Do you ever feel like the privileged get all the breaks while you suffer through hard times? Well, it's not an illusion, my friend. Last year, as countless small businesses shuttered permanently, the big boys were receiving U.S. government aid to keep their doors open. This was especially true with the airline industry, which benefitted from a whopping $74 billion in COVID-19 assistance. This aid had the primary purpose of keeping staff in place while planes sat on the ground. You'd never know it by the recent epidemic of major carrier flight cancellations attributed to staffing shortages...or "operational challenges", as they describe it in PR terms. Which begs the question "Where did the money go?".
Here in Las Vegas, the entertainment industry was absolutely devasted by the total closure of live shows. Thousands of singers, dancers, acrobats, choreographers, costume designers, sound and lighting techs, and others suffered without pay. Many were unable to secure timely unemployment aid or pandemic assistance of any kind, blamed of course on (wait for it) government office staffing shortages.
A surprising number of people in the industry decided to leave Las Vegas permanently. Some fell back on other skills to make ends meet. As the cry for help grew, community-driven THE SPACE organized a telethon to provide aid. Through their MONDAYS DARK charitable organization and a partnership with The Actors Fund, the community came together to supply what our state government could (or "would") not:
VEGAS UNFILTERED 4/16/20 - Thanks to the team at Mondays Dark and The Actors Fund, Sin City’s entertainment community will be on the receiving end of founder Mark Shunock‘s charitable organization for the first time. Thousands of entertainers, artists, and support crew are without work, and very few are receiving temporary compensation to get by. The Actors Fund, best known in Los Angeles and New York City, has partnered with Mondays Dark to help raise money for the Vegas entertainment community during this desperate time.
As it turns out, the Federal Government was there all along to help the entertainment industry. But the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program was targeted for the big boys, not suffering individuals:
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program was established by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act, and amended by the American Rescue Plan Act. The program includes over $16 billion in grants to shuttered venues, to be administered by SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance. Eligible applicants may qualify for grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue, with the maximum amount available for a single grant award of $10 million. $2 billion is reserved for eligible applications with up to 50 full-time employees.
Eligible entities include:
- Live venue operators or promoters
- Theatrical producers
- Live performing arts organization operators
- Museum operators
- Motion picture theater operators (including owners)
- Talent representatives
Grant amounts will reflect either of the following instances:
- For an eligible entity in operation on January 1, 2019, grants will be for an amount equal to 45% of their 2019 gross earned revenue OR $10 million, whichever is less.
- For an eligible entity that began operation after January 1, 2019, grants will be for the average monthly gross earned revenue for each full month you were in operation during 2019 multiplied by six OR $10 million, whichever is less.
Criss Angel with one of his many custom motorcycles at Serenity mansion
You might be thinking to yourself that this is all well and good. Keep the venues and their operators in business so shows can return, right? Not so fast. Once again, those with the money got the money. Vegas 411 has received a document revealing specific payouts to Nevada recipients, and the information is eye-opening.
Let's start with one of the biggest disbursements. Magic Revolution LLC received $6,694,936,00 of U.S. Government aid. And who's that, you ask? None other than the company representing poor, suffering Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos, aka 'Criss Angel'. So if you're wondering how his critically-lambasted show at Planet Hollywood was able to return when top-quality productions like LE REVE, CELESTIA and ZUMANITY were permanently shuttered, now you know.
Remember that during the pandemic, performers resorted to teaching online yoga classes, holding virtual dance parties, selling personal possessions, and even starting OnlyFans sexual accounts to keep afloat. Criss Angel lives in a 22,000 square foot mansion he calls "Serenity". Bloomberg reported in 2016 that Angel generates about $70 million worth of income annually. And just like magic, he made $6.7 million of taxpayer money disappear.
MB BC Management LLC was on the receiving end of $4,766,522.81 in grants. You might know MB BC LLC better as 'Hakkasan', the nightclub giant responsible for their business activities. Hakkasan was acquired by TAO GROUP HOSPITALITY in April of this year. Together, this giant company spearheads Vegas nightspots like OMNIA, JEWEL, HAKKASAN, BEAUTY & ESSEX, LAVO, TAO, and MARQUEE.
On the west side of the Strip, Palms Casino has remained shuttered since March of 2020. That didn't stop their multi-screen Brenden Theatres from collecting a $10 million maximum grant from the U.S. Government on behalf of that particular location. Two other Vegas entities received the same amount: Smith Center for the Performing Arts (reopening this fall) and Life Is Beautiful, the upcoming music/art festival in downtown Las Vegas. Both of them have actively worked towards resuming operations. Brenden Theatres? Not one kernel of popcorn has been popped.
Do you recall earlier this spring when Caesars Entertainment permanently shuttered a dozen or so productions and showrooms? Hypnotist Anthony Cools and his self-titled theater at Paris Hotel were on the receiving end of that boot. But their ejection was presumably after Cools received a government assistance check for $208,638.61, specifically intended to keep the show and venue alive until after the pandemic. As seen above, Anthony Cools has an estimated net worth of $12 million.
As luck would have it, FRIENDS! The Musical Parody was slated to join Cools in March 2020 inside the same showroom. Oopsie! While the production searches (maybe) for another venue to spoof the NBC sitcom, they have $45,251.10 in government money to 'be there for you'. For some reason, both the Anthony Cools Showroom and FRIENDS remain listed on the Paris Hotel website.
SPI Entertainment is a big-time player on the Las Vegas entertainment scene. They represent Australian Bee Gees, Boys II Men, Pawn Stars, Mike Tyson - Undisputed Truth, and Thunder From Down Under. SPI was granted $3,995,822,80 in government aid. Nevertheless, their shows Human Nature, Hans Klok - The World's Fastest Magician, and Sex Tips For Straight Women From A Gay Man folded during the pandemic. In contrast, the performers from SPI Entertainment's Thunder From Down Under, desperate to survive, resorted to asking for public assistance by way of a Go Fund Me campaign. The effort raised $10,630.00.
April 29, 2020 - Since the virus, our show has been closed and not opening anytime soon. We have created a go fund me for the cast of the show as we can't receive any benefits over here. Any contribution helps and is massively appreciated as we know a lot of people are struggling. We just want to be back up and running so we can take our clothes off for people again.
In the next installment, I'll delve into the application process and what criteria were used to determine the amount of SVOG disbursements. I'll also list a few more recipients and examine their contributions to the Vegas entertainment industry. Click HERE to read it.