Vanishing buses key to AyCee ills

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Atlantic city's biggest challenge may be finding ways to replace gaming revenue from senior citizens who are forsaking the town's casinos for more conveniently located gaming destinations. Photo:

Atlantic City and its gambling industry need more bad news like the Phillies’ Ryan Howard needs to increase his strikeout totals. But it nonetheless received more in the form of a recent numbers-crunching study by the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

According to the SJTA, the amount of buses bringing out-of-towners to its 12 casinos has significantly declined for 24 consecutive months. As the Press of Atlantic City noted, in February, 140,000 people arrived on chartered buses, a 30 percent decline over February, 2012 and a nearly 50 percent drop from February, 2011. And therein lays the town’s biggest problem.

 It’s no secret the existence of five full-service casinos in Southeastern Pennsylvania and a couple mega-slot parlors in New York City has been devastating to AyCee’s gaming halls. But the heart of the matter is explained by the SJTA report.

 For almost 30 years, Atlantic City thrived thanks, in large part, to the endless stream of Pacific Avenue-clogging buses that brought senior citizens from the New York and Philadelphia metro areas. With the highest proportion of discretionary income among any demographic group, the 55-plus crowd made Atlantic City’s gaming halls veritable mints, and led to a peak year (2006) that saw $5.2 billion in gross gaming revenue (2012’s number was $3 billion). But for those folks, Atlantic City has been rendered irrelevant by the competition.

 More to the point, this lost audience cannot—and will not—be lured back by celebrity-chef-run restaurants, sexy, high-tech discos, $200 spa treatments or concerts by the likes of Beyonce and Kanye West, or any other non-gambling “amenity” used to lure visitors.

 For the most part, all Grandma and Grandpa care about are their favorite slot machines. And if those are located 15 or 20 minutes from their homes, why on earth would they schlep 90 minutes or more to play the same game?

 This is the challenge that faces those in and out of casinos who are charged with the task of marketing the town. All 12 gambling dens were created based on potential gaming income—not hotel rooms, meals or spas. And their financial game plans are predicated on casino revenue (except, perhaps, Revel, and we saw how that worked out for the $2.4 billion mega-resort that is currently in bankruptcy).

 The town already does a great job getting younger people—who do not gamble the amounts their elders do--to come on Saturday nights. But it’s difficult to see how the casinos can ultimately survive if they can’t lure those folks’ parents and grandparents on Tuesday afternoons, especially between October and June.

 Pacific Avenue is no longer gridlocked and choked with diesel exhaust fumes. As it turns out, that is not a good thing.

 Hello, Lefty!

 In much cheerier news, Phillies legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Steve “Lefty” Carlton will be making the meet-and-greet scene Friday at SugarHouse casino in Fishtown.

Carlton, who, we assume, is in town for the Fightin’s’ home opener against the Kansas City Royals, will be at the riverside betting parlor from 7 to 8 p.m. You can find him at the Refinery restaurant. Admission is free.

 Post-gamers back in da the ‘House’

Keeping the baseball theme, be advised that SugarHouse will again host the live post-game shows following all games broadcast on PHL17. Each contest will be dissected by radio sports-gabber Mike Missanelli of 97.5 The Fanatic, NBC10’s John Clark and former Phillies pitcher Marty Bystrom.

 New in town

And before we leave SugarHouse, please note that Michael Sokoloski has reported for duty as the property’s new executive chef. As such, the veteran stove jockey, who comes to town from the Chelsea Hotel in Atlantic City, will oversee all of the casino’s culinary operations. Among the items on his agenda is a reinvention of The Refinery’s menu.

“More than two million guests walk through SugarHouse’s doors each year, so our menu needs to reflect the many types of palates of those visiting our casino,” said Sokoloski. “Some Philly favorites, like the cheesesteak, will still be on the menu, but we are really focused on some new twists that will make The Refinery an even better place to dine and relax.”

 Harrah's brews up ne bar

There’s also dining news a few miles south of SugarHouse, where Harrah’s Philadelphia in Chester has opened Philly Tap and Tavern, which is being billed as a traditional saloon with an emphasis on beer.

 Among the brewskis being offered on tap are Sam Adams Seasonal, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, Blue Moon, Newcastle Brown Ale, a collection of Yards (I.P.A., Brawler, Philadelphia Pale Ale), Guinness Stout and Harp.

And if you’re hungry, Chef Justin Vignola will be happy to whip up such munchies as beer batter onion rings, fried green beans, bacon-covered potato skins, wings and eight varieties of hamburgers including Kobe and bison.

Sports fans can take in games on 13 LED screens including one that measures 82 inches.

Short stop

Friday, multi-hyphenated entertainer (he’s star of Broadway stage, screen, TV and casinos) Martin Short returns to Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa Friday for what is always a fabulously entertaining 90 minutes or so of music, comedy, musical comedy and comical music. And yes, word is his chunky alter ego, Jiminy Glick, will be along for the ride.

Borgata, One Borgata Way, 9 p.m. $55 and $45, 866-900-4849,

 Still crooning

For 55 years, the vibrato-dipped vocals of Johnny Mathis, who headlines Saturday a Caesars Atlantic City, have been among the world’s most beloved sounds. And at age 77, he’s still thrilling audiences with such signatures as “Chances Are,” “It’s Not for Me to Say” and “Misty.”

Caesars, 8 p.m., $95, $75 and $55, 800-736-1420,