Kathy Powis has noticed lots of glossy promotions from Atlantic City casinos in her mailbox.
"Every day, you get a postcard from one for free rooms and free buffets," she said recently from her home in Pine Grove, in central Pennsylvania, as she held up a stack of brochures and postcards.
The reason for all the ads is that Atlantic City does not want to be forgotten by its regulars when regional bus companies start offering rides next month to Pennsylvania's new slots parlors.
To keep the mostly older folks on the existing buses to Atlantic City, the New Jersey casinos are showering them with free rooms, buffets and shows.
Philadelphia Park in Bensalem, which started chartered bus runs earlier this month, will offer daily routes next month from Northeast Philadelphia, and Monday through Friday from Fairless Hills and Bristol.
Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack, which debuted last month, is in discussions to soon start chartered and scheduled route service. So is Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, which opened in November with 1,100 slot machines.
Pocono Downs president and chief executive officer Bobby Soper said his casino began accepting chartered bus runs last month and hoped to start regularly scheduled routes for underserved areas, such as parts of New York and central Pennsylvania, where slots player Powis lives.
"I'd give it a shot as soon as they start the buses," said Powis, 65, who has been going to Atlantic City since the first casino opened there in 1978. So far, she said, she has not visited any of the Pennsylvania slots parlors.
Several bus companies throughout the state are eager to capture some of the new business, either on their own or in partnership with slots parlors and racinos - the industry term for racetracks with slot machines.
"We will have some charter buses to Pocono Downs starting in May, and we're thinking about line runs there and maybe also to Philadelphia Park," said a spokeswoman for Catawese Coach Co., of Shamokin, Pa.
Robert McVeigh, marketing coordinator for Transbridge Tours Inc., of Bethlehem, Pa., said the company was in talks with all three operating Pennsylvania casinos about offering one-day tours, either weekly or monthly.
Transbridge has daily trips to Atlantic City and has promotional specials with the Tropicana and Atlantic City Hilton casinos, among others.
Jonathan Else, vice president of operations for King Coal Tours, of Mount Carmel, Pa. - which also does daily runs to Atlantic City - said it would begin charter and line runs next month to Philadelphia Park and Chester Casino.
With the competition heating up, Atlantic City's casinos are relying on a key advantage.
"Pennsylvania casinos can't comp you," said gambling analyst Larry Klatzkin of New York-based Jefferies & Co. Inc. "The major difference in taxes gives Atlantic City the edge that Pennsylvania will never match."
Atlantic City has a 9.25 percent tax on gross gambling revenue, whereas Pennsylvania has a 55 percent tax rate. With the lower tax rate, Atlantic City casinos are able to invest a large chunk of their budgets to promotions and complimentaries, or giveaways.
"We are doing mail and outdoor communicating to our customers that Atlantic City has so much more to offer," Tony Rodio, president of Resorts and Atlantic City Hilton casinos, said last week. "How far or how long the downturn or reduced trends continue will determine how much we increase the comps and cash offers."
January revenue figures for all 11 Atlantic City casinos showed Pennsylvania slots were already cutting into the $5.2 billion industry. The resort's total revenue was down 2.9 percent from a year earlier, while revenue from slot machines dipped 7.2 percent.
"We are focusing on our experiential assets - the hotels, entertainment, the depth and variety of restaurants, the quality of promotions and events, and just having four quality facilities," said Marty Goldman, vice president of marketing for Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which owns four casinos in Atlantic City.
Harrah's Entertainment, which also owns Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack, is going a step further by cross-marketing its properties. A billboard on the Walt Whitman Bridge is double-sided. One side reads: "Stay Free in Atlantic City! Just sign up for Total Rewards at Harrah's Chester." The other side reads: "Earned in Chester. Redeemed in Atlantic City."
Doug Burkhalter, vice president of marketing for Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., which owns three casinos in Atlantic City, said the Pennsylvania slots' impact was something they were "certainly monitoring." All three Trump properties showed a revenue decline last month.
"We've beefed up some of our advertising, with a focus on the Philadelphia market," he said. "It's a reminder campaign, so our customers can remember what we have here in Atlantic City that you can't get at the Pennsylvania racinos."
Earlier this month, Philadelphia Park hired Vicki Reale-Scaffidi, a 25-year veteran of Atlantic City, who handled the bus marketing program for the four Harrah's casinos there.
Lion Trailways, of Rio Grande, N.J., and Levittown, will start route service to Philadelphia Park on March 12. The cost will be $10 for a round-trip ticket from Northeast Philadelphia, Bristol and Fairless Hills. Each bus customer will receive $15 in e-play - electronic credit to use in the slot machines - when they arrive, compliments of Philadelphia Park.
Helen Moll led a group of 43 seniors from Moreland Towers, a senior apartment complex in Hatboro, Montgomery County, to Philadelphia Park earlier this month as the property's first chartered-bus customers.
"I said, 'Well, let's try it. It's close,' " Moll, 72, said. She said her group typically had gone to Atlantic City every other month. "Why should we do Atlantic City all the time? We have Pennsylvania casinos now."
So, will she and her seniors group give up Atlantic City outright?
"Not right now, we wouldn't," Moll said. "The comps and everything are too good."