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What's up with Atlantic City?

Started by anawas on Friday, 27th June 2014 1:07 am
Last response by vespajet 12th July 9:04am

Member Hail2Skins has brought us news of Revel's latest bankruptcy filing and, now, news that CET property Showboat will close in the next few months. (Source: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Showboat-Atlantic-City-to-Announce-Closing-Friday-264823841.html ).

Yes, there's a rumor/hope/grasping at straws that Caesars will buy Revel for pennies on the dollar, but one or both of these two casinos is about to shed thousands of jobs in a place not known for its stellar employment opportunities.

We all know that despite its beach access, Atlantic City isn't competing well with newer/closer gambling options in PA, MA, DE, MD, and (soon) NY. But what can Atlantic City do to try to rebound?

One decent option I saw (from an anonymous online commenter) was to turn a casino tower into a college campus that churns out business majors and low-level casino executives. Hotel rooms would become dorms. Restaurants would become cafeterias. The gaming floor might/might not remain open as a working laboratory for the industry.

Others have floated the condo/rental model. (My take: Almost every beach town already offers the same thing.) Local politicians hope marketing to gay and lesbian tourists will help. (My take: It will help, but not enough to move the needle.) And there's the possibility of legal or gray-market sports betting. (My take: It can't hurt.)

I think Atlantic City could survive as a 7-casino town featuring Caesars (absorbing Bally's), Borgata, Nugget, Harrah's, Tropicana, whatever Revel becomes, and the Trump Taj. But that contraction would doom many more jobs.

So what would be your idea to "save" Atlantic City?

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 hobgoblin7777 responded on Friday, 27th June 2014

I have been to Atlantic City a few times when visiting New York. One of the worse things about visiting that place is just the general layout of the casinos in the area. They are just so dammmm far from one another. Granted if one is in Las Vegas it's a pretty far hike from Circus Circus (or even Encore) to Mandalay Bay. But hey, at least if you are at Encore you can see Mandalay.

Ok, back to reality, it isn't feasible to geographically relocate the casinos so they are (or at least look) closer together. One of the things AC can do is improve on the customer service of getting people into their casinos. I was last in AC 2010. I attempted to get on a Trump operated shuttle at Trump Plaza going to the Taj Mahal. No such luck. I was told that in order to board the shuttle one had to be a rated player and they deduct points from your players club card to ride. What? I don't understand the logic in that. Maybe I am not a rated player but everyone has to eat and some people go shopping. Additionally, just because I am not a rated player does not mean that I am not a player. Operating the bus is a fixed cost. It doesn't cost much more (if anything additional) to have an extra passenger on the bus and potentially have them drop $20-30 in one of your machines, etc. If my memory serves me correctly Caesars Entertainment also has a shuttle but it is limited to rated players. AC has a Jitney system in place (think small, but old, shuttle buses that pick people up and drop them off at the casinos). I ended up paying a couple of bucks and utilizing it. It was old and not the cleanest form of transportation. Don't know why the casinos worn't let all patrons utilize their shuttles?

Parking - Parking in AC costs money? Really? I could see them charging, but shouldn't you get your parking comped if you are dining at a property/gambling there/let alone staying there?

Food/Dining - While I can't say that I remember any truly bad restaurants during my visits to Atlantic City I can't say I remember any noteworthy ones either. The Borgata buffet was nice but that is all I remember. I have not been to it but I've heard great things about The White House sandwich shop at the Taj Majal and on the Boardwalk. That is definitely one of the places I want to try. I also don't remember seeing to many food deals like Downtown Las Vegas has.

Something that could definitely help AC out is having something else besides gaming. The great thing about Vegas is there is more than just gaming. Great restaurants, shows, and even free attractions (i.e. Bellagio Fountains, Mirage Volcano, etc.) that draw people in. AC has nothing like those. Sadly, Vegas is starting to stray from having this type of stuff too. Perhaps rather than Caesars investing in a giant observation wheel at the link they could have came up with a really cool attraction to have lured people in, who would then in turn eat, drink and shop there.

