Gaming execs at the East Coast Gaming Congress expect casinos to continue to spread in the Northeast.
ATLANTIC CITY - The economy continues to stumble along and casinos throughout the Northeast are struggling with falling revenues, cutting their budgets and trying to reinvent themselves in the eye of their customers. Meanwhile, new competition continues to spring up in Pennsylvania and Delaware as existing casinos and slots operations — some of which haven’t existed for very long — battle for the same customers.
So what’s the outlook for future gaming operations that came out of the East Coast Gaming Congress held Tuesday at the Atlantic City Convention Center?
Expect more casinos. A lot more.
“It’s clear that the industry still sees a lot of room for expansion,” says Michael Pollock of Spectrum Gaming Group, one of the organizers of the event.
“Obviously there is a saturation point out there. But if you listen to the industry people here today, they are talking about expanding into (new markets). Casino gaming is driven by convenience and there are still a lot of adult markets that can be served.”
New markets could include Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York and Long Island, speakers at the conference said.
Of course, for Atlantic City, which has been a casino destination for more than 30 years, that competition isn’t exactly welcome. And some local executives did admit that legislative delays for gambling in areas such as New York help Atlantic City.
But in what has become a familiar refrain, they say hope for Atlantic City rests in developing non-gaming attractions in the resort.
“We have to reinvent ourselves and the city,” says Don Marrandino, president of the eastern division of Harrah’s Entertainment, which owns four properties in A.C. as well as Harrah’s Chester in Pennsylvania.
“We have to take care of our city and I am very encouraged by what I’ve seen lately. Our nightclubs and restaurants are thriving and we’ve brought in many good and successful show and events and we continue to build ourselves as a unique destination.
“But more importantly, I’ve seen a real level of cooperation in the city,” he says. “[A.C. Mayor Lorenzo Langford] has brought many casino and business executives together to discuss the future of the city. And what I see in those meetings is very encouraging. It’s not a bunch of CEOs and their egos, but rather a group of people ready to roll up their sleeves and work together and address the problems.”
Several executives also said that while markets may be competing for some of the same gamblers, expanding into new areas actually creates new customers.
“We’ve seen that with a lot of our customers,” says Robert J. DeSalvio, of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in Pennsylvania. “Many of our customers are asking about player’s cards for the first time and seeking instruction on the games. For many people, casinos are about convenience and moving into new areas creates customers whohave never been to a casino, but now may even take a trip to Atlantic City or other destinations.”
Many discussions at the Congress also focused on the future of the Revel casino project in Atlantic City, which could help keep Atlantic City, a key bellwether market in the east, strong.
Kevin DeSanctis, chairman of Revel, pledged that the project would move forward and continue to seek investors to finish the casino, which sits half completed in the Inlet.
“I’m a big fan of that project,” says DeSalvio. “And it’s clearly going to be a significant investment in Atlantic City.”
Despite the optimism, however, many gaming operators had to concede that on a day when the Dow Jones slipped below 10,000 briefly and new table games began going on line in Delaware, the future for gaming companies seems challenging. But many operators said that the lessons of the last two years have had an unexpected effect: making casino companies smarter, leaner and, most importantly, more adaptable.
And that should keep customers coming back, they said.
In other news from the Congress, State Sens. James Whelan and Stephen Sweeney called for an end to Atlantic City casinos paying a $30 million subsidy to the horse-racing industry in New Jersey and pledged to oppose placing video lottery terminals in the state’s racetracks.
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