Clauses that stipulate when and where entertainers perform are nothing new, but one that seems to be siphoning off Dallas’s road shows recently made headlines in the Dallas Observer. As the alt weekly reported, the Choctaw Casino Resort and the WinStar World Casino Resort — in Durant and Thackerville, Oklahoma respectively — have fine print that extends across state lines. Many of the artists who perform at Choctaw or WinStar must adhere to a clause that prevents them from performing within 100 miles of the casinos within a specific period of time, usually three months before an event. Essentially, this forces North Texas venues to compete with Oklahoma casinos for concerts, comedy sets, and other entertainment.
Obviously, such clauses are a headache for concert bookers in the Metroplex. Robin Phillips, senior talent buyer at AEG—which books the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie and Majestic Theatre and the AT&T Performing Arts Center in downtown Dallas—expressed concern about the casinos’ massive cash offers to the Observer. They’re able to pay roughly 20 to 25 percent more than most venues.
As vexing as this is for the suits in Dallas and sometimes Fort Worth and Arlington, it can also be annoying for the average fan. Take a gander at comedian Lewis Black’s tour, and you’ll see that he’ll scream up political commentary in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston in September, but Dallas is nowhere to be found in his itinerary. Yet in November, he’ll hit up Thackerville. Beloved outlaw country singer Willie Nelson has a show at WinStar in November and zero gigs set for Dallas, Fort Worth, or Arlington.
C3 Presents, an Austin-based company that books a number of casinos nationally and a few festivals in the country—including Austin City Limits—has come under fire for its own aggressive clause. C3 has imposed a 300-mile radius clause for its Chicago-based Lollapalooza music festival, with cities such as St. Louis, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Madison in its orbit. This led to an anti-trust investigation by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in 2010, but the investigation went nowhere. In extreme instances like Lollapalooza, it seems like everyone besides the festival misses out.
You can’t knock the hustle of recording artists, because touring revenue has become a musician’s bread and butter. Still, the competitiveness of casinos leaves fans out in North Texas with a choice: drive three hours to and from a concert or comedy show, or just miss it. Save for a super fan, people are likely to just opt to stay in Texas. And sure, missing a Lynyrd Skynyrd or Matchbox 20 concert this isn’t the worst thing in the world, but part of the reason many people opt to live in a big city or adjacent to one is for expanded entertainment options.
Non-competes are essential to good competition, but there’s a difference between a contract that bars a singer from playing at a venue across the street or in the next town and one that includes an entirely different state. I wager that there’s tons of wealth that can be shared between the Metroplex and Oklahoma.