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Gaming Guru

Joe Weinert
 

Atlantic City Roundup

2 June 2003

In a sign that Atlantic City's first new casino hotel is just weeks from opening, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa on Sunday morning began taking hotel and restaurant reservations for July 11 and beyond.

Larry Mullin, senior vice president of marketing, said the $1.1 billion Borgata might open earlier than that date but not before July 1.

"We're really good with where we want to be. We're planning on having everything open (when the property opens). We won't be staging any openings," Mullin said.

Hotel operators were on the job at 8 a.m. Sunday, fielding calls to (866) MY-BORGATA. Callers were quoted room rates of $179 for midweek and $249 for weekends for the 1,600 standard rooms. Borgata did not disclose its rates for the 402 suites, penthouses and residences.

Guests could also make reservations at Borgata's four fine-dining restaurants: Old Homestead, Ombra, Specchio and Suilan.

Even months before Borgata advertised that the opening of its reservations center, callers had been requesting rooms, Mullin said. "It's been very frustrating that we haven't been able to take the reservations until our call center was in place, staffed and ready to go," he said.

Borgata revealed most of its summer entertainment schedule, which as of now begins with a two-night stand from comedian David Spade beginning July 12. The first big musical act is Hootie & the Blowfish with Big Head Todd & the Monsters on July 27.

Most of the Borgata staff that had been working out of a nearby office complex has moved to its permanent office in the casino hotel. More than 900 employees are now on the job.

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With only four weeks to pass a state budget, some New Jersey legislators are apparently waiting for the Atlantic City casinos themselves for ideas how to increase state revenue without boosting gaming taxes. "We haven't heard a hell of a lot from the industry and we've got five weeks to go. The clock's ticking," said Louis Greenwald, who heads the Assembly Budget Committee.

A spokesman for the casino industry took umbrage with Greenwald's comments.

"Our view is that we're not in the business of drafting budget language or drafting budget appropriations for the governor's office or the treasurer's office," said Carl Golden, spokesman for the Casino Association of New Jersey. "The position of the industry has been that tax increases being proposed eventually work to the detriment of state government by cutting into the gaming revenue, and since the tax comes from the (gaming) revenue, it's a counter-productive idea."

Gov. James McGreevey wants to increase the casino-revenue tax to 10 percent from 8 percent, impose the 6 percent sales tax on casino complimentaries and create a 7percent hotel tax.

Casino-industry officials are increasingly concerned that the proposals remain alive more than three months after McGreevey proposed them. The taxes would cost the industry more than $135 million in the first year.

The budget deadline is June 30.

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Two New Jersey legislators who represent Atlantic City are trying to brace casinos for the tax impact by suggesting an offset through lower regulatory fees.

State Sen. Bill Gormley and Assemblyman Frank Blee said they would consider cutting the combined $64 million budget of the Casino Control Commission and Division of Gaming Enforcement. Casinos pay the entire amount through fees and assessments.

Gormley said it's disturbing that New Jersey gaming regulators need twice the money compared to Nevada yet they cover far less action.

"I've alerted my department to comments made about it, but I really have no comment at this point," said DGE Director Thomas Auriemma.

Casino commission Chair Linda Kassekert said it was her understanding that legislators were looking more toward the DGE's $34 million proposed budget than her agency's.

"My concern is that we preserve the integrity of the system," Kassekert said.

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More than 30 employees in administration and management have lost their jobs at Showboat Casino-Hotel as a result of consolidation among the two Atlantic City casinos owned by Harrah's Entertainment.

Dave Jonas has been looking for efficiencies since Harrah's promoted him last month to oversee operations of both Showboat and Harrah's Atlantic City. He would not comment on the number of job losses, but said he's looking to combine functions as did the city's other multicaisno operators, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts and Park Place Entertainment.

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