The shape of Atlantic City’s future as a seaside casino town may become apparent this month as analysts await the first full month of statistics with their clues about the early impact of Internet gaming.
Gov. Christie’s helpful nudge of the last week underscores the significance of whatever the numbers suggest. The dwindling number of optimists who have watched Atlantic City’s casino-based business tumble from the heights it once occupied contend Internet operations have the potential to pump new enthusiasm into the business.
It could not come at a better time.
Pessimists contend the success of Internet action that includes the full spectrum of casino games may generate higher casino revenues, but it is probably too little too late, what with new competition from all sides pressuring the beleaguered casino business.
Christie threw his considerable weight behind Atlantic City’s rush to get into the Internet business but it was apparent last week there is a limit to the governor’s patience. The south Jersey casinos have to start generating evidence of a turn-around or face the specter of competing casinos elsewhere in the state, probably at the Meadowlands.
Atlantic City is in the fourth year of a five-year moratorium on casino development elsewhere in the state.
The number of Internet accounts opened since Nov. 26 is close to 150,000, give or take a few thousand. Of course this figure says nothing about how many unique individuals the figure includes since it is widely accepted that many players have opened multiple accounts at the half-dozen or so casinos where Internet play is allowed.
The still-to-be answered questions involve a number of significant issues, for instance, which games are getting the most attention – slots, blackjack, what? There has been a lot of new slot product dedicated to New Jersey’s Internet stage and the careful review that casino staffs give these figures will determine the shape of marketing campaigns during coming months.
Caesars spokesman Seth Palansky promises a ton of marketing during coming months as the company begins the run-up to the next World Series of Poker at the Rio in Las Vegas in May. Caesars is using WSOP.com as the primary vehicle for its Internet poker operations both in Nevada and Atlantic City.
Another issue: Atlantic City needs Internet gaming to show that it is a positive and will not lead to more players logging on from home or wherever they may be with their laptops inside the state’s borders.
The history of recent marketing trends involving the Internet has pretty much established the ability of sophisticated marketing techniques to lure online visitors into the brick and mortar businesses where they become cash customers for whatever the resort has to sell.
Caesars has become a leader in the Internet’s social gaming industry. MGM has also made significant headway in its exploration of its potential and Wynn Resorts is known to be exploring the possibilities for turning Internet visitors into cash customers with a social gaming venture of some kind.
Building databases of people with a predisposition to spend on casino-related experiences is what it is all about.
“We’re talking about a marketing challenge,” Caesars CEO Gary Loveman says.
The degree to which Atlantic City benefits remains to be seen. Lots of companies are making long distance guesses about the shape of things that might evolve, but too much standing around waiting for others to react could put Atlantic City past the point of no return.
Change is an ongoing process and reluctant learners get left at the station as the future exercises its gravitational pull on companies with the imagination and willingness to embrace passing opportunities.
Whatever happens at secondary properties, MGM remains a favorite to resume its co-ownership role at the Borgata with its 50 percent partner Boyd Gaming. They have the bulk and necessary marketing networks to continue doing well.
The same is certainly true of Caesars. Brands such as WSOP.com and its industry leading Total Rewards program seem to guarantee continued success. Its much-discussed debt load is, of course, a significant issue, but no casino company does a better job of reaching customers where they live with marketing offers tailored to individual players.
It’s too bad other Atlantic City casinos have let opportunities slip away as competition gains ground.
Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected]om.