Ok. Done with my Rant!

 anawas replied on Friday, 27th June 2014

Refuting some things:
-- The jitney buses have considerably modernized their fleet in the past few years (check out Wikipedia).
-- AC has some pretty good food now, including at Caesars' pier thingy, Tropicana and Golden Nugget.
-- The drinks are still free (while gambling).
-- Some of the surviving freestanding restaurants on the Boardwalk are fairly inexpensive.
-- As for attractions, Atlantic City has a free beach. Even Vegas has nothing to compete with that during the summer months. There also are water/fishing/boating activities, a large complex of outlet stores and some non-casino concert venues and restaurants.


And supporting some others:
-- Yeah, the casinos are too spread out. Tropicana and Revel are on their own. Closing Showboat will remove one half of a walkable Taj Mahal/Showboat pair. It's not easy to walk between Borgata/Harrah's/Golden Nugget despite their reasonable proximity.
-- I understand and appreciate trying to reduce freeloaders and bums, but I agree the optics are bad when actual casino patrons aren't allowed on a Trump or Caesars shuttle. I think I had better success midweek with a lowroller card when I was there 2 years ago. Weekend demand might require a midroller card to ride.
-- Paying for parking is stupid in a shrinking and struggling city. I agree with the validation suggestions outlined above. Some casinos do charge a one-time fee, but allow you in-and-out privileges for the rest of your stay or access to their corporate sisters' garages. I *guess* that's okay.

 hobgoblin7777 replied on Friday, 27th June 2014

Thanks so much for the reply, information, and insight!
*Kudos to them for updating the Jitney situation. For not having free shuttle service between the properties the Jitneys are the next best options. The ones I they had when I was last there in 2010 looked, and riding them felt, like they were going to fall apart!
* I will have to check out the food at GN and Trop. While I was there I did check out the Trop buffet (in 2010) but wasn't too impressed.
* I never thought about the boating, fishing part of it. The casinos/tourism board should publicize that more!

One Additional Rant:
* I don't know if this has changed since 2010. But, when I was last there, I tried to put in some spare $1 bills I had into quarter/dollar machines. They would not take anything less than a $5! WTF. I noticed this at multiple properties. I'm assuming this is tied to some kind of regulation?

 mstokes responded on Friday, 27th June 2014

As somebody that lives so close to Atlantic City and visits there multiple times a month this news really hits hard and I feel so bad for the people of Showboat and possibly Revel if that closes as well.

This whole idea of closing casinos to save the city is the complete wrong way to go about things for a number of reasons. Firstly to say that nearby casinos are hurting Atlantic City that much to close is the complete wrong way to look at things. Yes, these nearby casinos are hurting Atlantic City, but when these places are compared to one another there really is no comparison. I live 15 minutes away from Sugarhouse and I will never go there, it has nothing on what AC can offer. The same thing could be said about most of these smaller type of casinos, besides I'd say Parx which is actually a nice place to play. This logic that these smaller casinos are hurting is like saying casinos in Reno are hurting the ones on the strip. People will be willing to travel to Atlantic City if the destination is worth it. Why do people from all over the country continue to visit Las Vegas, it's because it offers something their local places cannot do. A place like Atlantic City and Las Vegas are all about having fun, nobody wants to go to a place that has closed up casinos and thousands of people laid off of work.

To turn Atlantic City around would require a total team effort. A main thing that needs to be done is completely redo Pacific and Atlantic Ave. These are the two main streets that run parallel with the boardwalk. Make these streets feel not so run down and not feel so scary. The Walk is a great spot to do some outdoor shopping, but once you leave that area it feels like a completely different town you are in, and not one people want to be in. While redoing Pacific and Atlantic Ave are important, the boardwalk needs some major renovation as well. Just look at the boardwalks in Ocean City and Wildwood, then the one in Atlantic City. The cleanliness and quality of the stores and restaurants is like night and day. Wildwood and Seaside Heights use to have a real run down boardwalk but over the past 10 years or so they have reinvigorated themselves and now they both have a really nice destination spot.

