Atlantic City: Good news in a bad time

They like it! They really like it!

That's the word from Joe and Jane Q. Public about Atlantic City--at least according to the 2008 Visitor Profile Study released this morning by the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority.

Conducted at the ACCVA's behest by Spectrum Gaming Group of Linwood, N.J., the year-long, $100,000 survey tells a tale that belies the town's current economic situation, which finds gaming revenue down (despite a miniscule rise in August relative to August of '07).

In a nutshell, said Michael J. Pollock, Spectrum Gaming's managing partner, the study suggests the city's current financial situation is far more a reflection of the depressed economy and increasing competition from neighboring states than an indication of dissatisfaction with AyCee or its attractions.

To the contrary, the 3,000 adults--who were questioned during the 12-month period that began in July, 2007--find the gambling mecca a pretty cool place to party. Or, as ACCVA President Jeffrey Vasser put it, an "overwhelming majority of respondents hold favorable views of the city." Supporting that claim was the 98.7 percent of those surveyed who said they'd recommend Atlantic City to their friends and family members, and the 68.6 percent who reported they intended to return to town within a month of being interviewed (on the other hand, only 0.3 percent said they'd never come back).

Interestingly, the main reason those questioned said they decided to come to A.C. wasn't any specific activity or amenity, but "ease of parking" (3.78 out of 5). Gambling clocked in at 3.12.

Perhaps the most striking finding was that, on a scale of 1-to-5, safety rated a whopping 4.56. This belies the long-held perception that Atlantic City is a dangerous place for visitors. Customer service received a 4.27.

As for who is coming to Atlantic City, while there is a demonstrable youth movement afoot, baby boomers predominate: According to the survey, the "average" visitor is a 52-year-old woman who makes eight trips a year, primarily to gamble. She stays for about six hours per visit, and spends $331 ($200 on gambling). Overall, women make up 64 percent of visitors.

In a half-empty/half-full moment, Vasser, during a presentation at the Atlantic City Convention Center, announced that only 18 percent of the city's primary market--the 24 million adults who live within a three-hour drive--have visited. But he followed up that news by suggesting it is actually a positive development. "That means there's a huge opportunity for us" to grow the market, he reasoned. "What would scare me more is, what if we had tapped out our market?"

Other findings include:

--Visitors are pretty much evenly split between married and single people.

--29.9 percent are retired.

--54.4 percent are employed full-time.

--79.6 percent said Atlantic City is becoming a "more attractive" destination.

--And in a finding that is sure  to dismay casino executives, the study indicates that smokers out-gamble non-smokers $500 to $469 per visit (the total smoking ban in the gaming halls takes effect Oct.15).

To see the complete survey, go to!userfiles/pdfs/reports/acvp08_full.pdf.