Building frenzy hits AC casinos

Jul 24, 2007 2:40 AM

By Ron Fortune

Atlantic City’s Boardwalk will never be mistaken for Las Vegas’ Strip, but lately the town’s state "bird" could be construed as the building crane.

Taking the lead from its cousins in Nevada, Atlantic City casino operators are hoping that if you build it, they will come.

The result is virtually every casino in Atlantic City is either in the midst of an expensive expansion or renovation, has just completed one or is planning one soon.

The building boom here is adding thousands of new hotel rooms and investing billions of dollars in a resort struggling to remake itself as a national destination where visitors stay for three or more days instead of a place for bus-riding day trippers to linger for a few hours before hitting the buffet and heading home.

One of the most conspicuous projects is the second tower of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Dubbed The Water Club, the $400 million addition will include 800 new guest rooms, a two-story "spa in the sky," five swimming pools and other luxury amenities.

Borgata executives held a "topping off" ceremony last Friday for the upper reaches of the 457-foot-tall tower, which will be one of the tallest buildings in Atlantic City when it is completed early next year.

But it’s far from the only project in town.

Just down the road, Harrah’s Atlantic City is in the midst of a $550 million expansion that will add, among other things, a new 941-room hotel tower next February that will be even taller than The Water Club.

Projects either done or nearly finished at the three other casinos owned by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. — Bally’s Atlantic City, the Showboat Casino-Hotel, and Caesars Atlantic City — total well in excess of $150 million.

Donald Trump’s three casinos have spent $225 million over the past two years renovating all 2,900 of their rooms. And his company, Trump Entertainment Resorts, is in the midst of a $250 million project that will add a second tower and nearly 800 more rooms to the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort next year.

The Tropicana Casino Resort just spent $15 million renovating 507 rooms in its South Tower, and recently opened the Providence nightclub.

The Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort, the city’s smallest casino at 806 rooms, announced plans for a $1 billion expansion designed to help it compete with the big boys that dominate the Atlantic City market.

Work also is about to get under way on a $2 billion casino on the Boardwalk by the Morgan Stanley investment firm to be operated by Revel Entertainment on land next to the Showboat.

And the former Sands Casino Hotel will be demolished this fall to make way for a new 2,000-room casino-hotel to be run by Pinnacle Entertainment, with a price tag also in the $2 billion range.

Pinnacle may include a separately run "ultra-luxury hotel" on the Boardwalk as well, the company said.

The spending spree comes amid what seems destined to be the first year that revenues will actually decline in Atlantic City since casino gambling began in 1978. Much of the decline is being blamed on competition from newly opened slots parlors in Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware — all of which was once the exclusive domain of Atlantic City casinos.