GGB is committed to providing updated news and analysis on our weekly news site, GGBNews.com.

100 Days of Summer

Atlantic City’s recovery from the pandemic ramped up during its busy season. But how long can it be sustained?

100 Days of Summer

It was Election Day in 1976. Jimmy Carter was elected president and Atlantic City got casino gaming. People were dancing on the Boardwalk, believing the streets would soon be paved in gold.

In the ensuing 45 years, Atlantic City has endured booms and busts, nothing like the stability envisioned by the authors of the casino amendment, but then again, they couldn’t have foreseen the massive expansion of gaming since New Jersey became only the second state to legalize casinos.

But of all the booms and busts, none was as low as the pandemic of 2020. Casinos were shuttered for four long months, only to be reopened under limited capacities, strict procedures and few non-gaming amenities available. Revenues and profits plunged and thousands were laid off. It was a sad and scary time.

Melonie Johnson, who assumed the role of president and CEO of the Borgata during the pandemic, said the atmosphere was alien.

“Walking through that casino floor, and not hearing the bells and the whistles, and not hearing the overhead music, and not seeing employees, it was a very eerie feeling,” she says.

For Terry Glebocki, she was ramping up Ocean Casino Resort to new heights.

“We had so much momentum in this property, pre-pandemic. I came to the property in February 2019,” she explains. “The property had been open for about eight months. It was losing money. There was a change in management teams. And I came in to sort of stop the bleeding, and try to find a way to right-size it. And right-size it we did. By the time we hit June 2019, we’d finally had our first profitable month. I had been made the interim CEO in August of ’19. I was made the permanent CEO in December of ’19. I was feeling pretty good; things were going great. And then the world changed.”

Next door at Hard Rock, Joe Lupo says they went the extra mile to care for his team members, including periodic distribution of food cards to get them through.

“The employees had a lot of questions,” he says. “They had a lot of concerns—benefit questions, medical questions, and employment questions. So, we kept some of the human resources staff on property even while we were closed to answer those questions. We extended benefits. And we were looking to hire people. We were trying to bring back people. While others were cutting back and cutting labor costs, we brought more people back; we were showing that initiative, so we had more customers come in, and obviously grew our revenue.”

While the new regional president in charge of the Caesars Entertainment Atlantic City properties (as well as Harrah’s Philadelphia and Horseshoe Baltimore) John Koster wasn’t in town during the pandemic, he was handling the crisis for Caesars’ Northern Nevada properties, Harvey’s and Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.

“It was the same thing in Tahoe,” he says, “but as things began to open up, we saw lots of unrated players coming in from California that were kind of replacing the high-end customer, to some degree. So, I think as people are getting more comfortable with it, they’re traveling. And boy, was it kicking in there when I left, just as it is kicking in here. We are seeing occupancies here now that are getting very close to where we were in 2019, and we’re seeing very good gaming volume; no question about it.”

The new owners of Bally’s Atlantic City, the former Twin River Worldwide Holdings, now known as Bally’s, compare the pandemic recovery to other states where they operate and say Atlantic City is a little behind.

“Certain jurisdictions were more comfortable with lifting restrictions faster than others,” says George Papanier, president and CEO of Bally’s Corp. “Rhode Island was one of the ones that lagged—Atlantic City, to a lesser degree. To give you some perspective, in other markets where they lifted restrictions early, they’re exceeding 2019 numbers and business is strong.”

Jane Bokunewicz is the coordinator of the LIGHT Institute at Stockton University in Atlantic City. She says the pandemic was “devastating.”

“In 2020 the Atlantic City casinos lost over $1 billion,” she says. “This was cushioned by an increase in internet gaming, but you can’t ever replace that revenue that was lost. The economic impact was terrible.”

