Numbers don’t lie — but they don’t always tell the complete story.
Gaming revenue is still on the decline in Atlantic City as competition from surrounding states continues to split the pie into smaller pieces. But people are beginning to discover A.C. is more than just another town with games designed to separate visitors from their money.
As the new DO AC marketing, advertising and branding campaign takes hold five months after it was introduced, the growth of non-gaming amenities and attractions both in and out of the casinos is beginning to lure more first-time visitors to the city, one of the city’s top casino executives says.
“That’s why we have to keep communicating what we have here,” says Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa. “Revel came on line [in April] and built a property that’s more like Borgata’s. We have great non-gaming amenities, and we need to reassure people that we have a product that’s not like New York or Maryland [casinos].”
The Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority reported recently that it appears more people visited Atlantic City this summer compared to last year’s. On the surface, that’s an encouraging sign, but it doesn’t mean A.C. will ever see the financial windfall it enjoyed when it had the East Coast gaming market cornered six years ago, before Pennsylvania opened its first slot machine parlors.
“We live in a new world,” Lupo says. “There’s gaming in Maryland, Philadelphia and New York. We’re completely surrounded, and those options begin to take their toll. The differentiator is that we have a much better product. But the expectation has to be understood that this isn’t a $5 billion market anymore.”
One way Borgata separates itself from competing properties both in and out of the market is with its poker room. When it opened in 2003, Borgata offered 35 poker tables in a room one level below the casino.
But when it designed and opened an expansion in 2006, Borgata more than doubled the size of its poker room and moved it to an area on the main casino floor.
At the same time, it also began asking its poker players what they wanted in a poker room in Atlantic City’s first Las Vegas-style casino resort.
Players wanted more types of games, Lupo says, and tournaments with bigger prizes.
Borgata responded by introducing a series of tournaments throughout the year, including the Borgata Poker Open, which is now underway and offers a guaranteed top prize of $1 million.
Borgata’s poker room and its tournaments, which are so big and competitive that they’re now held in the casino’s Event Center, tend to attract a broad cross section of players. During any given tournament, average players can walk in off the street and sit down at a game with celebrities like actor James Woods or Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps playing at the same table.
“The poker player, for the most part, doesn’t [care] who’s sitting next to them,” Lupo says. The celebrities like playing there because it gives them a chance to get out in public without being pestered for autographs or pictures, he adds. Poker players tend to be less star-struck than the average casino customer.
After being away for a couple of weeks, I had to make a trip to our Boardwalk, for inevitably, this time of year brings a hint of sadness to those of us who love all things summer.