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Gaming Guru

Joe Weinert
 

Atlantic City Roundup

28 April 2003

ATLANTIC CITY -- The Atlantic City casino industry is in for some tough times if gambling expands throughout the Northeast as expected, according to experts attending the second annual New York Gaming Summit in Albany.

"New Jersey's got a whole lot to lose," said Mitchell Etess, executive vice president of the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn. "Connecticut is nipping at its New York market, Delaware is nipping away from the south and the experts say Pennsylvania is not far behind."

"I would not want to be one of the lower-end or lower-performing properties in Atlantic City," said Sebastian Sinclair, an analyst with Christiansen Capital Advisers.

Experts had expected New York to join the gambling fray by now, capitalizing on October 2001 legislation that allows up to six more Indian casinos and eight racinos. So far, only one tribal casino in Niagara Falls has opened since the bill was signed. Racetrack operators refuse to start slot operations until the state gives them a bigger cut of the revenue; the state is offering 12.5 percent while the tracks say they need at least 20 percent.

The Senecas have opened one of their three allowed tribal casinos in western New York but tribes hoping to develop up to three casinos in the Catskill Mountains say the state is unnecessarily delaying the compacting process.

"They should be motivated not to delay, but motivated to accelerate," said Clive Cummis, vice chairman of Park Place Entertainment, which has agreed to develop and manage a $600 million Catskills casino with the St. Regis Mohawks.

New York, faced with an $11.5 billion budget gap this year, is losing valuable revenue in the meantime. The racinos could be giving the state $1 billion per year and the tribal casinos up to $450 million per year, attorney James Featherstonaugh said.

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The under-performing Sands Casino Hotel, making a bid to stand out in the city, will put something different in the middle of its gaming floor: a two-story video bar that plays concert clips on a giant plasma screen during the week and features live bands and sexy dancers on platforms during the weekends.

"We're trying to retain customers so they don't go elsewhere for their entertainment. It will be exciting enough so that it could be an attraction for the property so people come over from other properties to see it," said Rich Brown, chief executive of Carl Icahn's Atlantic City and Las Vegas casinos.

The $2.5 million Swingers bar will feature a 9-by-16-foot main screen that will play music videos selected by customers and operated by bartenders that double as video disc jockeys. Another 14 plasma screens will "feature an array of visual treats."

The bar is scheduled to open July 3.

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Showboat will open its 544-room hotel expansion on May 21, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend that traditionally signals the start of Atlantic City's peak tourist season.

Parent Harrah's Entertainment apparently timed the event to capitalize on a visit by New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, who is scheduled to address the Mid-Atlantic Gaming Congress that day. The governor presided over a similar opening of a hotel expansion at Harrah's Atlantic City a year earlier.

The 800-room Showboat desperately needs the $90 million hotel addition because it turns away up to 40,000 reservations requests every month.

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Atlantic City will soon lose its "America's Favorite Playground" slogan.

The Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority said it decided to abandon the 10-year-old nickname because researchers who interviewed 600 residents in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic found that the slogan was inaccurate -- even a farce.

The authority is soliciting proposals for a new slogan from advertising and public relations firms that emphasize that Atlantic City is for "grownups." It hopes to have a new nickname in place by July 4.

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Boyd Gaming Corp. is keeping a tight lid on its preopening plans for the $1.1 billion Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, scheduled to open this summer.

Boyd officials will say only that the casino will open between June 21 and July 26. It rebuffed analysts during a first-quarter earnings conference call who wanted more detail about how and when Borgata would open.

"We don't publicly discuss any of our strategies with respect to marketing," Borgata chief executive Bob Boughner said.

"We will not disclose our pre-opening (marketing) budget. The efforts will be very substantial, commensurate with the level of investment and commensurate with the level of importance that the project holds in the marketplace," he said.

Borgata will begin accepting reservations for its 2,002-room hotel on June 1, by which time it will have announced an opening date, officials said.

Borgata has hired 2,000 of the 5,000 workers it will need from a pool of 47,000 applicants.

(Joe Weinert covers the gaming industry for The Press of Atlantic City. He can be reached at jweinert@pressofac.com.)