Atlantic City casinos on
target for $5 billion year

Dec 19, 2006 6:35 AM

Even with the closure of the Sands Hotel Casino last month, Atlantic City’s 11 casinos took in $406.1 million from gamblers in November, a 1.6 percent increase from a year ago.

That brings the casinos’ take through November 2006 to $4.8 billion, a 3.7 percent gain that all but assures a full-year take in excess of last year’s $5 billion. The casinos took in $386 million last December.

"If they keep up that pace, they will clearly end the year with record revenues," said Dan Heneghan, spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, which released the figures last week. Slot machines accounted for 73 percent of the revenue.

"The Atlantic City market is very healthy right now, and the operators have been aggressively pumping up their non-gaming products to differentiate themselves from the gaming, especially in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York," said Joe Weinert, vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group L.L.C., a gambling consultant firm. "They recognize that slot-machine gambling is nothing special in this part of the country, so they are seeking to provide experiences that are special, like table games, nightclubs, unique and high-end shopping, signature restaurants, and entertainment."

With competition gearing up in neighboring states, such as Pennsylvania and New York, Atlantic City’s casinos are striving to broaden their appeal with Las Vegas-like attractions.

Philadelphia Park debuts with slot machines this week, while Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack opens next month.

Another pending threat is a casino smoking ban before the Atlantic City Council. The council heard testimony from those in favor of it Nov. 29. A second hearing was held last week, with a final vote on the issue planned for Dec. 29.

"Atlantic City recognizes that other markets will be more convenient, so therefore they are giving patrons a compelling reason to drive further, spend more and stay longer," Weinert said.

More internal competition is also on the way. Four new casinos are expected to enter the market by as early as 2010. Plans are in the pipeline by Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., of Las Vegas; Morgan Stanley, of New York; an investor group led by former Caesars Entertainment chief executive officer Wallace R. Barr; and MGM Mirage, of Las Vegas, which co-owns the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa with Boyd Gaming Corp.

The Borgata was the city’s top-grossing casino at $57.5 million. Bally’s came in second at $53.7 million, and Caesars was third at $47.4 million.

Donald Trump’s three Atlantic City casinos are enjoying somewhat of a resurgence under chief executive James B. Perry, who was picked by Trump in the summer of 2005 to lead the newly restructured company.

Trump Marina reported a monthly revenue increase of 11.1 percent, and Trump Plaza one of 9.2 percent. Trump Taj Mahal was down 4.3 percent.

Trump confirmed that he was trying to work out a deal with fellow mogul Steve Wynn to partner on a project for Trump Plaza at the heart of the Boardwalk.

"Steve and I are talking about doing something, and we’ll see what happens," Trump said recently. "It’s too soon... but we’re looking at doing something together. We do things very well together."

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., the world’s largest gambling company and the largest operator in Atlantic City, with four casinos, received a $15.1 billion buyout offer from two private-equity firms Oct. 2. The offer came from Apollo Management L.P., of New York, and Texas Pacific Group, of Fort Worth. Harrah’s board of directors has set up a special committee to review the offer.