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Atlantic City Round-Up

22 April 2002

by Joe Weinert.

ATLANTIC CITY -- Tropicana will break ground today (Monday) on a $225 million expansion that includes Atlantic City's first Las Vegas-style themed casino shopping center.

The Quarter, a 200,000-square-foot indoor dining, entertainment and retail complex designed to resemble Old Havana, is the centerpiece of the project. The expansion also includes a 502-room hotel tower, a 20,000 square feet of meeting and convention space and a 2,400-space parking garage.

"Most people do not realize that Atlantic City actually produces more casino revenue than the major Las Vegas Strip properties, with less than 20 percent of the hotel rooms," said Paul Rubeli, chairman and CEO of Tropicana parent Aztar Corp.

"So there is no doubt that we need many more hotel rooms and much more parking in Atlantic City. We also need more non-casino things to do in Atlantic City. Las Vegas is proving that there is a large and profitable market for non-casino attractions, and that's why we think The Quarter, with its creative approach to dining, entertainment and shopping, will be so successful," Rubeli said.

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MGM Mirage said it "desires" to file state environmental permits by year end, enabling it to break ground in late 2003 for its proposed wholly owned casino hotel in Atlantic City, division chief executive John Redmond told analysts during the company's quarterly earnings conference call. MGM has been discussing such an Atlantic City project for six years.

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Hoping to put some class and sizzle into the noncasino attractions along Atlantic City's Boardwalk, a local realty developer unveiled plans to remake one block of shops and restaurants into something special.

George Siganos promised to bring the same expertise and quality found in the 70-plus restaurants he operates on the East Coast to the Boardwalk shops and restaurants between Indiana Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, in front of Sands Casino Hotel. He's subleasing the 20 outlets from gaming giant Park Place Entertainment, which owns them as part of a potential casino site.

Siganos has hired a prominent Atlantic City architect and said he hopes to attract some nationally known retailers. He said he wants to change the Boardwalk's image, which is known for tacky souvenir stores and T-shirt shops.

"I think Atlantic City, by next year, will be on fire," Siganos told The Press of Atlantic City, referring to other major retail outlets planned in the city. "Every national tenant will want to be here. I hope this is the beginning of change for the Boardwalk. It's taken years for Atlantic City to finally start, but once it's started there's no stopping now."

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More than seven months since its creation, a state program that lets compulsive gamblers ban themselves from Atlantic City casinos has drawn 78 registrants.

The list is confidential, but area compulsive-gambling experts said they believe most of the registrants are years into recovery but signed up "just in case."

The experts fault state gaming regulators for offering only two registration sites in the state, one of which is near casinos in Atlantic City, and for not aggressively promoting the program.

Daniel Heneghan, spokesman for the Casino Control Commission, which maintains the exclusion list, said program brochures have been widely distributed through the state. They're also available inside casinos and on the commission's Web site.

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Atlantic City's chief casino competition, the two Indian properties in Connecticut, reported March slot-machine revenue of $132.1 million, up 18.6 percent over the year-earlier period.

The revenue at Foxwoods increased 16.1 percent, to $70.5 million. Mohegan Sun, which opens a 1,200-room hotel this week, reported revenue of $61.6 million, up 21.6 percent.

The two casinos do not publicly report their table-games results, which analysts estimate is 27 percent of their total gaming revenue.

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