In the 40 years Atlantic City has existed as a casino destination, nothing was as important as the opening of the Borgata in 2003. Atlantic City was a declining casino town with competition poised to enter states along the borders. Bob Boughner was charged by Boyd Gaming—the operating partner of Borgata, along with MGM Resorts, which now owns the facility wholly—to build something different. Borgata renewed interest in Atlantic City and forced competing properties to up their game. Today, Borgata is the market leader by several degrees of magnitude in Atlantic City. Boughner spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros in April in Las Vegas to talk about how the Borgata was envisioned, designed and operated. The discussion includes other non-gaming issues.
GGB: We were covering the development of the Borgata fairly closely in those days, and I remember you walking us through a layout of the casino in the Atlantic City Convention Center to see how far it was to walk between parts of the hotel or how close together the chairs were in the theater. Why go to such detail?
Bob Boughner: We saw that those efforts that the team put together—and everybody contributed in a great many ways—came to understand and appreciate the fact that we are a very visceral business. We are a business that focuses on many aspects of the experience. I tried to talk to the team in that environment, to say this was really about scene 1, scene 2, scene 3, scene 4, and scene 5.
When you walked in the front door, what was scene 1 all about? What were you trying to say? What did you want to communicate to the consumer when they walked in the door? Then scene 2, the same pathway—depending on which direction you went—you wanted to give something that was inviting and provide something that created a desire to see more, to participate more. And then we wove in the various amenities on a logical pathway. We, as humans, I think, are very much inherently lazy. Especially with the long walk, and a long walk gets dull and boring, and lacks interest completely. So, we tried to minimize the instances in the building of those long walks, but where there was going to be a long walk, make it interesting. And also, take advantage of the people that were in the building.
Atlantic City had a negative perception in those days. How did you convince people to come back? We used to call them the “rejecters.”
We put a heavy emphasis on non-gaming amenities. Non-gaming amenities helped us differentiate ourselves from the competition in that marketplace, and very early.
We talked to the rejecters often during the course of research, and in unique ways. We did focus groups, but were actually interacting with them in a room, and they were carefully selected to be sure that they hit the “who we created for,” and “who we invited” groups. They told us many things that they did not like about Atlantic City, and things that they felt would make Atlantic City a more interesting place. So, we used that good and sound advice, and we put it to work. We put it to work with designers, we put it to work with architects, we put it to work with the folks that helped create the wardrobing for us. We put it to work with people that helped us craft our voice to the consumer. And again, one area that we felt was very important was to provide a food product offering that was different: Our dining component. Our nightlife component. There was nothing like it in Atlantic City at that time.
Today, the Borgata is by far the best gaming performer in town, by sometimes triple your competitors. Is that because the non-gaming components are so compelling there that people want to gamble there, as well as go there for other reasons?
I think that non-gaming has played a role from the beginning, and it still plays a role at the property. But, frankly, it was a superior gaming product to what was in the marketplace at the time. Because it was designed at a certain level of capacity, and not added on to over the years, unlike many of the operations where they started small, or they didn’t know what the future held, and so they added on in bits and pieces, and sometimes those bits and pieces never got knit together, so that it was not a cohesive experience.
We started out with a pretty cohesive experience, and essentially kept that pretty cohesive experience over the course of time. I recall when I would tell folks that Borgata did gaming revenue that was greater than Bellagio, they would think that’s not possible.
But it was. Sometimes we did double what Bellagio did—obviously, a very, very successful and enjoyable property. I’m not comparing one to the other, but there was a level of non-gaming appetite that existed in Atlantic City. We helped create an appetite among customers, because they were really very fatigued by the restaurant product in the city at that time. They were very fatigued by the entertainment product, except in some rare instances.
And we put a little bit of energy behind dining, nightlife, entertainment, and that little bit of energy paid significant dividends, not only in terms of the performance of those areas, but also to help us bring a new customer to the marketplace, and then that also manifested itself in the significant contribution on the gaming side.