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Atlantic City Weekly Round-Up

18 April 2002

by Joe Weinert

ATLANTIC CITY -- Harrah's Atlantic City is preparing to open the first of three phases of a $200 million expansion that its top executive believes will change customers' expectations for all of the city's casinos.

The grand entryway and hotel lobby opens Tuesday, giving customers a sense of arrival that few casinos anywhere can match. Outside, separate and richly detailed three-lane arrival and departure porte cocheres are nestled in a city-park setting that features colorful flora, old-fashioned street lamps, wrought-iron benches and walkways.

Inside, guests walk into a 25-foot-high illuminated rotunda, then down a wide hallway to the 19-station registration area. Harrah's put marble, mahogany and brass everywhere. Three 3,000-gallon aquariums back the registration area, similar to The Mirage in Las Vegas.

On May 1, Harrah's opens a 452-room hotel tower that will make it the state's largest hotel at 1,626 rooms -- two better than crosstown rival Tropicana. (Coincidentally, on the same day Tropicana is scheduled to break ground on a 502-room expansion.) Each standard room features a bona fide sitting area, 32-inch television, refrigerator, two phones and separate tower and tub.

Two weeks later, the casino will expand by 450 slot machines.

"I believe this is the raising of the bar," General Manager Dave Jonas said. "Where Steve Wynn raised the bar in Las Vegas with The Mirage, this, then Borgata, is going to move Atlantic City. This is what the city needs, someone to take the next step."

Jonas said Harrah's big expansion and upgrade is necessary both to answer the challenge of the $1 billion Borgata being built next door and to meet existing demand.

*****

Ron Perelman, the billionaire chairman of Revlon, received an updated statement of compliance from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission ... not that he has anything up his sleeve.

"We don't have a specific transaction in mind," said Jim Conroy, senior vice president and special counsel of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, a Perelman company.

"Our purpose in going through the process is the same as it was originally (1995), to be qualified to move in case a transaction presents itself. So far it has not."

*****

Atlantic City casinos last year issued $1.9 billion in markers and expected gamblers to repay all but $28.2 million, or 1.5 percent, of the amount, according to figures from the state Casino Control Commission.

Sands, the city's second-smallest casino, was evidently the most aggressive in issuing credit, reporting a bad-debt reserve of $4.3 million, or 3.1 percent of the credit issued.

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