Atlantic City’s top casino executives all agree that Atlantic City needs to clean up its act and become a safer place with a better public perception if business stands a chance of improving.
On Thursday, a few casino executives spoke at a panel held by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce. One area of concern they raised was of the non-gambling hotel, Showboat. Its owner had plans to reinstate gambling as a recreational activity on the property.
In the past, Atlantic City was known as a popular gambling destination right by the seaside. Today, executives are seeing a decrease in profits and hoping to adapt to the changing landscape. In the first half of 2019, profits were down almost 17%.
Thursday’s panel was unique in that it was the first sustained, nearly unanimous declaration by Atlantic City’s casino leadership. The group shared a common dissatisfaction with current conditions in the city, but it was something they previously addressed only in passing, or in private.
All of this comes on the heels of critical comments made two weeks ago from Jim Allen, CEO of Hard Rock International, that Atlantic City “is going in the wrong direction” and is in worse shape than when his company bought the casino three years ago.
Executives Voice Their Concerns
“Our buildings can’t be surrounded by drug addicts and prostitutes,” said Hard Rock President Joe Lupo. “The street lights need to work. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. The city needs to be in better shape; it’s going to be tough. Go out and buy the biggest bulldozer the county has to offer, and you could probably make a lot of positive changes.”
It’s of no surprise that Atlantic City’s downtown and casino areas have high crime rates, but Resorts President Mark Giannantonio stated the facts: “We all agree we’re not pleased with where we are with the Tourism District.” He insisted that an overall reduction in crime might just improve revenue and visitation to Atlantic City by a significant 20% to 30%.
Eldorado Gaming, the parent company of the Tropicana property in AC, sent Senior VP Steve Callender to represent them in the panel. Callender identified the issues with vagrants who found solace at casinos, claiming, “they’ll stay there forever.”
Apart from loitering being a common concern, Callender also pointed out a maintenance issue. He said changes need to be made for the downtown and the casino district as a whole. He also complained about “three-foot potholes” near the entrance to his casino, because the city has neglected to repair them.
“There’s still a lot of blight,” added Borgata President Marcus Glover. “You need to get some wins and get some earned media about the positive things happening in Atlantic City.”
Ron Baumann, regional president of Caesars Entertainment, which owns Caesars, Bally’s and Harrah’s, said Atlantic City hasn’t improved by much within these last 10 years. He claimed there has been “ample opportunity and money” to help increase revenue and visitation. Baumann then called out the state agency in charge of planning and development in Atlantic City, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, saying they need to shift their focus and help solve societal issues in the city as a whole.
Executives Reject Idea of Gambling at Restored Showboat
Lastly, the casino executives blasted developer Bart Blatstein’s plan to restore casino gambling to the Showboat. The Showboat first opened in 1987. Although it was profitable, Caesars closed down the property in 2014.
Philly developer Bart Blatstein purchased it in 2016 and reopened the Showboat as a non-gaming hotel in July of that year. Two years later, he began applying for a casino license.
On Tuesday, Blatstein stated he sold the Playground pier complex back to Caesars Entertainment. Blatstein told The Associated Press that the move frees him up to pursue the restoration of gambling at the Showboat.
But Baumann, whose company is regaining ownership of the pier from Blatstein, said “the Northeast market is saturated; the last thing Atlantic City needs is another casino.” He added that “it would be purely cannibalistic to do something along those lines.”
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small has not immediately responded to a message seeking comment on Thursday.