When Eldorado Resorts bought Caesars Entertainment, New Jersey regulators required that Eldorado invest at least $400 million in its Atlantic City properties, which regulators believed were undercapitalized. John Koster was brought in to bring Caesars Atlantic City, Harrah’s Resort and the Tropicana up to snuff. Renovations were almost completed at all three casinos this summer. Caesars recently opened a new show by the Vegas-based Speigelworld, a new revue called The Hook. Koster spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros via Zoom from his office in Atlantic City in August. To hear or view a full version of the podcast, visit GGBMagazine.com.
GGB: How has the summer been for the Caesars properties in Atlantic City now that most of the new attractions have debuted?
Koster: Summer in Atlantic City is always our high season, and certainly we have been enjoying very high occupancies across the board, in particular, Caesars and Tropicana on the Boardwalk and Harrah’s in the Marina District. You know, some of it depends on group activity and things of that nature, but they’ve been very busy as well.
Since last summer at Caesars, you’ve opened Hell’s Kitchen, the Nobu Restaurant, Spiegelworld’s show and new theater, The Hook and Superfrico restaurant. How are they doing?
Hell’s Kitchen opened in September, and that’s now hitting in the mid-500s of covers on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s very, very popular, not only with our own guests, but also we see a lot of people we’ve never seen before from the local community and from our competitors. It’s really been an immediate hit, followed a month later by Nobu, which is now hitting over 450 covers on weekend days. So they’re both really proving to be extremely popular. Nobu has got that fantastic view of the Boardwalk and the ocean, in addition to the chefs at Nobu. The ambiance, the food, and quality of the service there is fantastic. And we just opened up The Hook and Superfrico, which is an interesting twist on Italian American food. It’s Ross Mollison’s psychedelic approach to a very eclectic experience.
You’ve also revamped the Wild Wild West. Tell us what’s changed and how it’s being received.
In the space that was the former Kate’s Casino is The Hook Theater. And the doorway, the entrance from the Boardwalk, is the former 1929 Warner Theater entrance. We’ve recaptured that beautiful signage on the Boardwalk—a throwback to that time. So a slight reduction in the overall Wild Wild West caused us to relocate slots so it’s more gaming-centric. And of course it’s got that giant sportsbook that anchors the western side of the casino. And with football season coming up, we expect it to be very, very popular.
Tell us about how iGaming fits into the Caesars plans in Atlantic City.
We just launched the Caesars Palace app, which is fast and much easier to use than the previous app. It’s allowing us to identify iGaming and sports customers who have not been brick and mortar customers. But especially with the higher-level customers, we are seeing that a lot. It’s gaining a lot of traction and cross play, migrating sports and iGaming customers into brick-and-mortar. And we’re actually seeing some of our brick-and-mortar customers starting to enjoy iGaming and sports apps more at home.
Tropicana and Harrah’s have also gone through some renovations. Explain what’s going on in those casinos.
Tropicana also has a new senior vice president and general manager, Joe Giunta. Joe worked his way up to vice president of operations handling all non-gaming areas, and was getting exposed to gaming. The entire casino floor at the Tropicana has been redesigned. Hash House opened up and it is really doing well. And then we’ve got the Purple Zebra, which is next to Hash House on the Boardwalk. The legendary Il Verde restaurant has been moved; it is now a 350-seat restaurant with a beautiful view of the Boardwalk and the ocean. And of course, Harrah’s is the place to be in the summer with the inside and outside pools. La Strada just opened up and it’s really kicked in. It has been an immediate hit with our customers.