Soft Re-Openings

“Food and beverage has had a lot of restrictions on it that were just recently released, going into Memorial Day weekend. So that area did suffer a bit, but it’s coming back nicely.” Terry Glebocki, President & CEO, Ocean Casino Resort

Once the lockdown ended, Atlantic City casinos were permitted to reopen after being closed for 107 days, on July 2, 2020. But even then, it was under strict restrictions including capacity limits, social distancing, mask mandates, entry requirements, food-and-beverage restrictions and much more. The casinos all had plans to obey those rules but still serve their customers.

Lupo says Hard Rock had an aggressive corporate policy that allowed his property open quickly and make the players feel safe.

“We had thousands of guests being able to walk into our property without stopping, seeing their temperature being taken over their head (with sophisticated temperature technology),” he says. “I think it gave them trust in the fact that they felt safe. We spent a lot of time and effort on our cleanliness. Our team that worked on keeping the property clean were all wearing lime-green shirts, so it was evident that they were working throughout the casino.

“We implemented more plexiglass than just about any other property. And we were very aggressive from that standpoint. We wanted to make this the safest property in Atlantic City. We did focus groups and continued to hear great feedback, that people did feel safer here. We have a great team here; they implemented the plan, they were aggressive.”

Glebocki says plans were laid out quickly about how Ocean would reopen, but it was always a moving date.

“We initially thought we’d be closed for about two weeks,” she says. “It wound up being 107 days.”

Staying in touch with the customers was the key, she believes.

“I think the answer at my property might not be the same as for every property, but certainly here, we communicated with our guests the entire time we were closed. We were able to spend those 107 days and really plan and look at hundreds of touchpoints throughout the property. So, when we reopened, our guests were already sort of comfortable with what we were doing.”

Glebocki at Ocean says she drew up the best-case EBITDA number prior to reopening and was surprised at the response.

“We exceeded our six-month number, in one month, in the month of July,” she says. “So, it didn’t take long for our guests to come back. But I think that speaks to a few things. One, only eight of the nine properties reopened on July 2. So, that was a competitive advantage that everybody in town had. We offer a really compelling product, and we decided to reopen differently than others did. Because we’re only in Atlantic City, and we’re focused 100 percent on the Atlantic City guests, we knew what they wanted, and we decided we were going to be aggressive and we were going to give them what they were looking for. So, if they were willing to venture out of their home and take the ‘chance’ of coming out into public, they would want to come to Ocean. So, we reinstituted free slot play and gifts on day two.”

The one casino that did not reopen immediately was the Borgata. Johnson says that decision was deliberate.

“Our intent was never to be the first to open in market,” she says, pointing out that Beau Rivage in Biloxi used the same strategy. “It was to make sure that we were opening safely, to ensure the safety of both our employees and our guests. And then also, when we opened, we wanted to open with a product that represented the brand. So, we took our time, and we thought through it methodically. We didn’t want to be first to market; we wanted to open correctly.”

Even today, Johnson says the Borgata is still feeling the effects of the pandemic when it comes to making the guests feel comfortable.

“I would say that’s still a work in progress,” she admits. “Now that all the restrictions have been lifted, we’re seeing our admissions go up. At first, when we opened, of course there was a fear factor out there. Should I go? Should I not go? We had a large populous that was not comfortable with coming out, even with wearing a mask. We had a populous that felt like masks were not appropriate, and that we shouldn’t adhere to that. So, it was gradual. As more restrictions were lifted, we saw admissions increase, and now that we’re 100 percent open, it has gotten better. But we are still not at the pre-pandemic numbers.”

Stockton’s Bokunewicz believes that the customers are getting more comfortable in their ability to return and enjoy themselves.

“The first two months after the casinos reopened it was a little slow,” she explains. “Revenues were way below 2019, but in the third month, it started leveling out. We did a study in January and February about people’s comfort level in returning to the casinos and found that people who came back were about 75 percent comfortable. Once they saw the procedures and protections the casinos put in place, they felt more comfortable.”

For Caesars, recovery from the pandemic was complicated by a change in ownership. Koster says Eldorado’s purchase of the gaming giant went smoothly but there were some hiccups when the transition to Caesars Rewards happened at the Tropicana, which had been owned by Eldorado prior to the Caesars sale.

