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Joe Weinert
 

Atlantic City Roundup

11 August 2003

By Joe Weinert

ATLANTIC CITY -- Gambling revenue at Trump Marina Hotel Casino is lower than it should be since July 2, Donald Trump claims, and he wants a state transportation agency to make up the difference.

A Trump lawyer notified the South Jersey Transportation Authority that Trump will hold the agency responsible business lost because of an overdue ramp that will give motorists an easy link from the new Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa to Trump Marina.

Trump said Trump Marina should be benefiting from the heavy traffic to the neighboring Borgata. Motorists can easily drive from Trump Marina to Borgata, but until the ramp is completed they have difficulty making the return trip.

"They can get there (Borgata) but they can't get back," Trump said.

SJTA was supposed to complete the $12 million ramp, essentially an elevated U-turn, before Borgata opened. The agency said abundant spring and summer rain has affected soil compaction, pushing the project completion to September or October.

Trump lawyer Joel Sterns claimed the delay "has materially and irreparably injured Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts by restricting reasonable public access to the Trump Marina over an extended period of time."

Sterns said Trump might also sue for loss of goodwill, meaning damage to the casinoâs name or reputation caused by the ramp delay.

Trump would not say how he might calculate such damages. Trump Marina was underperforming the market before Borgata opened; its gaming revenue through six months was down 4.7 percent over the same period last year compared to an industrywide decline of 1.4 percent.

James Crawford, SJTA executive director, declined to comment on Trump's claims.

SJTA agreed to build the ramp in exchange for Trump dropping his litigation against a $330 million crosstown tunnel connector to the Marina District. Trump and SJTA agreed to split the projectâs $12 million cost.

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The small, independent Sands Casino Hotel is taking a big plunge back into the table-games business in a bid to distinguish itself in Atlantic City.

Less than a year after all but eliminating its tables business, Sands now promises the best odds and highest limits in the city. Itâs offering 10-times odds at one craps table, two single-zero roulette tables and will take $50,000-per-hand wagers.

Sands, then under previous management, tried a similar strategy in winter 2000-01, leading to negative cash flow.

"Yes, it is risky," Sands President Tom Davis acknowledged.

Sands is trying to position itself as a throwback casino reminiscent of the Rat Pack era of the Las Vegas Sands, a place for martinis and big action at the tables. It now has 61 tables, up from just 26 in December, and has reopened its poker room.

"The cornerstone of our resurgence as a classic gaming property is based on offering patrons the best value in all aspects of the Sands experience, and we are certainly delivering that in our table games," said Richard Brown, chief executive of Carl Icahnâs casinos.

Michael Pollock, publisher of the Gaming Industry Observer newsletter, applauded Sands for taking a different tack in the fiercely competitive Atlantic City market.

"I think its smaller size requires it to find a target and recognize that it canât be all things to all people. My sense is that Sands works well with that target market that historically is similar to the Binionâs brand," Pollock said.

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Gamblers have seen yet another change in parking fees at six casinos in the last month.

Bally's, Caesars, Hilton, Resorts and Tropicana changed their standard parking rate to $4 after initially charging $5 for those who didnât present their frequent-gambler card and $3 for cardholders. Sands changed its fee to the $5/$3 structure after initially charging $3 for everybody.

The state on July 1 mandated a $3 minimum casino-parking fee after a decade at $2.

Borgata, Harrah's and Showboat continue to charge $3. The three Trump casinos continue to charge $4.

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Atlantic Cityâs oldest casino hotel endured the loss of 166 hotel rooms and nearly 200 slot machines, as well as construction disruption and unseasonably bad April and May weather, to post only a small decline in second-quarter earnings.

Resorts Atlantic City reported cash flow of $10.6 million, down 6 percent, on net revenue of $58.8 million, down 5 percent. Net income declined 41 percent to $1.6 million.

Resorts is in the middle of a $116 million hotel and casino expansion scheduled to open next June.

"Overall we're very pleased with our second-quarter results," said Nick Ribis, Resorts' vice chairman. "Given our reduced room inventory and gaming capacity as a result of our hotel development we did very well, having met all our expectations."

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The $1.1 billion Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa emerged from its regulatory test period on July 30, four weeks after it opened.

The New Jersey Casino Control Commission essentially requires new casinos to open in the test mode, meaning they are subject to heightened scrutiny until they can demonstrate fluid internal controls and regulatory compliance.

0-0-0-0-0 The Casino Control Commission is scheduled to release July gaming revenue this week -- most likely on Wednesday -- giving the public its first glance of Borgataâs impact on the local gaming market.

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