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Be Here Now

Atlantic City is trying to re-invent itself as a resort with gaming, rather than a gaming resort. The jury is still out on whether they will be successful at that effort, but Atlantic City needs to think about what it is at this point in time.

Be Here Now

The title of the column this month refers to a book that I read as a young man. The author was Baba Ram Dass, and it became something of a classic in its day, at least in the “hippie” world. But the essential message I came away with was to live in the moment—to remember that the journey is part of the destination, and that you can follow a path leading somewhere, but you can only really be sure of where you are today.

OK, let’s not get too mystical. The reason I bring this up is that the “living in the moment” part of the message I think can be applied to many gaming properties and jurisdictions that strive to be something they are not.

The cover story of this month’s magazine is on Atlantic City. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, since I began my gaming career (and my adult life) in that Boardwalk town. I still own a house there and spend a good amount of time there each year.
For many years in Atlantic City, the casino industry has tried to become something it wasn’t. Early on, it was referred to as Las Vegas East, which it clearly wasn’t. Then, when competition opened in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York, casino executives stubbornly refused to accept that their customers would stay closer to home to gamble rather than continue to drive to Atlantic City. And today, as you’ll see in the article, the city is trying to re-invent itself as a resort with gaming, rather than a gaming resort.
The jury is still out on whether they will be successful at that effort, but Atlantic City needs to think about what it is at this point in time. The opening of Revel has been a landmark event for the town. But Revel’s strategy is so different than any other Atlantic City casino that it’s really not very well understood. Give it a chance, and I think it will be successful in its own inimitable manner.
But Atlantic City needs to recognize that it’s not such a terrible place now. There’s a highly successful outlet mall that takes up a large chunk of the downtown landscape and attracts millions of people to town on its own. The decrepit housing projects that dotted the city have largely been eliminated. While safety is an issue like any other city in the Northeast, the tourism district is very safe, secure and clean. Big entertainment events still bring thousands of people to town for busy weekends.
Sure, gaming revenues have fallen precipitously and they’re not coming back. The convenience gamblers who deserted AC for their neighborhood casinos won’t be back on a regular basis anytime soon. So Atlantic City needs to get a grip on what it has today and let tomorrow take care of itself.
And the same can be said for many jurisdictions. In some ways, Macau is like Atlantic City was 10 years ago. Macau is trying to develop the non-gaming amenities that will bring players to the jurisdiction for things other than gambling. But look at what’s really happening. The VIP market still accounts for more than 70 percent of the SAR gaming revenues. So Macau will remain vulnerable to competition in its area of the world unless it does develop those non-gaming attractions and truly expands the mass market.
Las Vegas has done the best job to re-define itself. Even as the recession raged, competition arose and gaming revenues fell, Las Vegas officials knew that the power of the non-gaming attractions on the Strip would cushion any shortfall. So visitation has returned to previous levels, even if gaming revenues have not.
Tribal gaming facilities would do well to consider what they are now versus what they hope they will be. Sometimes expansion isn’t the wisest move. Playing prognosticator can be quite dangerous when you’re betting the tribe’s money.
So take a moment and step back. Take a look at what your casino or jurisdiction was a few years ago and where it is today. Try to analyze how it got to where it is today, without considering where you want it to be in five years. Maybe living in the moment is how you got here. Maybe the journey has been more productive than you thought. Maybe you should relax and enjoy what you have today.

Be here now. 

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.

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