“It’s a big-time tradeup for the Trop,” he says. “We’re now introducing the Caesars legacy to Eldorado, in this case Tropicana. Now that they’re integrated into Caesars Rewards, the Trop will benefit from our 55 million in the database.”

For Bally’s, it was the opposite problem. When Caesars Entertainment sold the property to Twin River (now Bally’s), decoupling from Caesars Rewards was a reality. But it has been relatively simple, according to Phil Juliano, the corporate vice president of marketing for the company.

“Caesars Rewards was alleged to be an incredible success in the industry,” he explains. “I have some trouble with that in particular, situationally, but we recognize that it is a magnanimous loyalty program that gives you a lot of options to do a lot of things in a lot of places. It’s never going to be easy to replace that. So what we’ve done is, we’ve committed to the customer. Our slogan is, ‘Players loves rewards, and Bally’s loves rewarding.’ We are going to create value for our customer. If they’re a legitimate gambler that comes in this market, they’re going to want a piece of this.”

As for the property itself, Juliano says the lack of reinvestment in the property when owned by Caesars was evident. Papanier says that’s already changing.

“When we looked at this property, we always anticipated that we would be able to turn this property around,” he says. “Not overnight; it’s not like you’re flipping a light switch, because we’re looking at incremental improvements to the property. And as a condition of our license, we have to spend $90 million over several years. We felt that was an important component to re-creating the success that this property once saw. And everything we’re doing from a marketing perspective is very cautious. Because we don’t want get too far ahead of what we’re ultimately going to be presenting to the customer. We really feel that by the beginning of next summer, we’ll be in a much better position to really reintroduce this property to the market, and we’re working towards that.”

Non-Gaming Returns

“We opened every restaurant outside that we could, and then once we got the nod to have indoor dining, we opened all of our restaurants. Visitors to Atlantic City want to gamble, drink and eat, and we gave them that opportunity.” Joe Lupo, President, Hard Rock Atlantic City

Prior to the pandemic, non-gaming revenues were becoming an increasingly important part of the Atlantic City equation. While they’ll never get close to the levels of the Las Vegas Strip, where as much as 70 percent of the revenues are non-gaming, Atlantic City has improved over the past five years in balancing the scales.

Bokunewicz believes it will take a while for non-gaming revenues to return.

“Non-gaming revenues have lagged behind, but you have to realize that those restrictions were just lifted at the end of May (2021),” she points out. “Before that, they were slow to roll out. Lots of restaurants remain closed. Outdoor dining was permitted first and then indoor dining with capacity restrictions. Then there was a 10 p.m. curfew for dining and drinking. This is the first time that all restrictions have been lifted, so I think it’s going to be a quick recovery.”

Capacity restrictions were never part of the hotel occupancy. Operators were allowed to fully book all rooms, and most did. The proof is that occupancy rates and average daily room rates have rebounded to levels rarely seen, even pre-pandemic.

Johnson says that the rooms and suites at the Borgata still aren’t fully occupied, but that’s not because the rooms aren’t available.

“The challenge is staffing,” she explains. “And it’s not just an Atlantic City problem, or a Borgata issue. It’s systemic throughout the entire United States. So, the problem we’re having is we’ve got to yield our hotel, based upon the staff that we have. We’ve got to make sure that the guests that we invite into our home, we can service that. So, even though that demand is there, we cannot go at 100 percent occupancy, because it would not be a great experience for our customers.”

Koster agrees that staffing is a difficult issue.

“This is part of the hangover from Covid, unfortunately. In my opinion, the extension of the federal unemployment benefit is not helping the hiring process. We’re having to get very creative on wages and benefits to attract people to migrate back into the workforce. We want to open up food and beverage, seven days a week. It’s challenging because we have to find the people. We want to make sure we’re servicing all the rooms. But we’re working very hard on that.

