Southern California casinos bet big on multicultural entertainment

Scrolling through Southern California casino websites reveals a variety of musical entertainment ranging from classic rock artists like REO Speedwagon, Air Supply and Ringo Starr and R&B and soul singers like Ginuwine, Boyz II Men and Patti LaBelle. But the casino entertainment lineups have become increasingly diverse with the addition of multicultural acts from around the world.

Asian, Latino and Middle Eastern programming has become a driving force in how casinos curate their entertainment.

Some Latin music acts scheduled to appear at casino venues this year include icons like Norteño singer-songwriter and composer Ramón Ayala on Feb. 9, Carlos Santana on  Feb. 17 and Banda MS on March 19 at Yaamava’ Resort & Casino in Highland. Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula just hosted K-pop group Forestella and Taiwanese singer-songwriter Harlem Yu is set to perform on Feb. 17 and prominent Korean singer and actress Insooni will headline Feb. 18.

Filipino singer Lani Misalucha is among the multicultural artists who have performed at Southern California casinos. Misalucha performed at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa on Dec. 11, 2022. The (Courtesy of Morongo Casino)

Ramón Ayala is among the multicultural artists performing at Southern California casinos. Ayala will perform at Yaamava’ Resort & Casino on Thursday, Feb. 9. (Photo courtesy of Ramón Ayala)

Legado 7 is among the multicultural artists who have performed at Southern California casinos. The Latin group performed at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa on Dec. 10, 2022. (Courtesy of Morongo Casino)

Banda MS are among the multicultural artists performing at Southern California casinos. Banda MS will headline Yaamava’ Resort & Casino on Sunday, March 19. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Banda MS are among the multicultural artists performing at Southern California casinos. Banda MS will perform at Yaamava’ Resort & Casino on Sunday, March 19. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Carlos Santana will headline Yaamava’ Resort & Casino in Highland on Feb. 17. (Photo by Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Taiwanese singer Harlem Yu will perform at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula Feb. 17. (File photo by China Photos, Getty Images)



Latin and Korean music have shown a steady increase in popularity elsewhere, too. This year, at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Bad Bunny and Blackpink will make history as the first Latino and Asian festival headliners.

Last year, Latin music showed a 33% increase in streaming, according to Luminate’s 2022 mid-year report. K-pop listeners in the U.S. drove the growth of the world music genre and were 227% more likely than the average U.S. music listener to listen to EDM, according to Luminate.

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Drew Dixon, vice president of entertainment at Yaamava’ Resort & Casino, said among the factors that he looks for when booking an artist relies on some chart and demographic data. He also looks for artists with a solid performance history and quality reputations within their respective communities and said the acts should be as diverse as the property’s guests.

“There is diversity in the Latin population that surrounds us here,” Dixon said. “It’s not only diverse in the style of Latin music programming, but it also includes styles of performance like comedians, bands and other singular artists.”

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Age demographics also play a role in what audiences look for when they visit a casino. General manager and CEO of Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Paul Ryan, said he’s noticed Latin music change over the years. Ryan said crowds at Fantasy Springs are receptive to more traditional mariachi and regional bands than the genre’s pop performers.

“As much as Latin music has changed, in this market, the older demographic is still more popular,” Ryan said.

Every casino has a different method of predicating how well artists or events will do, which they analyze before booking shows. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, Pechanga Resort Casino, Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, and Agua Caliente Casinos work with agencies within Asian, Latino and other communities.

Their findings give them a better idea of what appeals to those demographics and who those audiences would appreciate seeing on their entertainment rosters. Some talent agencies pitch them artists, and if the show sells enough tickets, the casinos will continue to book more artists within that market.

Simon Farmer, executive director of marketing at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon, said he noticed more of an appetite for Asian programming after the coronavirus pandemic upended international travel and caused some difficulty in booking Asian acts. However, as travel restrictions have eased, more Asian artists have become available.

“It’s important because our Asian guests are a prominent part of our database and reflective of the general population,” Farmer said. “Southern California, as a generality, has one of the largest Asian cultural makeups nationwide, and that’s something we’re very mindful of.”

Brian Cronenwett, entertainment manager at Pechanga Resort Casino, said the casino was booking four to six multicultural acts a year back in 2005, but is now booking four per demographic a year, showing a steady embrace of multicultural entertainment from the casino’s patrons.

“We recently dipped into Middle Eastern entertainment, and it did great,” Cronenwett said. “I would like to continue down that path, but also into the Persian and Indian market, but really anything that can bring more depth to our entertainment calendar.”

Multicultural events extend beyond music as several stand-up comics and other entertainment is also being booked.

At Agua Caliente Casino Spa Rancho Mirage, comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias is returning for his 12th time in May for a series of sold-out shows. Yaamava’ Resort & Casino will host “Saturday Night Live” star Leslie Jones on Jan. 28 and Franco Escamilla on April 14 and comedian and actor George Lopez will headline Fantasy Springs Resort Casino on Feb. 25.

Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City, the sister property of Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage, is adding more Lucha Libre events to its programming. Rapid sequences of holds, high-flying maneuvers, colorful masks and capes popularized the sport in Mexico, but it now finds an audience in Cathedral City.

Monica Reeves, senior director of entertainment at Agua Caliente Casinos, said Lucha Libre events have shown consistency and tend to sell out quickly.

“It leans right into the local Latin market we have in the desert, and it’s a family event,” Reeves said. “It’s something that’s not offered anywhere else in the valley, and it’s been successful every time since, so I don’t see us stopping anytime soon.”

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