Although the New Year has dawned, we would be remiss if we didn't take a look back at what transpired in the region's casino realm during the previous 12 months.
The year just passed was a particularly dramatic one, especially for Atlantic City. The gaming halls there not only had to contend with declining income. This was due, in large part, to the still-growing competition in eastern Pennsylvania and the New York City area, but also to Maryland Live!, the first of several planned gambling dens in that state.
Then there was Mother Nature, who, via Superstorm Sandy, caused a costly, multi-day shutdown in the fall. Adding to the pain from this sucker punch were some major national media outlets (take a bow, ABC News and NBC weather guy Al Roker) that reported, as ABC put it "The iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk has been demolished."
As we all know, Sandy did wash away a section of the Great Wood Way (in the sparsely traveled Inlet section) that was actually slated for demolition, but left the rest of it virtually unscathed.
The town was also rocked by the sudden death in February of Resorts Hotel Casino CEO and co-owner, Dennis Gomes. As Atlantic City’s only executive-level showman and a true industry visionary, his loss was as big for the city at-large as it was for his casino and family.
When discussing 2012, the big story, of course, was the ongoing trials and tribulations of Revel, the $2.4 billion pleasure dome on the Boardwalk's eastern end that was supposed to usher in a new era of prosperity for AyCee, but whose gaming revenues fell way below even the most conservative projections.
What went wrong will likely be the subject of multiple books one day. For brevity’s sake, let’s just say that miscalculations about the nature—and size—of a potential audience abounded. To open an Atlantic City casino with no buffet (or other low-price eatery), Asian food outlet, multi-tiered players-card system (which is now in effect) or private high-roller lounge simply made no sense.
But this shouldn’t take away from the stunning architectural achievement that is Revel. Its 6.2 million square feet encompass a one-of-a-kind casino experience, from the sheer size to the theatrical décor of the casino floor to HQ, which has established itself as one of the East Coast’s powerhouse dance clubs. And Revel’s contributions to an already superb dining scene (especially the American Cut steakhouse and Azure, a Mediterranean-oriented seafood house) cannot be overestimated.
But, unfortunately, the property’s first nine months of existence will always be remembered for gambling income that put it in a category with under-performers like Trump Plaza and The Atlantic Club, rather than with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
A fresh start for Resorts
While Gomes’ passing was a tragedy, it did pave the way for what appears to be a new lease on life for Atlantic City’s oldest legal casino.
Rather than sell Resorts, principal owner Morris Bailey oversaw a couple of shrewd deals that puts his joint in a great position to become one of the town’s top-tier properties.
In a very short time span, he brought in the Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun organization to manage Resorts, and partnered with Jimmy Buffett’s wildly successful Margaritaville brand, which will take over a huge swath of real estate that includes a two-level Margaritaville Café inside the hotel and a Landshark Bar & Grill and It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere bar on the beach.
A fairly major renovation of the complex is also in the works.
Kudos for the Nugget
Overshadowed by Revel’s ongoing woes was the impressive entry of Golden Nugget, which was transformed into a sparkling, upscale casino-hotel from the decaying carcass of what had been Trump Marina. Right now, it’s safe to say the Nugget is AyCee’s best-kept secret. That should change this year.
A new marketing plan
The past year also saw the creation of the Atlantic City Alliance, an industry-sponsored marketing entity that wasted no time in creating the kind of non-gaming attractions that the city demands if it is to thrive in its post-east-coast-gaming-monopoly era.
Among the ACA’s winning efforts were daredevil Nik Wallenda’s first post-Niagara Falls high-wire walk, and two seasonal light-show presentations on the façade of Boardwalk Hall.
Dice roll at Valley Forge
Eastern Pennsy got a new casino this year as well. The early spring saw the doors open at Valley Forge Casino Resort at the Valley Forge Convention Center complex.
As a “Category 3” operation, it is limited to 600 slot machines and 50 gaming tables, and has a $10 entrance fee for those not staying at one of the adjacent hotels or dining at a restaurant there.
As such, it can’t compete, revenue-wise, with Parx, the Sands, SugarHouse and Harrah’s Philadelphia (formerly Harrah’s Chester). But it does provide the Convention Center with a powerful lure for conventions and meetings, which is a main reason for its existence, as well as convenience gambling for residents of the western suburbs.
Another Philly license
Two-thousand-twelve also saw six proposals submitted for the second of two Philadelphia gaming licenses. Among the more interesting concepts are developer Bart Blatstein’s plans to incorporate the former Inquirer/Daily News building into a sprawling gambling-entertainment complex, and Congressman Bob Brady’s plans to have the City of Philadelphia partner with Penn National, a major gaming company, on a stadium-area casino-hotel.
Casino of the Year
A year ago, I would have bet the ranch this designation would have been assigned to Revel. After all, how could the expected “game-changer” not be the recipient? But as anyone who gambles knows, nothing is a lock (outside of death and taxes). Which is why for 2012, Borgata gets the nod.
The Big B earned it in a huge way. Remember, the “experts” were certain that it would bear the brunt of Revel’s entry, as it had pretty much cornered the market on the youthful, stylish and high-end customer base Revel targeted.
But a funny thing happened on the way to 2013: Borgata, thanks, in some part, to a $50 million spruce-up of its 9-year-old hotel tower, kept its standing as the market leader. It overwhelmingly led the city in gross casino revenue, and it continued to be the premiere destination for musical and comedy acts throughout the year (although Revel did impress with two Kanye West engagements, The Eagles, Aerosmith, Barry Manilow and, best of all, Beyonce’s three Memorial Day weekend shows attended by, among others, First Lady Michelle Obama and her two daughters).
Rather than be plundered by Revel, Borgata exited 2012 with its status as Atlantic City’s signature property intact—a sterling accomplishment by any measure.