“Non-gaming is definitely a growing segment here. There’s so much pent-up demand of people that have been constrained for so long. They’re really coming out and enjoying themselves. And we’re not seeing people do crazy things, either. I mean, it’s just they’re coming out and enjoying themselves. They’re being entertained.”

He says as part of the Caesars purchase, the company has set aside $170 million to renovate hotel rooms at both Caesars and Harrah’s, and considers it so important that they’re taking rooms offline during the busy summer season to do it.

“You would never do a rooms renovation in the summer, but we are stepping up to the plate on that,” he says. “At Harrah’s, the Atrium Tower is out right now and that’s going along quickly. And it should be handed back to us end of July, beginning of August. And then we move on in the fall to our big tower with over 900 keys.

“At Caesars, some of the older rooms are going to be fantastic when they get done. So, that’s going to roll probably later August, maybe into September. And then we step right into the next tower. You’re going to see most of the $400 million capital that we committed to be dedicated to room renovations, which was very, very needed here. Unfortunately, with the old Caesars legacy folks, it was tough to get capital in the regional locations. They did a pretty good job in Vegas, but the regional locations didn’t get much capital.”

Ocean took the stance to fill all its hotel because, says Glebocki, rooms were naturally socially distanced.

“We decided from day one that we were going to fill the hotel,” she says. “So our hotel revenues have been strong since we reopened on July 2. We’ve consistently had the highest occupancy in town, and the highest average daily rate. Food and beverage, that’s another story. Food and beverage has had a lot of restrictions on it, that were just recently released, going into Memorial Day weekend. So, that area did suffer a bit, but it’s coming back nicely.”

“Walking through that casino floor, and not hearing the bells and the whistles, and not hearing the overhead music, and not seeing employees, it was a very eerie feeling,” Melonie Johnson, President & CEO, Borgata Casino Resort & Spa

The resorts were challenged by the food-and-beverage restrictions, including a ban on indoor dining that occurred during Atlantic City’s cold months. But many hotels were creative when it came to addressing those issues. At Ocean, they created an outdoor barbecue restaurant on the observation area with a lot of success.

“Food and beverage has probably been the most challenging of all the things going through the pandemic,” says Glebocki. “When we first closed, we had all this food on property that we didn’t know that we were going to be closing. We were expecting that we were going into a strong season. So, we had to eat some of the food, freeze some of the food, donate some of the food.

“And then when we were allowed to reopen, there was no indoor dining. You could have take-out food, but you had to eat it outdoors. Now, a huge advantage that we have at this property is we have what was called the Sky Garden; it’s now called The Park at Ocean. It’s a beautiful outdoor area. It sits right above the boardwalk level. People could take food out there, but it’s really difficult to do that when it rains.

“We were fortunate, when the rules changed, that you can have a fixed cover, as long as 50 percent of the walls were open—that’s when we were able to make a big move here. So, we were then able to take the VIP lounge, and we did something that I think was very innovative. We closed off the fifth floor of our parking garage to vehicular traffic. We power-washed it, we sanitized it, we carpeted it, we put in palm trees and a stage, and we started feeding our VIP guests in the parking garage. And hard to believe that people would line up to eat in your parking garage, but they actually did.”

Lupo believes Hard Rock’s emphasis on food and beverage worked well.

“We worked hard at implementing more food and beverage outlets than any other property,” he says. “We saw a lot of properties around town that would close their restaurants, and instead we were opening every one that we could. In fact, we opened every restaurant outside that we could, and then once we got the nod to have indoor dining, we opened all of our restaurants. Visitors to Atlantic City want to gamble, drink and eat, and we gave them that opportunity.”

At Borgata, the pandemic gave them an opportunity to rethink their food-and-beverage strategy. They jettisoned the Wolfgang Puck restaurant and recently opened the American Bar & Grille.