Atlantic City doesn't need to close down casinos or get rid of gambling. Just adapt with the times and be more aware of what is going on around themselves. There's no reason why a small town like Wildwood can do it, but a town with a multi billion dollar industry can't. Every casino operator and government official needs to put differences aside and work together for the greater benefit of the city.

 anawas replied on Friday, 27th June 2014

I support almost everything said above.

Atlantic and Pacific are pretty gritty in places and definitely contributing to the whole "Atlantic-City-in-decline" vibe that is discouraging tourists. I compare Atlantic City to Las Vegas' Fremont Street in the early 2000s: not a place you'd want to be walking around after dark. But Downtown Vegas has turned it around. Can Atlantic City do the same, amid a nationwide trend of re-urbanization from the suburbs?

Revitalizing Atlantic and Pacific, as well as the boardwalk, between Taj and Tropicana should be a priority. But too often, revitalization efforts push out the existing population and businesses, which in AC's case have already been kicked around for decades. That said, The Walk (the outlet store complex) is a great start.

I'd also favor another significant push to boost intercity transit (big-name bus companies, trains, planes). I know most recent transit efforts have failed, but the patrons needed to sustain a tourist city have to come from somewhere, and I don't see as many of them coming from the Mid-Atlantic any more.

But a large swath of the Southeast is not oversaturated with gaming options: Folks in Birmingham, Atlanta, Athens, Nashville, Knoxville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Richmond, Roanoke, Charleston, and Myrtle Beach can get to one Harrah's casino in western North Carolina or make equally long drives to Florida and Mississippi. Bring them to Atlantic City.

All that said, I don't think Atlantic City can support a double-digit number of casinos. Most mid-major U.S. cities have one or two casinos, tops. Even places like Chicago and Philly (and soon, NYC) only have a few gambling options - and they're pretty well spread out. And all casinos are struck by the shifting demographics: fewer people are gambling and those that do have many new options closer to home.

Atlantic City could be (and was) the Vegas of the East, but it isn't "fun" enough. Vegas has thrived thanks to lax drinking laws, walkable casino districts, and by fostering a reputation that anything goes (even when some things - prostitution, drugs, and racketeering - are still very much illegal). What's going to draw people to AC on a Wednesday in November or a Monday in January?

 vespajet replied on Sunday, 29th June 2014

Spirit has done fairly well with their ATL-ACY service and have lasted longer than previous attempts to serve ACY from ATL. Delta offered service about 7-8 years ago using one of their regional affiliates and the service lasted a year or so before dropping the route (along with several other routes out of ACY). AirTran started service on the route in 2009 and ended service in January 2012 (They had a two year $4 million subsidy for the flights and the subsidy ended in September 2011.). Spirit jumped onto the route that May and offer once a day service (originally announced as seasonal service).

Caesars will be opening a second North Carolina casino about an hour south of Harrah's Cherokee near the town of Murphy. Harrah's Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel will be a smaller property than the location in Cherokee (300 hotel rooms vs. 1108) and with it being a 2-2.5 hour drive from Atlanta, Knoxville and Chattanooga, they hope to attract more players from those market than the current resort in Cherokee does.

http://www.harrahscherokee.com/Things-to-do/valley-river-casino-hotel.html#.U7BEOPldVMi

There are a few tribal casinos in Alabama that use bingo slots and they're heavily marketing in the Atlanta area as well.

It's not out of the realm of possibilities that Georgia may within the next 5-10 years allow casino gambling and possibly even horse racing in the state. The Breeder's Cup dangled a carrot a few years ago about moving the event to Georgia if pari-mutual betting on horse was legalized. The problem is that the current governor is opposed to any expansion of gambling in the state. In 2012, there was a non-binding vote that summer in the GOP primaries regarding allowing casino gambling in the state and it barely passed when most experts expected it to be soundly defeated. If the current governor gets reelected this November, it's unlikely any bills to allow a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment allowing additional forms of gambling beyond the lottery would get his signature. Casinos are not a campaign issue in the governor's race, so if his opponent gets elected, it is unclear whether they are opposed to any expansion of gambling in the state.

 hail2skins responded on Friday, 27th June 2014

I'd love to hear Dr. Dave's thoughts on this, even though I'm sure he's mentioned some things on prior Vegas Gang podcasts.

