Atlantic City’s battered casino industry is getting intensive care

Feb 22, 2011 6:00 AM

Atlantic City’s battered casino industry is finally getting the intensive care that has been lacking for years.

It’s too early for rosy statements about how much can be accomplished, but the enthusiasm of casino owners Dennis Gomes, Kevin DeSanctis and Tillman Fertitta is causing some analysts to lighten up on their pessimistic outlooks.

It will be interesting to hear what Pinnacle Entertainment has to say about its plans for the old Sands property (about 20 acres in the central Boardwalk area) during its quarterly report.

The most recent promise of a deal in the making has Landry’s Restaurants CEO Tillman Fertitta of Houston returning the Golden Nugget name to the Atlantic City line-up with his anticipated purchase of the Trump Marina property for what amounts to pennies on the dollars it took to create. Landry’s is paying some $38 million and will add more than $100 million in improvements.

Fertitta has already proven his willingness to back up big talk with big spending. Look at what he did for the Las Vegas Golden Nugget.

Caesars Entertainment’s Gary Loveman is expected to have much to say about Atlantic City during his first conference call in more than two years this week to discuss quarterly earnings and the outlook for the company’s myriad interests.

Wall Street appeared to have turned its back on Atlantic City as recently as four or five months ago, the apparent consensus being that Atlantic City would continue fading under pressure from casinos in other states.

Gomes was not buying into that thinking, sneering (politely) at the Wall Street view. Gomes said he and his partner were buying the old Resorts International Hotel and Casino because they were convinced there is more to the making of a resort town than last month’s slot volume.

It’s the quality of the experience that matters, Gomes argued.

One of the points Revel CEO DeSanctis was anxious to make as he announced completion of a $1.15 billion financing proposal was to acknowledge the "considerable help of the people who worked behind the scenes," all of them doing what they could to nudge the project forward.

The financing deal that appears to be sufficient to get the Revel completed and open by "about the middle of 2012" is "all Wall Street institutional investors," said DeSanctis.

Talk about a turn-around in thinking.