“This is totally an internal concept,” says Johnson. “We wanted to do something that’s exciting, and that would add something new to our property, to showcase the talent that we have with our executive chef, Chef Aram. He’s the mastermind behind this. So, we’re very excited to have that in our portfolio, as well as Old Homestead, Bobby Flay’s, Izakaya and Angeline. And we’ve also got the Metropolitan, which is our casual dining experience, so our guests will have options while on property.”

For Bally’s, the new owners took time to evaluate the food-and-beverage offerings. Juliano says he was impressed with Guy Fieri’s barbecue restaurant, which will remain and be promoted more efficiently. They decided to remove the Buca di Beppo Italian restaurant and will open a local establishment that Juliano found in his travels in its place.

“I’m really excited about Water Dog,” he says. “They opened up in Ventnor last summer, and I went down to visit them. It was a little hole in the wall, and they were doing land-office business. And they’re going to be our three-meal restaurant.”

In place of the Arturo’s steakhouse restaurant, Jerry Longo’s Meatballs & Martinis has opened. The company operates the successful restaurant at its Rhode Island and Delaware properties, and it made sense to bring it to Atlantic City as well.

And Juliano says to stand by—Bally’s is negotiating with several other restaurant brands that will be part of the full rollout ready for next summer.

“We’re going to be the place to eat in Atlantic City,” he insists.

On With The Show

“We’re going to be the place to eat in Atlantic City.” Phil Juliano, Executive Vice President, Casino Operations and Chief Marketing Officer, Bally’s Corp.

Another casualty of the pandemic was the entertainment that is a big feature at Atlantic City casinos. Some casinos are still being cautious while others are back in a big way. Like Hard Rock.

“I’m excited about entertainment coming back,” says Lupo. “We have some great names with Journey and Kiss, and Guns n’ Roses for two nights—probably the biggest show that this city’s seen in years. We have a Rat Pack show that’s in our Sound Waves theater, and a couple other small shows in that 1,300-seat theater. So, it’s a staple and a brand pillar of Hard Rock. We obviously have the biggest arena in Atlantic City. We had almost 4,000 people in this past Saturday night, with Darius Rucker. And it was just a different vibe, and smiles, and so many people would walk up and say, ‘It’s just so nice to have this energy.’ And so, yeah, you’ll see a big entertainment lineup here. We’re already booking into next year with Alicia Keys and Lionel Richie, and so we’re going to be very aggressive from that standpoint.”

Ocean is also adding bookings, welcoming Brian McKnight on the July 4 weekend in the 4,400-seat Ovation Theater.

“We’re going to be kicking off the Summer of Love concert series, that’s going to be every Friday and Sunday, from July 9 through August 29,” says Glebacki. “That’s a residency that will be featuring music from basically the Abbey Road-to-Woodstock era. And then we have Alice Cooper in September. Aaron Lewis and Brett Young in November.”

Even Bally’s is getting entertainment back.

“The place needed some energy, OK?” says Juliano. “So, we booked Motown Revisited, a high-energy show. It’s something for the regular comp customer and the general public. It’s also a very affordable ticket, and we’re trying to get the word out as much as we can.”

Borgata is being a little more cautious.

“We’ve started with our Music Box,” says Johnson. “This is something small, as a test—sticking your big toe in the water and getting a feel for it. So, right now we’re seeing those sales come back, and cash sales are generating much better year-over-year from 2019 versus the comp sales. We’re selling out Sebastian Maniscalco. He’s a big hit in this market. And then, we are planning our schedule to get back to the big headliners, because entertainment has been an important part of the entire Borgata experience.

“With our Premier nightclub, we are strategically planning on how we’re going to open that, so we can have the best possible experience. We’re proud to say Gypsy Bar is open and well-received. It’s a fun, intimate venue. But, right now the big thing is getting the headliners back, working on a strategy for the lounge, taking care of Gypsy. And then we’ve also added some music in our Lobby Bar, and our B Bar as well.”

For Atlantic City, however, survival during the shoulder seasons means bringing in meetings and conventions to fill hotel rooms midweek. That business is just starting to come back.

