By Patty Fantasia
Casino Entertainment Awards Celebrate Life and Humanity
The fifth anniversary of the Casino Entertainment Awards was a bittersweet celebration at Vinyl inside the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, on Wednesday October 6th . The event took place just days after the shooting massacre on the Las Vegas Strip the prior Sunday.
Kicking off the evening, Red Carpet host Kevin Burke, star of the longest running Vegas show Defending the Caveman, welcomed industry leaders, presenters, award recipients and representatives from sponsors VIP Limousines of Nevada, the Global Gaming Expo, and The M&M Group.
Kevin Burke - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
Master of Ceremonies Paul Rodriquez admitted that hosting the show was one of the hardest gigs he'd had in his career with the city still reeling from the horrific tragedy earlier that week. In fact, the comic was leaving Vegas early the next morning to join other celebrities traveling with the Red Cross to Puerto Rico to assist with the humanitarian efforts there. Executive Producer Clinton Ford Billups, Jr. and Director Traci Peel did an amazing job orchestrating the show and allowing those on stage to go off script and share heartfelt sentiments.
Paul Rodriguez - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
First presenter Kelly Clinton announced Andrew Blanc from C3 Presents won as the Casino Independent Talent Booker of the Year. Upon accepting the award he thanked the first responders who tended to the victims during the assault.
Robin Leach then announced Ralphie May as the Comedian of the Year. In a tragically ironic twist Leach accepted the award on Ralphie's behalf since he was suffering from a bout with pneumonia. A few days later the beloved comic succumbed to the illness and passed away at the young age of 45. He will truly be missed.
Robin Leach - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
One of the most poignant moments in the evening came during the presentation of the Casino Entertainment Legend Award by MGM's Bill Hornbuckle to Mark Prows. Accompanied by a montage of images and medley of songs, Hornbuckle gave a quick review of Prows's accomplishments. After working at the Thomas and Mack Center in 1988 Prows began his career with MGM in 1993. He is acknowledged as the driving force behind the development of the T-Mobile venue and as an industry thought leader cultivating relationships with the UFC , PBR and AEG.
Mark Prows - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
Bill Hornbuckle - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
Hornbuckle stated how challenging the past week had been, adding how Mark had been at 91 Harvest Music Concert and how proud he was of him. Prows then arrived on stage calling Bill the inspiring light in his career and the reason he's been with MGM for 25 years. He went on to say he valued how the company's culture and growth have helped the community. Tearing up he added, "I've never seen anything like I saw unfold this past Sunday." He explained how, when doing events, organizers try to prepare for contingencies, but now he was just glad to be there praising the amazing resiliency of the city of Las Vegas. "I accept this award with a heavy heart," he concluded giving condolences to those impacted by the event.
Isley Brothers - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
Clint Holmes - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
Lorena Peril broke the somber mood by jokingly announcing the Showroom of the Year Award was going to Prada before naming the actual winner the Event Center at the Seneca Niagara Resort Casino.
Lorena Peril Narbaitz - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
The Village People announced the winner for Booking Agent of the Year, who for the third year in a row was Seth Shomes from UTA (United Talent Agency). The Springfield, MA native talked about how he first heard the Village People many years ago when he was a hockey fan cheering his hometown team and the irony of now being presented with an award by them.
Seth Shomes Village People - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
Next came a black and white screen show featuring Las Vegas icons such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Liberace and Elvis Presley honoring the 40th anniversary of The King's death. Guest Artist : One Night With the King then gave a performance commemorating entertainment, joy and the celebration of life. Other guest artists performing during the festivities included: Batare, Decades Rewind and Brandon Bennett.
The Dennis the Menace of Magic, Murray Sawchuck presented the Arena/Amphitheater of the Year award to Axis in Planet Hollywood. Once again the talk turned serious with Murray acknowledging how "entertainment gets us through all this stuff," adding that it takes people out of the real world for 90 minutes, which is his gig.
Celebrity Magician Murray Sawchuck - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
Keeping with the spirit of gratitude and thankfulness the next presenter Carlos Santana took the stage. Quoting Jimmy Hendrix he stated that integrity, decency, hope and courage is what we need right now and wings that can soar and fly. He said, "My light will see me through," and added that he wished everyone would think this way. Before announcing the Musical Artist of the Year Santana talked about how situations can be changed by playing music and how it's good for the heart, spirit and soul. With that he hit the button on his boom box and treated attendees to two songs, "What the World Needs Now" and" Mercy, Mercy Me" while warning "Watch out you don't become cynical and arrogant. Be tender and innocent like a child. Not like cement. Nothing grows in cement." After his heartfelt words, Carlos went on to announce the Isley Brothers as the winners of the Musical Artist of the Year award.
Carlos Santana - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
After 60 years in the business beginning with their 1959 hit Shout, the Isleys thanked everyone for their continued support commenting on what a special night it was, especially with what was going on and adding, "God Bless each and every one of you and Las Vegas."
Screen images of Burns and Allen flooded the room next as the tribute to Casino Legend Award recipient Rita Rudner began starting with her coming to New York from Miami as a teenager, telling how Rita was bumped from, and then rebooked, on the Johnny Carson Show, and then recapping how she sold out Carnegie Hall three times and turned a 6 week gig at the MGM into a six month stint. Paul Rodriquez presented the award to Rudner, who was gracious and funny as she joked about how people not in Las Vegas don't understand the city. “Not only do we have glitz and glamour, but humanity as well”, she said. Rudner then went on to recognize Bill Hornbuckle as the man who built a theatre for her and she thanked the city of Las Vegas for letting her be a wife, mother and comedian.
Patty Fantasia with comedienne Rita Rudner - Photo credit: Jeff Grinstein
Global Gaming Magazine Publisher Roger Gros presented the Entertainment Executive of the Year Award to Agua Caliente Casino's Dan Pferschy. Before bestowing the honor Gros said he'd been in Las Vegas for 10 years, then added that “consumers spent 1.4 billion on Broadway compared to 72.1 billion in Las Vegas .This is where the consumers come. They want to spend their money here," he said.
The final award for Casino Entertainer of the Year went to Las Vegas favorite Clint Holmes and was presented by Jazz Legend Michelle Johnson who congratulated producer/director Traci Peele on putting together this "beautiful event" before Clint joined her on stage.
Michelle Johnson - Photo credit: Patty Fantasia
Steve Wynn brought Holmes to Sin City in 1999 when he was booked for one year and stayed for seven as an Artist in Residence at Harrah's. Holmes said, "Las Vegas is a great town with great people." He thanked the night's first presenter, his wife Kelly Clinton, for being his muse and then ended the evening by singing an acapella version of Hallelujah, inviting everyone to join him in singing the chorus.
It was a fitting tribute to both the industry that is the lifeblood of this vibrant city and to the people here who have been stunned and shocked by its recent tragedy.