Rendering of the new Laughlin Event Center. (Photo by Marnell Architecture)

Marnell Gaming already owns two casinos in Laughlin, Nev., and is expanding its investment in the city with a $4-million amphitheater. The Laughlin Event Center will be built in modular sections in order to easily manipulate its capacity. It will be capable of seating as few as 5,000 guests, as well as expand to more than 20,000-capacity depending on the type of event and demand.

“There are about 5,000 seats on the ground that can be removed for rodeos or dirt shows, and 4,500 bleacher seats,” said Anthony Marnell III, president of M Resorts and director of Marnell Companies, which owns and operates the Colorado Belle and Edgewater Casino Resorts in Laughlin.

Marnell has been involved in putting on one-off events for a few years; however, the taxpayer-funded shows (from room revenue) require an expensive setup.  Putting in a permanent venue will dramatically reduce fees.

Las Vegas Events, a private nonprofit supported by the convention authority, is responsible for securing events for Laughlin. According to President Pat Christenson, he has secured about three events each year for Laughlin in a leased lot.

“It was so expensive,” Christenson said. “Literally it was $100,000 right off the bat to do a concert.”

“Each of those turned out to be very successful,” he added.

Once the facility is built, Christenson said that costs to hold events will be brought down to $25,000-$40,000.  He estimates that the number of concerts will increase to more than eight each year, with a total of 12-18 events at the venue.

The event center will be walking distance to Marnell Gaming properties.

“It wasn’t a Marnell Gaming-centric idea, it’s a town-wide idea,” said Marnell. “It’s not actually on our site and it’s close to everyone.”

Though not ‘Marnell Gaming-centric,’ Marnell said that he expects the venue to draw a significant portion of its audience from regional markets, Phoenix, Ariz., and the Inland Empire in California. 

“Not only will events be fairly priced compared to what you see in other markets, but guests will get the added benefit of a room product in Laughlin that’s inexpensive, and a lot more value in gaming and food and beverage,” said Marnell.

“What we said to the community was, ‘all we need from you is your support to buy tickets,’” Marnell added.

The tourism council and Las Vegas Events will help to book the venue.

“That was a big piece of this — partnering with them on each individual opportunity and deciding who wants to absorb the risk,” added Marnell.

The event center will be constructed on more than 15 acres, making it a viable destination for bull riding events, rodeos and dirt shows, as well as mixed martial arts and boxing. There will also be concerts — such as Reba McEntire who is scheduled to play March 15 — festivals and comedy acts.

“Right now it’s going to be mostly concerts and comedy with some really big-name entertainment,” said Marnell. “We’re working on some rodeo ideas, too.”

The venue is scheduled for completion in February and was designed by Marnell Architects. Food and beverage will be handled internally and, according to Marnell, will include a “very large beverage component.”

An added benefit of the new event center is the opportunity to bring shows not only to the new venue, but also to the community at large.

“I think 80 percent of new events will be at the facility, but it will also help us bring more entertainment to the city itself,” said Christenson.

Interviewed for this story: Pat Christenson, (702) 260-8605; Anthony Marnell III, (702) 739-2000