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December 20, 2014

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Lance Burton departs Monte Carlo run five years early

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Kirvin Doak Communications

Lance Burton, Teller, Siegfried Fischbacher, Roy Horn, Penn Jillette and Criss Angel.

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Mayor Oscar Goodman, magician Lance Burton and Monte Carlo President and COO Anton Nikodemus.

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Lance Burton performs a magic trick with Pamela Anderson during a taping of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in Las Vegas, Tuesday, May 11, 2004.

The rumors of master magician Lance Burton’s decision to call the remaining five years of his Monte Carlo contract quits began last week. I learned of them Wednesday while traveling to the Caribbean, so it was Thursday before I could confirm that delicate negotiations were in their final stages so that Lance, MGM entertainment officials and Monte Carlo executives could reach an amicable deal.

I said that I would keep identities of all involved anonymous until the settlement had been made. We posted the story that way Friday morning. The news leaked Saturday, and Lance’s representatives told me that the official statement would be released this morning -- it is at the end of this story.

Lance, beloved here in the Las Vegas showbiz community, emailed me yesterday with a promise at that time to reflect on his 14-year-run at the Monte Carlo. I remember back in the mid 1990s filming a sequence of Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous and walking with him in hardhats through the construction site where his Lance Burton Theater would be built.

I remember at the time last year when his original 13-year contract ended that he told me he had really wrestled with the decision of staying on for another six years through to 2015. He was candid about not knowing whether to take an extended break or retire from the rigors of a nightly show and concentrate more on TV spectaculars four times a year. In the end, he decided to renew.

But now -- in the real end -- the decision was made for him. As the economic downturn has affected all aspects of Las Vegas, Strip shows also have become victims of the rancid recession. Ticket prices are proving to be too costly. It’s believed that Monte Carlo officials wanted to cut the show’s production budget, but rather than compromise its quality, Lance decided to not let the show suffer and leave on a high note. That’s the definition of integrity and respect.

Lance is not the only headliner on the Strip facing economic retrenchment, but this decision has sent shock waves through the community. Many are now asking who and what next will be next. Entertainment used to be thought of as a “loss leader” to ensure high roller happiness. Nobody was concerned with costs, budgets and expenses, and it set off a mega-salary wave of competition. But as corporations took over accounting, entertainment had to become self-sustaining and has become the subject of cutbacks just like everything else. But you can’t reduce production values and expect a show not to suffer, no matter the star.

“Lance has been unhappy for quite some time,” one of his closest magic friends told me over the weekend. “He didn’t want to let his cast and crew down, but he knew if the economies went into effect, they would eventually lose anyway. He was unhappy that in the corporate world of cutbacks, advertising and promotion budgets were drastically reduced, which put him into difficulty competing with shows with larger marketing expenditures. In a sense, he felt the show had become forgotten, and he wanted it to be remembered for 14 incredible years and not go out on a bad note.”

Another entertainment expert told me: “You could sort of see the beginning of the writing on the wall when impressionist Frank Caliendo moved into Lance’s theater as a second attraction to boost revenue. Lance warmly welcomed him, but now it was two acts splitting a similar pie. Frank’s show was a lot less costly to mount. There were no expensive illusions, dancers or large cast, thus tickets could be cheaper. It put Lance in a difficult situation.

“In the end, the necessary corporate bid for economies and bigger entertainment profits made up the decision for him. He decided to leave on a high note with an incredible record of great success rather than watch it slowly get more and more watered down to a trickle over time as more and more cuts were made.

“Lance is highly regarded and respected in the world of magic. He’s the consummate performer of excellence. He’s had a great track record, and we certainly haven’t heard the last of him. Lance now starts out on a new aspect and direction of his career with 14 years of Strip stardom behind him -- and nothing but raves and praise.”

Here’s the official statement released this morning: Master magician Lance Burton will end his storied run at Monte Carlo on Sept. 4, 2010. The final performance follows 14 years of captivating audiences at the resort’s Lance Burton Theater. Beloved by fans worldwide and named Best Magician for a dozen consecutive years, Lance has been with Monte Carlo since its opening day June 21, 1996.

“It has been an honor and a pleasure to have Lance Burton headline at Monte Carlo for the last 14 years,” said Monte Carlo President & COO Anton Nikodemus. “We are proud to have called Lance a member of the MGM Mirage family and wish him nothing but the best as he pursues a new chapter in his legendary career.”

Known for his astounding illusions and mesmerizing sleight-of-hand, Lance will continue to delight audiences at Monte Carlo through Labor Day Weekend, celebrating one of the longest and most fruitful partnerships in the history of Las Vegas entertainment.

“Performing at Monte Carlo and introducing thousands of people to the world of magic has been a fantastic experience for me,” Lance said. “I have loved every minute of this historic run and look forward to turning my attention to new opportunities.”

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.