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Gaming Guru

Joe Weinert
 

Atlantic City Roundup

16 September 2002

ATLANTIC CITY -- Atlantic City casinos held moments of silence, handed out flag pins, played patriotic songs -- and welcomed a surprisingly good number of gamblers on the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The volumes are off from a typical Wednesday but better than we anticipated," Resorts spokeswoman Kim Butler said.

Many gamblers were like Thelma England of Rahway, N.J., who said the casinos provided an escape from the incessant 9-11 media barrage.

"I think they're not letting these people mourn by themselves. They're making it too public. It makes me sad, so I came down here," England said while playing slots at Trump Taj Mahal. "They said to do what you always do, so I'm doing it."

Casino executives said they're expecting a big revenue increase this month due to the easy comparison to last year's September, when visitation fell sharply after 9-11.

Since last November, however, Atlantic City casinos have benefited from the 9-11 fallout due to travel and economic concerns that kept travelers closer to home. The industry's gross operating profit through the first half of this year was 17.1 percent ahead of last year's pace.

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It appears that New Jersey will have a new top gaming cop this fall.

Gov. James McGreevey nominated Thomas Auriemma to direct the Division of Gaming Enforcement, a post Auriemma has held on an acting basis since January.

Auriemma has worked at the DGE for 15 of the last 16 years, including eight as deputy director. He also worked eight years as a staff attorney at the Casino Control Commission.

Tim Wilmott, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, praised Auriemma as a man of integrity and also one who also listens to the industry's concerns. Wilmott called the choice a "slam dunk home run" for the casinos.

The New Jersey Senate plans to consider Auriemma's nomination next month.

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The trade group that represents the 12 Atlantic City casinos discussed hiring an outside auditor to examine the finances and operations of the City of Atlantic City.

The industry, which last year paid 80 percent of the city's property taxes, is upset with a 9.4 percent tax hike that will cost the casinos more than $15.4 million this year.

The casinos have commissioned an audit before. In 1986 they paid Touche Ross $280,000 for a study that concluded the city was wasting between $6 million and $9 million per year due to various excesses and inefficiencies.

"I have no idea what the city's attitude toward something like that would be, but they have to learn to get their arms around costs like any other business," said Wallace Barr, chief operating officer of Park Place Entertainment.

Barr also said casinos could lend their business expertise to the city.

"I'm sure the mayor (Lorenzo Langford) would like the opportunity to sit down with the casinos and review the type of evaluation they are talking about," city Business Administrator Benjamin Fitzgerald said.

But the Atlantic City Democratic Party, whose members control government, lashed out at Barr, calling the audit discussion a political move to embarrass the Langford administration.

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Atlantic City's closest gaming competitors reported strong results for August. Slot revenue at the two Connecticut Indian casinos rose 11.2 percent, to $145.9 million; they do not publicly report their table games revenue.

In Delaware, the three racetracks reported slot revenue of $45.9 million, up 6.3 percent, for the four-week August reporting period.

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Turns out that Atlantic City casinos did not set an all-time monthly revenue record last month after all.

Official results released last week by the Casino Control Commission show that the casinos won $427.2 million from gamblers in August, an increase of 0.9 percent over the same month last year.

Earlier in the month, quick results compiled by the casinos themselves showed an August win of $435.1 million, which appeared to surpass the all-time record of $429.3 million set in July 2000.

The unofficial results are usually a little higher than the official numbers because casinos have yet to deduct the amounts they put into the intercasino progressive jackpot funds, executives said.

Casinos share their unofficial results to give each other a quick look at the preceding month and they're not intended for publication. Still, The Press of Atlantic City and Wall Street analysts routinely obtain them and publish them.

Wallace Barr, chief operating officer of Park Place Entertainment, said he wishes the preliminary numbers stayed confidential and everybody waited for the commission's results.

"Those are the numbers that should be looked at," he said.