Agree with sprucing and livening up the Boardwalk and some of the parallel streets would be a start. Aside from the hotel rooms, I honestly don't see what the majority of AC casinos have to offer that the places sprouting up in the East don't. Charles Town is a bit of a hole, but I've been to Sands Bethlehem and to Maryland Live and found their layouts just as attractive as anything in AC save for Borgata and Revel. The only thing AC has is the number of competing casinos which keeps table game minimums lower relative to the other spots. But how long might that even last if several joints close. You might wind up with a scenario where you have the Trop at the south end, Caesars and Ballys in the center, and the Taj at the north end.....with the Marina casinos, who inexplicably are not connected to even each other by some monorail.

Would also be nice if you kept of the dining options open later. My last trip to AC was in January and it was nice to receive a comp at the Taj after playing craps for a few hours. However, at 7 pm on a Thursday, the only place open I could use it at was a Noodle Bar. Seriously?

And I always reflect on an article I read back in the late 1990s in the Philadelphia Inquirer magazine about the difference between AC and Vegas, at a timeframe where the hope was that Steve Wynn was going to come in and sprinkle some "magic dust" in the city. The comparison focused on the atmospheres within the casinos, and it still holds true today. You'll be hard pressed to find a larger gathering of miserable people than you do in AC. I've cut back my AC trips some, but used to do overnighters about four times a year. It was the rare time that I DIDN'T see some sort of altercation between patrons or between employees and patrons during my visit. During my last trip my friend got into a physical altercation with another player over where my buddy placed his pass line bet, which, according to the idiot, caused the dice to seven out. I am not making this up. This was a few hours after we saw security get involved in breaking up a fight at a Spanish 21 table between two patrons at a different casino. Unbelievable.

 theANT replied on Friday, 27th June 2014

I was in Philadelphia earlier this year and decided to drive into Atlantic City and spend the night at the Taj Mahal. I encountered the same dining predicament. The noodle bar was okay, but it felt more like a place to end a night - not get one started. Funny, I also saw a fight break out at the craps table. Later in the night I walked out on to the boardwalk and a homeless guy started following me around.

It felt like everyone I encountered; hotel clerk, dealers, other players...all had some kind of angle or hustle going on. Not my kind of atmosphere, I don't see myself going back.

 anawas replied on Friday, 27th June 2014

Maybe AC is missing out on this revenue stream: Videotaping hobo fights and bro blowups. Atlantic City does have a strong tradition of quality boxing matches...

 sandyastrogl1de responded on Friday, 27th June 2014

I live in NJ, and I'd rather pay $500 and make a 5 hour flight to Vegas than an hour drive to AC, for all the reasons stated above. I don't think that AC can be saved because even if you remodeled every hotel there into a Bellagio clone, it would still be Bellagio in the ghetto. It's not exactly my idea of a fun evening when walking outside for a cigarette, you get harassed by massive hordes of drug dealers, prostitutes, and homeless people looking for handouts, but this has been my experience there every single time I've ever been there, regardless of the hotel. I've done IT work for the NJ Casino Gaming Commission, and even their headquarters are located in the sketchiest part of town.

 anawas replied on Saturday, 28th June 2014

So, burn it to the ground? Rough ending for a resort town. But AC wouldn't be the first to suffer that fate.

That said, Vegas has its fair share of hustlers and bums, too.

 vespajet replied on Saturday, 12th July 2014

I'd rather fly 4+ hours to Vegas than to drive 3 hours to Harrah's Cherokee (whose rooms always seem to be sold out whenever I've considered a trip up there) or drive 6-8 hours to Biloxi or Tunica. I've considered A.C. trips in the past, but didn't like the flight times AirTran offered plus I refuse to fly Spirit. I would have to fly into Philly and take the train to A.C., which would take me about as long as flying from ATL to Las Vegas.

 Drake responded on Saturday, 28th June 2014

AC's problem all along has been that lingering sense of menace you feel when you're walking on the streets or driving on the local roads in and around the city. It's more perception than reality, I'm sure, but nonetheless it's why many people will never consider AC a "resort town" even with the beach during summer high season.

