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Casino bets on tribute bands

By the time Fabulons drummer Richie Benjamin strikes the first downbeat, the dance floor at Mardi Gras Casino is full. And it stays packed throughout the night.

While the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino has the 5,300-seat Hard Rock Live, and even most horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons regularly book bands with a Top 10 hit or two, Mardi Gras has attracted a regular crowd by hiring bands more often seen at a wedding or in a strip-mall bar.

"Our slogan is 'There's always a party at Mardi Gras,' and this just adds to the party," says Lisa Mizrachi, Mardi Gras' advertising supervisor.

Mardi Gras, located near the high rises in Hollywood and Hallandale Beach, typically draws an older crowd, so, since February 2012, the casino has brought in "tribute" bands and acts from the past, Mizrachi says. "It's music that they know, that's popular from their era," she says.

Regular patron Margaret Noel says: "It's just a warm feeling. It's my weekend activity."

The venue's popular bands include the Fabulons, who keep to a 1950s and 1960s playbook on Fridays, but go all the way through the hits of today when they play Saturdays, as they will this week.

"We kind of feel like the people we play for are the people we went to high school with," says Benjamin, who also manages the band, which formed in 1985.

He says he likes playing at Mardi Gras because the crowd is active, and there voluntarily, as opposed to an audience at a business function or a wedding.

"They're here an hour ahead of time, and they have their chairs staked out," Benjamin says.

Typically, Friday nights at the casino are reserved for tribute bands, Saturdays are dance nights and Sundays feature country-western acts. This weekend's schedule (Feb. 21-23) includes Elvis Presley tribute act David Morin on Friday, the Fabulons on Saturday and Sucker Punch on Sunday. The music starts at 8 p.m.

Next month's lineup includes: Tony Succar band (Latin tribute), March 7; David Morin, March 8; Shadow Creek, March 9; Rod Stewart tribute, March 14; Viva (dance music), March 15; Rodeo Clowns, March 16; Beatlemaniax, March 21; the Wild Cats (dance music), March 22; Shadow Creek, March 23; Bobby Nathan Band (blues/swing), March 28; Fabulons, March 29; Rodeo Clowns, March 30.

Mardi Gras Casino is located at 831 N. Federal Highway, in Hallandale Beach. Go to

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