Monday, September 17, 2007

'The Gambler' comes to town (MNA Aug. 07)

Little River opens new entertainment venue
Associate Editor

MANISTEE — In a starched white shirt — cuffs unbuttoned — and jeans, he strode onto the stage to cheers and applause from a grateful sold-out crowd Saturday night at Little River Casino Resort. Many call him “The Gambler,” but it was no gamble when the resort decided to make Kenny Rogers the first act to grace the stage in their brand new state-of-the-art 1,700 seat entertainment venue.
It also wasn’t a gamble to invest in the newest expansion project for the resort, if Saturday’s attendance was any indication. The parking lot was full, and cars leaked onto the manicured lawns of the casino property. Also alive with the buzz of the evening were the busy gambling floor, hotel, and restaurant venues.
With increased competition from a newly remodeled casino to the north in Petoskey, the Odawa, and another brand new casino to the south in New Buffalo, Four Winds, Little River has stepped it up another notch in the type of all-around entertainment they can offer with their own newest construction project.
“It’s absolutely beautiful, it’s exceeded our expectations,” said Larry Romanelli, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ Ogema, who was in attendance at the concert, along with members of the tribal council.
Little River has always had a reputation for customer service, and the Ogema said that this was part of the success of the continually growing property for the past eight years.
“What we want to do is keep our friendly atmosphere, our hospitality,” he said. Romanelli also spoke of the way growth at the casino ties into the rest of the area. “We want to grow along with the community, and I think we’re going to do that with this (latest expansion).”
Some at the casino and tribal government level may have had some reservations about putting more money into the newest phase of construction at the casino, but some minds have been changed now that the project is completed, and they can actually see the results.
“There’s always those questions in the beginning, whether we should do this or should not,” said Romanelli. “I think obviously, it was the right thing to do, not just for tribal members and the casino, but also for the community.
Offering more than just a gaming floor is part of the strategy to compete in what is now becoming a more saturated casino market in the state of Michigan. “We knew there was competition coming,” said Romanelli. According to the directors of the casino, that’s why the winter garden, with a flowing river and real plants and trees was also added, in addition to the performance stage. “We not only have that now, we have this expanded place for people to enjoy themselves. It’s not just the gambling, it’s the atmosphere. It’s the whole ambiance — trying to keep people happy, in an enjoyable place — and I think we’ve accomplished all of that.”
Feedback for the inaugural show from the public was good, according to Little River Casino Resort Marketing Director, Tiana Burgeson, who was pleased with how the evening turned out. “Everybody loved the new facility,” she said. “We sold several tickets afterwards for the upcoming Jo Dee Messina and Clint Black concerts, and we had a lot positive comments — I couldn’t have asked for a better opening night.”
Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

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