AC has done tons to make the place more appealing -- bars on the beach, a pier filled with restaurants and stores, The Walk, etc. -- but it's hard to shake its reputation as a tough town.

My wife and I stay at Harrah's on the marina side two or three times a year. Cleaner, fresher, and nicer and no driving through slums to get there. I miss walking along the boardwalk in the warmer months, but I don't miss the general grubbiness and the sleazy characters you run into.

Also, the bottom line is that AC is suffering the same problem everyone else is: the economy still stinks and people just don't have the disposable income they had a decade ago.


 Drake replied on Saturday, 28th June 2014

P.S. How to fix it? Why doesn't someone in AC open up a $5 BJ party pit? Make it 6:5, who cares, just do something to reach out to the under-30 crowd. Build a buzz, people!

 hail2skins replied on Saturday, 28th June 2014

AC did introduce $1 blackjack tables a few years ago. Problem was that you had to pay a quarter per hand to play them. Not sure if they still exist. I have seen 6/5 tables in AC (reportedly the one $5 Borgata table is now 6/5), but don't know how widespread they are. It does seem like the "dealer hits soft 17" rule is now pretty standard there.

Another thing that sucks about AC is lack of grandfathering. In Vegas if you're at a table that raises the minimums, you can generally stay at the previous lower minimum. In AC, no such luck.

 rduckham responded on Saturday, 28th June 2014

What you are watching is the slow motion destruction of a gambling resort. AC did nothing when Indian casinos opened, casinos in PA, etc.. The one thing they must do as a unified group, is to defeat casino gambling in NY. If NY gets gambling, the only hotel that has a good chance of surviving is the Borgata, all the rest are dead men walking.

 Drake replied on Saturday, 28th June 2014

Too late. We NYers voted yes on casinos last fall. The referendum was positioned as a way to help the economically struggling Catskills region, but now there are proposals under consideration for resort casinos just over the NJ/NY border in Tuxedo and Harriman (Genting and Caesars, respectively) which are just an hour away from NYC.

 anawas replied on Saturday, 28th June 2014

Caesars is an interesting case. Caesars can't complain about the competition from other cities when they ARE the competition from other cities.

Caesars built a Chester/Philly Harrah's. Its Baltimore Horseshoe is almost complete. And it wants a Harriman (southeastern NY) property. Those are all within an easy drive of Atlantic City. Adding to that cannibalism: Caesars also has properties in Cleveland and Cincinnati, near Chicago, and near Louisville.

It would, of course, be nice if Caesars was willing to hire many of the displaced Showboat employees at its Baltimore property, but hundreds of maids, front desk clerks and maintenance workers are S.O.L. since Baltimore won't have a hotel. (Philly lacks a hotel, too, but I think the Harriman property will have rooms, if it's selected to be built.)

But back to the Showboat closing. The timing is noteworthy; Showboat won't stay open through the entire Labor Day weekend, which you'd think would be a significant moneymaker for the property. Meanwhile, Horseshoe Baltimore opens in August/September, according to Caesars.

So, if Caesars gets and opens a Harriman property, would it then close what's left of Bally's in Atlantic City?

 Toro66 responded on Saturday, 28th June 2014

I was there for their soft opening and loved the place. But if I want to go on a friday or saturday then I have to pay $400-$550 for a night. I live in Jersey and the only thing that draws me to A/C would be the Revel, but for that kind of money I'd rather stay near Central Park in Manhattan or the Four Seasons in Philly. Village Whiskey is a draw, but I can go to the original in Philly for a shorter drive.

 Toro66 responded on Saturday, 28th June 2014

http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/justices-rebuff-njs-effort-sports-betting-24260379

 jerrydice responded on Sunday, 29th June 2014

The elephant in the room IMO is the room rate structure in AC. You can stay at Wynn Las Vegas, Cosmo, etc. for less than a 1980s room at Bally's in AC on the weekend 9 months out of the year. Even with airfare after 3 nights, Vegas is very competitive...especially when nights are comped much more easily for us there (and we're by no means big players).

