New celebrity deal will give Tahoe more TV time |

New celebrity deal will give Tahoe more TV time

Rick Chandler

Now appearing in an extended engagement at Caesars Tahoe – the song stylings of Charles Barkley and Marcus Allen.

OK, maybe that’s not your idea of a great night out. But celebrity presence at Caesars is music to the ears of the Lake Tahoe community in general and Mel Thomas in particular.

Thomas, the vice president and general manager of Caesars Tahoe, had the pleasure last week of presiding over a contract extension with the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship. In the agreement, Caesars is to remain the official host hotel for the event through 2003.

And that means more celebrity antics from the likes of Houston Rockets forward Barkley and former NFL running back Allen – golfers by day and impromptu entertainers by night, at least while they’re in Tahoe.

“Barkley was holding court in the High Limits room every night,” said Thomas, whose hotel played host to all 76 celebrities who participated in the golf tournament this past weekend. “You could walk around the casino and see Wayne Gretzky and Jesse Ventura, and they would be talking with anyone who wanted to come up to them and chat. John Elway was hanging around; Mike Shanahan was there. It was great stuff.”

At one point, Barkley and Allen grabbed microphones and began singing … to, uh, mixed reviews. But the point was that the celebrities tend to relax and mingle with the community during their golf weekend, and that’s good for everyone, says Thomas.

“The Fourth of July has become our biggest night of the year, bigger than New Year’s,” said Thomas. “Like no other event, the tournament speaks to the branding of our property. It’s about entertainment.

“I was walking the hill (on the Fourth), and some of the celebrities were over at the other properties. Everyone was busy.”

Caesars touts the tournament as their showcase event these days, but it wasn’t always the case. After taking losses in the first year of the tournament in 1990, Caesars officials weren’t sure if they wanted to be involved with the event the following year.

“Finally we said ‘OK, let’s give it another try,’ ” Thomas said. “It’s grown steadily better every year. We’re glad we stuck it out.”

Sports Marketing and Television International, which owns and operates the tournament along with NBC, entered into the extension agreement with Caesars. The deal should become official next week.

“Caesars was with us from the very beginning. Along with Edgewood Tahoe, they were the ones who stuck with us through the lean times,” said SMTI executive vice president Robert O’Connor. “As you might imagine, there has lately been some interest in other (Nevada casinos) getting involved.

“But the players love Caesars,” he said. “They do a first class job. The tournament is really a labor of love for all of us.”

The Caesars deal was made possible, of course, by the larger overall agreement between the Celebrity Golf Championship LLC and Lake Tahoe Gaming Properties to keep the tournament at Lake Tahoe through 2003 (there is a one-year option following that).

The agreement calls for the gaming community to play a more active role in the tournament in return for increased network television exposure.

“Showcasing Tahoe on national television is bigger than any single thing we could have done,” Thomas said. “The vistas and views and commentary on NBC really put us in a good light. A lot of the sponsors who stopped by were saying that this had been their first trip to Tahoe, and they were just stunned by the beauty of it. That’s a great thing for the community.”

One big feature of the new agreement is that the tournament will not be held over the Fourth of July weekend.

“In essence that gives us two big weekends as opposed to just one,” Thomas said. “We’ll really be jammin’ up here.”

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