Atlantic City wants $20M a year to promote itself

Aug 12, 2009 9:23 PM
Staff & Wire Reports |

Many Americans know that "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."

That's because the nation's largest gambling market spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to promote itself.

But Atlantic City, the nation's second-largest gambling market, has no such luck. It has a racy slogan — "Always Turned On" — but not the money to spread it far and wide.

Struggling with the worst recession in their 31-year history and trying to hold off competitors springing up all around them, Atlantic City's 11 casinos want to spend $20 million a year to promote the oceanfront resort.

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They would like New Jersey's cash-strapped state government to help, saying it would be an investment that would repay itself through increased tax revenues and contributions to statewide projects.

A spokesman for Gov. Jon Corzine's office had no immediate comment, but the state just went through a wrenching budget crisis of its own, passing a $29 billion spending plan that is $4 billion less than last year's and that eliminated popular tax rebates for some taxpayers.

Casinos also are looking for smaller sources of funding closer to home, such as diverting some luxury tax revenues or using money from a casino reinvestment panel for marketing.

The goal is to come up with a stable source of funding to get Atlantic City front and center in the nation's consciousness for years to come.

"Our job is to change perceptions of Atlantic City and bring more people here," said Jeff Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. "We are in the most expensive media market in the nation, where our key customers come from — New York and Philadelphia. We also want to get into Washington and Baltimore.

"You can't do it for a short period and then be done with it," he added. "It takes a minimum of three years to make an impression and become part of public consciousness and let people know what's really happening here."

Joe Corbo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said the resort needs to spend at least $20 million a year to promote itself. The convention authority's current budget is $11 million, funded mainly from a $2-a-night tax on casino hotel rooms, and $1 a night on noncasino hotels.

The association notes that Las Vegas spends nearly $250 million a year to promote itself.

Atlantic City makes about two-thirds of its money from slots, but has been losing business to new slots-only parlors in Pennsylvania and New York and because of the recession. For the first seven months of this year, Atlantic City casinos won $2.3 billion, down 14.9 percent from the same period in 2008.

But the resort is holding aces. It has gourmet restaurants, spas, shopping and luxury hotels that differentiate it from its competitors.

"There are about 30 million adults who live within a tank of gas of Atlantic City and many of them are not yet aware of the multidimensional nongaming attractions that are offered in Atlantic City," Corbo said.

Atlantic City's casinos are not in a position to finance or even contribute to an expanded marketing effort right now, casino officials say. The Three Trump casinos are in bankruptcy, the Tropicana Casino and Resort just emerged from it and Resorts Atlantic City is fighting off a foreclosure bid. The Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort is struggling as well.

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