“We’ve got great convention space here at Ocean,” says Glebocki. “We have 160,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, with 20 separate meeting rooms. Plus, there are unique areas that aren’t used during the day. They can be leveraged for convention space. We are bringing back the rest of the staff in that area, and we are seeing some nice bookings for ’22 and ’23. We’re also seeing some short-term bookings. People are anxious to come back, so we’re booking some meetings that way. So, it’s exciting. It’s an important part of the Atlantic City business, and filling midweek.”

This segment is a big part of the Caesars properties. Koster said Mike Massari, the corporate head of groups, meetings and conventions, came to Atlantic City in July to talk about growing the business.

“At Harrah’s Atlantic City this venue is outstanding,” he says. “It is as good as anything you’d find along the East Coast. From Baltimore to Boston, you’re going to see nothing better. We have a little bit of discretionary spend that we can move in the right direction, to make minor tweaks. But really, that is just a fantastic venue. We’ve got quite a bit of space also at Tropicana and at Caesars Atlantic City. So, I can assure you, Mr. Massari is going to be helping us a lot here in Atlantic City. It’s starting now, but it ramps up in the fourth quarter. And then 2022 bookings are already pacing beautifully. A lot of groups and meetings that were scheduled for 2020 are now booking for 2022.”

Hard Rock considers meetings and conventions a crucial piece of their business, says Lupo.

“It’s extremely vital here in Atlantic City, and to our property, with 150,000 square feet of space, to be able to book those rooms midweek,” he says. “Our sales staff has done a fantastic job at rebooking, if not all, most of those conventions that we had booked over this last year, that had to be pushed out through late ’21 and ’22. We’re going to see a very busy fall, and a busy 2022. So, I couldn’t be more excited.”

Online Assist

“We’re having to get very creative on wages and benefits to attract people to migrate back into the workforce. We want to open up food and beverage, seven days a week. It’s challenging because we have to find the people.” John Koster, President, Eastern Region, Caesars Entertainment

While most Atlantic City CEOs have little to do with their company’s online wagering, the revenue produced from the online sites were a breath of fresh air during the pandemic. Online play expanded greatly, and hasn’t really dropped off as casinos reopened.

For the first time since iGaming started in New Jersey in 2015, the Borgata posted the highest online gaming revenue in June 2021, knocking the perennial top dog, Golden Nugget, down a peg.

Johnson says the online gaming revenues have been very positive for Borgata.

“It was another avenue for our guests to be entertained in the privacy of their own home, having that opportunity to go online and game. And it’s been very helpful for us. We’re still seeing our brick-and-mortar revenues increase, month over month over month, as well as the online gaming. And it doesn’t appear to be hurting brick-and-mortar.”

She adds that the focus of the MGM Resorts online brand has also been a positive.

“BetMGM is something new, fresh, and exciting,” she says. “And right now, we’re going through a customer acquisition, so it’s beneficial where we can trade our book of business. So, BetMGM, MGM Resorts International; it’s a win-win for both entities.”

While Caesars has set revenue records as well, Koster says the best is yet to come.

“We almost purposely have gone a little bit late on this because of the William Hill acquisition,” he explains. “There are things that we have in the works right now, which will be gradually rolled out. And I think by the time we’re all done, some of the other organizations that have enjoyed more share are not going to enjoy as much share.”

While Lupo was grateful for the iGaming revenue during the lockdown, he says that Hard Rock was disadvantaged by being one of the last out of the gate as an online operator. But with the appointment of an “all-star team” of former PokerStars executives to develop and run iGaming at the corporate level, he is confident that Hard Rock will become a leader in the market. He’s also encouraged that the link between the brick-and-mortar facility in Atlantic City and iGaming players will be strengthened.

