acrobats, animals, and, yes, even circuses. Flair bartenders don’t count unless they sing, dance, or perform acrobatics.
“Unarmed combat,” NASCAR races, and events where all proceeds go to entirely nonprofit organizations are also exempt, as are outdoor concerts at non-gaming venues. Fashion shows are taxable, but models coincidentally mingling in high-fashion clothes are not. Karaoke is also exempt unless the leader/host is paid and performs.
Go-go dancers and troupes can only perform in clubs for short periods- nine minutes at a time and no more than 20 minutes collectively in an hour. To get around that, many Las Vegas clubs put the women to work as cocktail servers, shot girls or hostesses as their primary on-paper function; those who happen to also dance as their secondary function are exempt from the tax.
And for all the entertainment the live entertainers provide, the patrons are still tax exempt. Passing some of the steep tax in whole or part to customers is one way to avoid the problem; that’s how concert venues generally handle it.
But many Las Vegas venues take the position of having an impromptu performance by a celebrity host (technically therefore a guest or patron who happens just to be a celebrity) – thus the reason that many times you don’t know who exactly is coming to a club. A billed act or advertised performance is a surefire way to set the tax into motion. Many just “suck it up” and pay the tax in hopes for bigger offsetting revenue returns.
As readers of Las Vegas Backstage Access, what’s your recommended solution to get more live music and other entertainment?