Three years ago, as Paris Hilton was about to turn 24, the celebutante ho-tel heiress got a sense of her worth to the nightclub industry in Vegas.
She celebrated her previous three birthdays at Light, the Bellagio hotel-casino nightclub. But for her 24th, another company swooped in with an offer that trumped the standard private jet to and from L.A., a free stay at a luxury suite, dinner and free booze.
The worthless one would be given a big paycheck - upwards of $200,000 - just to party, but it had to be at PURE, a rival club at Caesars Palace.
Her people let the Light Group know that their former deal was off.
"We said, 'OK, well listen, we're not here to tell you not to make money,'" said a former Light executive, who did not want to be identified.
These days, celebrities often make appearances and walk the red carpet as part of the deal for coming to a nightclub. In return for generating media coverage, they receive all sorts of free goodies, if not cash.
For club operators, it has become the standard way of getting known. The buzz is formidable, but beyond that, it generates patrons, more people willing to pay a $30 cover, $15 for a cocktail and $500 for a bottle of name-brand vodka or high-end champagne.
"If you quantify that in terms of the amount of press they got off it, the press they got off it was priceless," the former executive said.
This weekend, PURE looked to re-create its formula with the opening of LAX, with a grand-opening Friday hosted by Britney Spears. The company would not say how much it was paying her or whether Spears would perform (she did not).
A revamped club, Blush at the Wynn, also hoped to cash in by opening Friday.
It's the start of a raucous couple of weeks that include Labor Day and the MTV Video Music Awards events that will attract plenty of partiers and paparazzi.
PURE managing partner Steve Davidovici said that rumors of celebrity payments are exaggerated, and pointed to reports the group supposedly paid $250,000 to Britney Spears eight months ago to host PURE's New Year's Eve countdown.
Of course, Britney passed out drunk at that affair.
"That's a lot of sour grapes from other nightclubs, I guess," Davidovici said, while giving a tour of LAX. "It's a third of those prices."
Even at that, the appearance fee, which works out to about $83,000, was money well spent, he said. The club sold a table next to Britney Spears that night for $50,000, and some 3,000 revelers spent $250 on tickets.
"If you look at (the fee) from a monetary standpoint, it's significant, but not if you're taking in half a million dollars," he said.
PURE alone will generate about $53 million this year, while the company plans to gross more than $120 million from 12 venues in Las Vegas and the Bahamas.
On Tuesday, PURE nightclub hosted Paris Hilton and her sister, Nicky, as they unveiled new products from Nicky Hilton's clothing line.
The club later gushed in a release that the sisters "danced their hearts out for the admiring onlookers" as "the two socialites stuck to the main VIP stage."
Call it girl-on-girl action, call it dancing your hearts out. It works.
At LAX, the central focus of the theater-like layout is a raised dais of booths in front of the dance floor for "super VIPs and celebrities," Davidovici said.
"Britney will definitely be up there opening night," he said.
Industry observers say such celebrity-spotting is worth the price of admission.
"It's fun to be famous and rich. That's why people pay to get in and watch," said Lori Levine, the president of Flying Television, a talent-booking firm in New York.
"If you go to a club to see one of the 'It' girls, you take a photo on your phone and you'll have a story to tell for the rest of the summer," she said.
Depending on the venue and stars, pay ranges from free drinks (Kevin Federline) to thousands and thousands of dollars (the former Mrs. Kevin Federline).
Continue reading this Yahoo! article on the expensive, lucrative and controversial world of clubs and their celebrity appearances ...