“I talked about it with the Hard Rock digital guys,” he says. “Most of our customers that play online are only two hours away from us, at the most. So it really gives us an opportunity to speak to those customers if they haven’t been here, or incentivize them and work with our promotional activity here on property to bring them in, as well as talk to new customers that come into the property and then talk to them about online activities. We cross-referenced all the database, and we’ll see that grow. The summer is our slow time online, so we’ll hope to bring them into the property. And winter is our busier time online. So it works hand-in-hand with the seasonality of Atlantic City.”

Johnson believes that is more difficult than it might seem.

“That’s a tougher transition,” she says. “If you were to have someone who likes an electronic game, where you don’t have that pressure, you do it at your own pace. And then you’ve got this other group that likes the action, they want to be seen; they want the camaraderie. So, sometimes that’s tough for a crossover, because they are two unique customers.”

Of course, Bally’s is building a new company from the ground up, and their focus is to serve all their customers seamlessly across all channels.

“We’re slowly becoming an interactive company with a significant bricks-and-mortar component to it,” says Papanier. “Initially, with the repeal of PASPA in 2018, it was apparent that sports betting was taking off and we had to be a part of that. So we dove into sports betting. And a big part of access at the time was through bricks and mortar. And that encouraged us to go aggressively after a pretty significant portfolio. And we did that, and we accomplished that. But we’re also seeing, now there’s open iGaming or sports betting licenses in other states like Virginia. We have a license there. Tennessee. We’re in Iowa for sports betting. Two months ago, we did that in Colorado. Indiana will be next, and Atlantic City by the end of the year. So, it’s critically important to us, to be in this interactive space.”

Coming Competition

“To give you some perspective, in other markets where they lifted restrictions early, they’re exceeding 2019 numbers and business is strong.” George Papanier, President & CEO, Bally’s Corp.

Atlantic City was recently named the jurisdiction with the second-highest gross gaming revenue for 2020, just behind the Las Vegas Strip in the American Gaming Association’s “State of the States” report. With competition possible from casinos around New York City, and still talk of a North Jersey casino, reactions are mixed as to whether Atlantic City can maintain that position.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t,” says Lupo. “And I expect to see things grow. There’s a lot of other great gaming throughout the country. A lot of other Hard Rocks popping up throughout the country. So, I think you’ll see that grow, but I think Atlantic City needs that commitment especially from some of our competitors, that there needs to be reinvestment in the product, and there needs to be reinvestment in our guests. That’s a big differentiator for us, where others are pulling back. So, it will be interesting to see how things play out, but we should remain No. 2.”

Glebocki says she’s not concerned because Atlantic City has so much more than just gaming.

“We offer more than just a gaming experience here,” she says. “Yes, we are a gaming town, but we’ve got world-class entertainment, we’ve got world-class dining, we’ve got spectacular resorts. The spas are amazing in town. There’s a lot to see and do here. So, I think if you’re looking to just gamble, you can go to some of these other places. But if you’re looking for an experience, Atlantic City is the place to be.”

Bokunewicz has the same viewpoint.

“Atlantic City has many great amenities and attractions that other cities don’t have,” she says. “And there are so many people working to make Atlantic City better and improve the city, I think we can maintain that position for the foreseeable future.”

Koster says competition is out there and Atlantic City has to be prepared.

“Look, we’re facing competition in the Northeast and the Eastern corridor, and it’s growing rapidly,” he says, “but nobody is Atlantic City. Nobody’s got this beautiful beach. Nobody’s got this infrastructure. We can do it all right here, in a beautiful beachside environment. With our $400 million investment we are absolutely committed to Atlantic City, and that’s not changing. And I see that it is strong competition here. There’s no doubt about it. But I see that our upside has not been achieved yet. And I think that our upside is still yet to come.”

Johnson is also upbeat.

“As new competitors enter the market, there’s always that probability that your revenues may decline,” she says. “But I can promise—I’m speaking for every casino in Atlantic City—we’re not going to just sit back and not do everything humanly possible to maintain that No. 2 status. So, that is the goal.”

Roger Gros
Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.