By Patty Fantasia
Casino Entertainment Awards Pay Tribute to Motown
The seventh annual Casino Entertainment Awards were held on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 at Vinyl inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino honoring the talented performers and executives devoted to mesmerizing audiences with the best musical and comedy acts in the industry. Executive Producer Clinton Ford Billups, Jr. and Producer-Director Traci Peel once again teamed up to create an event showcasing a variety of honorees spanning from those who have become a part of history to new stars rising on the horizon. The selection process for nominees is extensive with approximately1500 initial submissions being considered from within the casino community until the final three candidates in most categories are named.
Master of Ceremonies magician/reality star Murray Sawchuck sported a number of dazzling jackets on stage as he hosted the festivities which highlighted the anniversary of Motown. This was in keeping with the presentation of the Casino Entertainment Legend Award to singer Martha Reeves, who went from performing 94 one nighters to being in the 1st Motown Review before being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Introducing the songbird was the woman affectionately referred to as the 1st Lady of Motown, Claudette Robinson. She summarized Reeves inspiring life and talked about her many hits including Heat Wave, Come & Get These Memories, Jimmy Mack and the song often referred to as the Civil Rights Anthem Dancing in the Streets.
Master of Ceremonies Murray Sawchuck with Presenter Susan Anton - Photo credit: Audrey Dempsey, Infinity Photo
Focusing on the evening’s theme, guest artists J Royal, Ausar Bragg & The Las Vegas Stars from the Motown Extreme Review performed Motown classics including Sugar Pie Honey Bunch, Bernadette, You Can’t Hurry Love and Michael Jackson hits I Want You Back and ABC. Aside from performing their on stage musical tribute, the Motown Extreme Review also beat fellow nominees The Burlesque Show at the Borgata and Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel in Concert to win the Casino Production Show of the Year Award.
J Royal & the J Five on the Red Carpet with Martha Reeves and Claudette Robinson - Photo credit: Audrey Dempsey, Infinity Photo
Another Casino Entertainment Legend Award was given to Neil J. Miller, the Executive Director of Entertainment for the Venetian/Palazzo Resort Hotel and Casinos. Following the screening of a unique video shot in the tradition of the old Mission Impossible television series which depicted Miller’s accomplishments, Rick Gray, the General Manager of Entertainment Operations for Wynn Las Vegas, presented the award to his close friend. Gray spoke about how the two New Yorkers met while attending Hofstra University and became fast friends after discovering several common interests including their mutual love of MGM musicals. Over the years the two continued to bond while working in entertainment for several casino properties leading to current high ranking positions.
Other notable moments including Frankie Moreno winning Casino Musical Artist of the Year beating out Bad Company and Clay Walker; Herman’s Hermits heartthrob Peter Noone being named Casino Entertainer of the Year triumphing over nominees Barry Manilow and Dwight Yoakam and a memorable moment from Penn Jillette when he presented the Casino Comedian of the Year Award to Piff the Magic Dragon while clad in an identical green dragon costume. Piff won over Jeff Dunham and Ken Jeong taking the stage at Vinyl before racing off to do his own show at the Flamingo.
Herman's Hermit Peter Noone on the Red Carpet - Photo credit: Audrey Dempsey, Infinity Photo
Penn Jillette with Piff the Magic Dragon - Photo credit: Audrey Dempsey, Infinity Photo
Rounding out the nominees and winners were: The Vine – del Lago Resort & Casino winning over the Entertainment Hall at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort and The Music Box at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa; Casino Independent Talent Buyer of the Year winner Steve Gietka from SMG Entertainment over nominees Reed Glick of R Entertainment and Live Nation’s Candace Mandracia; The Theater at MGM National Harbor, which was named Casino Arena/Amphitheater of the Year beating the Sandia Resort & Casino Amphitheater and Westgate Pavilion at the Black Oak Casino Resort; Steve Levine from ICM Partners, who was named Casino Booking Agent of the Year over Charlie Davis from Paradise Artists and United Talent Agency’s Seth Shomes. In addition, the prestigious Casino Entertainment Executive of the Year Award was presented by the beautiful Susan Anton to Christian Printup from Seneca Gaming Corporation, who took the honor over fellow nominees Jennifer Dominique from Eldorado Resorts and the del Lago Resort & Casino’s Jason Kluq.
The list of presenters also included: Dani Elizabeth from Crazy Girls, Global Gaming Business Publisher Roger Gros, Las Vegas Review Journal writer John Katsilometes, popular Las Vegas entertainer Chris Phillips “Zowie Bowie”, Jennifer Romas from the show Sexxy, dancer Lacey Schwimmer and music artist Bobby Brooks Wilson. Wayne White acted as Musical Director for the CEA Band with Eddie Fluellen on Keyboard, Walter Jones on Bass and Ken Logan handling the drums. Global Gaming Business, Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, ICM Partners, MGM Resorts International, The Venetian Resort, VIP limousines of Nevada and TicketForce comprised this year’s event sponsors.