Crystal balling 2012

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The opening of the $2.5 billion Revel Atlantic City is expected to be Atlantic City's signature event of 2012. Credit:

Last week, we looked back at what happened on the region’s casino scene during 2011. Today, let’s gaze into the crystal roulette ball and see what may lie ahead the next 12 months.

Bottom line: For Atlantic City’s gaming industry, 2012 is shaping up as pivotal. Now in its fifth year of monthly revenue declines due to the one-two-punch of a still-lousy economy and ever-increasing competition from surrounding states, the town appears to be entering a make-or-break stretch. Below are some keys to what the outcome may be.

The savior?

Months before the first slot machine is played there, Revel Atlantic City is already positioned as the Boardwalk’s 800-pound gorilla. The $2.5 billion adult fantasy land scheduled to open in mid-May (perhaps sooner) is the story for 2012.

The optimists see the blue-glass behemoth on the eastern end of the Great Wood Way as the game- changer destined to restore AyCee’s status as gambling’s Beast Of the East. Those folks insist the mega-resort will grow the market either by enticing those who have forsaken the town for more conveniently located gaming halls to return, and/or by bringing in people who have thus far resisted Atlantic City’s charms.

On the other hand, the glass-is-half-empty crowd insists the only people who will make RAC their home-away-from home are people who now play in the existing 11 casinos. Which opinion is the correct one remains to be seen. But there’s no debating Atlantic City has never seen anything like Revel.

Survivor: Atlantic City

Another question possibly answered this year is the one about the long-anticipated market contraction. Some experts and prognosticators insist Revel’s opening will only serve to hasten the demise of several long-struggling casinos, with Trump Plaza being the one most mentioned by those-in-the-know. The best-case scenario for that long-beleaguered betting parlor is that owner Trump Entertainment Resorts succeeds in its long-held goal of selling the midtown gambling hall (in case you’re wondering, only two properties have ceased operation: The Atlantis and Sands. Trump’s World Fair also closed, but it was technically part of Trump Plaza).

Hard Rock, or hardly rockin’?

Construction is supposed to begin sometime this year (July has been mentioned) of a Hard Rock casino-hotel complex that will be the first of two “boutique” (read: smaller) gaming properties planned for Atlantic City.

Jim Allen, the Atlantic City-born CEO of the Florida-based Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock-branded casino empire, keeps insisting shovels will be in the ground (sand?) of the proposed beach-front resort west of ACH (formerly the Atlantic City Hilton) this year. But some insiders, citing the iffy economic picture and the rumored opposition to the plan by tribal leaders, aren’t convinced the project will ever get off the drawing board.

Looking good?

Physical improvements in the city have been promised for years, but thanks to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s master plan to reverse the town’s fortunes, changes could be imminent. Expected to be one of the first orders of business is a concerted effort to make the Boardwalk a far-less-foreboding place with a redo of the lighting and some facades. Perception being reality, it is crucial visitors begin to feel safer when they leave a casino. Otherwise Atlantic City is in deep trouble.

More good eats

It does appear Atlantic City will continue to grow as a dining destination. Another slew of new eateries are on the horizon, among them those at Revel (including three run by Philly-based uberchef Jose Garces), an Italian gourmet room at Golden Nugget and Sammy D’s, an upscale 24-hour operation from New York’s Sam DeMarco, known in culinary circles as “the chef’s chef.”

Extra-casino activities

Non-gaming attractions are expected to play an increasingly crucial role this year. Although jam-band titans Dave Mathews Band will reportedly not be returning to Bader Field for another three-day rave-up, at least two musical events are reportedly being eyed for the historic former airfield on the town’s north side.

In an attempt to ramp up what has become AyCee’s signature pubic event, the ultra-successful Atlantic City Air Show, is moving to a Friday (Aug. 17) after nine years as a midweek event.

And look for the first signs of a major renovation of Steel Pier, whose new owner, the Cantoso family, has promised to turn the legendary amusement center into a world-class facility that will redefine family entertainment in the city.

West of the Delaware

Although it’s certain to be dwarfed by Revel’s debut, Valley Forge Casino Resort is also anticipating a May opening. That of course, will be a wildly different animal—a 600-slot-machine, 60-table mini-casino which, by law, can only be patronized by people otherwise visiting the hotels, restaurants and exhibition spaces at the Valley Forge Convention Center complex.

In the rest of the state, casino revenue is expected to increase as the existing properties continue to tweak and refine their products.

And let’s not forget the May opening of the 3,000-seat Event Center at Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem. Thanks to a partnership with concert-promotion behemoth Live Nation, the Sands will become the first Keystone State casino to offer the same kind of A-list headliners that Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa has hosted since its 2003 opening.

 So, buckle your seat belts, folks. It’s gonna be a heck of a ride!