Like vespajet, sometimes it just makes more sense to fly to Vegas than drive to AC...and we're 3 hours max to AC. More to do, better value, better diversity of casinos (range from small joints to high-end resorts), and great bars and restaurants. While I still enjoy our trips out to AC, I'm also realistic that it's sliding further and further into irrelevance I fear.

 Toro66 replied on Monday, 30th June 2014

That's how I talked my boss into our first company trip to Vegas many years ago. We used to spend $600 for the two weekend nights at Caesars in A/C so I told him we could spend 5 nights including the weekend at the Luxor in Vegas and we could go any time of the year and get good weather. That was pretty much the end of A/C for me.

 andybflo responded on Sunday, 29th June 2014

Jerrydice hit a biggie...

My fiancee and I are both Caesars Platinum players. Low end, but Platinum. I can get any tower (Except Nobu) I want at CP in Vegas. Bally's AC? $99/night. For whatever older (but nicely remodeled) room they had over the Wild West Casino.

Claridge tower (now closed), was $69 a night. Included free tetanus, bedbugs, and all that nastiness.

The casino had ripped carpet. The same 70's brass escalators and trim since they built the place. Peeling wallpaper. Semi-scary clientele.

All the operators milked AC as a cash cow. For decades. And expected no competition, and an endless party. The party is ending, and quick.

I grew up just North of Philadelphia, and the same problems AC had when I was growing up (crime just off boardwalk, homeless, fights, etc.) existed thirty years ago. They've made little progress, and didn't care. It ma be too late to save it, now.

Sadly, the most fun I had in AC, with the best dealers, and people around me was at the Showboat. Clean casino. Good layout (Thank you Martin Stern.) Nice people. And that's the one I had a bad feeling Caesars would close (It's the odd brand, and at the end of the Boardwalk.)

I live about six hours away by car. Two hours from family. Two to two and a half hours by small plane (I own a little Piper), and I'll happily board a 737, fly to Nevada, just to *not* go to AC. I left feeling dirty. I don't want to go back.

Last guy out turn out the lights. It was a good run...

 vespajet replied on Monday, 30th June 2014

The Claridge is now back open after being sold off to a new owner that will operate it as a non-gaming property (Caesars also recently sold the Atlantic Club to them as well.) and will be remodeling it as well.

 andybflo replied on Monday, 30th June 2014

I saw the Claridge was re-opening. Good. The property had potential. Tey just ran it into the ground.

I hope somebody saves the 'boat, too. It's actually the one casino I liked in AC when I was there (The Revel was topped and skinned, but was on it's building "pause" when I was there last.)

Does anyone know what they're doing with the corridor that connected the two hotels? Just walling over it?

Bally's and many of the other casinos have potential. It's just that they've been neglected too long, and I don't know if the bad vibes people got in the past will dissipate quickly.

I know mine won't.


 KickedBoar591 responded on Monday, 30th June 2014

Can they open a Zappos?

 dzodda responded on Monday, 30th June 2014

Short answer (which a couple of folks already hit on above):
It's still cheaper to fly to Vegas for a couple days then spend the weekend in AC.

I also de-couple the beach factor. I either want to gamble or I want to hit the beach. Usually not both in one trip, except at Atlantis, I guess!

 hail2skins responded on Friday, 11th July 2014

While reports earlier this week indicated Caesars might consider selling the Showboat, there is another report today that indicates Trump Plaza will likely become the latest AC casualty, closing by the end of September.

 vespajet replied on Saturday, 12th July 2014

Confirmed as of this morning:

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/breaking/trump-plaza-owners-confirm-plan-to-close-in-september/article_65a7e44a-09d4-11e4-81ef-001a4bcf887a.html

They tried to sell Trump Plaza to the owners of the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno last year, but Carl Icahn, who is the senior lender on their mortgage, refused to sign off on the deal due to the price ($20 million).

When they sold Trump Marina to Landry's in 2011, it sold for $38 million, which was shocking because a failed deal to sell the property in 2008 was for $318 million.