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Comedy festival attracts sellout crowd
by Garrett Valenzuela
Jan 24, 2013 | 6227 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- Comedian Alvin Williams kicks off Thursday's opening night of the Reno Media Group Comedy Festival at Baldini's Casino in Sparks. Williams was joined by two other comedians for the two-night show.
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- Comedian Alvin Williams kicks off Thursday's opening night of the Reno Media Group Comedy Festival at Baldini's Casino in Sparks. Williams was joined by two other comedians for the two-night show.
SPARKS -- It’s Thursday evening and Baldini’s new Vice President and General Manager Barry Phillips has yet to find a moment without being engaged in conversation. Among the security checks, Player’s Club members, on-site maintenance advisors, a reporter and an 11-year Baldini’s faithful, Phillips appears a veteran of the Baldini’s casino floor.

You would be shocked to learn it is only his 24th day on the job.

As Phillips made his passes through the casino floor, the convention center was prepared just one floor up where the Reno Media Group Comedy Festival held its opening of a two-night comedy show in Sparks. Tickets to Friday’s show were sold out and Thursday’s show held a crowd of about 75 percent capacity, according to Phillips, which was the second time a show of its type had done so in less than six months.

California native Key Lewis was the main attraction for the festival alongside master of ceremonies Alvin Williams and featured act Melissa Shoshahi. Accolades among the three comedians include spots on BET and a spot on TV Guide’s top comedians list, and they provided plenty of laughs for the crowd.

“You are going to see three very talented working comedians,” Phillips said prior to Thursday’s opening night. “They are on the road constantly and they are the best ones to go see. It is not the headliner who only does the same act every show. These comedians are working every night so it is very topical and they are always fresh and new and working new material so I think you are going to see stuff you haven’t seen before.”

Phillips said the convention center hosting the comedy festival holds about 450 people and is one of his biggest assets of Baldini’s. He said most small, local-centric casinos do not have space allotted to host live entertainment, giving Phillips a chance to exploit his inheritance.

“We can do small concerts, hypnotists, comedians and those kind of niche acts where we think we have more opportunity,” he said. “We are going to find a niche at Baldini’s. Western Village doesn’t have live entertainment of any sort, Rail City doesn’t have live entertainment of any sort and Baldini’s has live entertainment in our lounge. So we are really the only casino with a true lounge act beside the Nugget.

“A lot of local casinos don’t really have that extra room that we do, so we will be putting different types of things up there. The door is wide open. We don’t know exactly what it is going to be, but people will have to watch the calendar and see what happens.”

Phillips has managed his share of the hyper-local casinos, as well as spending some time with properties like Harrah’s. After his most recent transition from Rail City Casino to Baldini’s, Phillips said he prefers “smaller properties” and is looking forward to implementing some changes in his new home.

“The big (difference) at Baldini’s is we currently only have one restaurant here, where at Rail City we had two restaurants and one was kind of a combination buffet,” he said. “In our marketing strategies, we have to work to get some more restaurants open for people to come in and visit, and those are the things we are working on.

“The slot product is already as fresh and competitive as anywhere, but part of this business is slots and food so we have to have a great food product. Right now we have a good food product and a great breakfast product. We have to get better and more variety of food. That is what our plan is.”

In terms of the future, Phillips said it is too early in his tenure to forecast possible events coming to the casino on S. Rock Boulevard. On a broader spectrum, he said Baldini’s new renovations have him excited about marketing the casino to outside sources.

“Baldini’s has been here a long time and has been a very successful property,” Phillips said. “It has gone through a transition over the last few years and it has been remodeled with a $500,000 remodel over the last year. It is a pretty clean and fresh look.

“If you haven’t been here in a while, it is something people wouldn’t even recognize, and that is why I took the job here. I just think the property is ready to bust out and be a big-time property again, like it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s when it was one of the most popular casinos in town.”
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