Casinos up the ante on discount deals

In tight times, the gambling halls are betting that bargain packages pay off by attracting vacationers on tight budgets.

Posted: May 15, 2009

ATLANTIC CITY - As this town's 11 casinos prepare for their busiest season, each is pulling out the stops to accommodate visitors with tight budgets.

Every gambling hall here is offering summer promotions to attract customers, such as Alexis DeJesus of Brigantine, who says he's on the hunt for competitive room rates, more activities along the Boardwalk, and additional rides at the Steel Pier for his 2-year-old daughter, Gianna.

"They need to be more competitive - at the top of their game," DeJesus, 27, said of the city's gambling palaces while he was visiting the Tropicana recently.

The economy, increased slots competition from Pennsylvania, and lower consumer discretionary spending have hurt Atlantic City's gambling revenue, resulting in a 15.7 percent year-to-date decrease compared with a year ago. Casino operators here say value is this summer's buzz word.

"Consumers, in general, right now are more mindful of value and quality," Borgata spokeswoman Noel Stevenson said. "We've noticed that guests are still seeking that sense of escapism and are looking to have some fun as long as they feel it's money well spent."

As a result, deals and packages are plentiful.

The Borgata starts Spa Week this Sunday and continues through next Friday, with specially priced room-and-spa packages starting at $210 plus tax. A Toccare Escape or Complete Immersion package will earn a customer a $25 complimentary gift card toward a purchase at Hugo Boss, La Perla, or Just Cavalli at the Shoppes at the Water Club, the Borgata's high-end mall. The Las Vegas-style casino also will offer guest-only access to its private beach.

For those who prefer poolside, the Borgata will debut its expanded pool areas next Friday, featuring 5,000 square feet of new deck space and an outdoor bar. Partygoers can enjoy VIP treatment at Mixx dance club for $50, which includes private table service and up to five cocktails.

The Tropicana began running value specials in April that will continue all summer, such as the Fiesta Buffet, which includes seafood, for $24.95. Tickets for the Broadway show Fame went on sale May 1 for $25 and will be discounted for select dates during the show's June 22-to-Sept. 9 run.

The casino has summer packages, starting at $85, that include a standard room, food and beverage specials, and show tickets. A "Bonus Book" will be given to anyone who joins the casino's player club or books a hotel room. The booklet contains discounts for many shops and restaurants throughout the Quarter and Tropicana.

"We feel with the state of the economy, everyone is really thinking about what they are spending," said Mary Tindall, vice president of marketing for the Tropicana, "and they really want a good value."

Resorts has hotel rates, both midweek and on weekends, that are lower than last summer's, according to spokesman Brian Cahill. He said there were dining packages for value seekers, including Pre Fixe menus at its two gourmet restaurants, Capriccio and Gallagher's Steakhouse.

Regulars say the seaside resort still has advantages over neighboring gambling competition - primarily slots parlors in Pennsylvania - that it needs to tout.

"It's got to get away from this image as just gambling," Kevin Barnett, 35, a job recruiter from Pompton Lakes, N.J., said recently as he played craps at the Borgata. "It should promote the beach and the Boardwalk more aggressively, and make it more fun."

The three Trump casinos are offering room-rate packages that combine show tickets, dining, spa treatments, and more. A "Trump Advantage Pass" with valuable discounts good at the Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, and Trump Marina will be offered all summer.

Two revue shows will run from late June to Sept. 6 for families seeking affordable entertainment. Tickets for Cirque Dreams Pandemonia, which opens June 24 at the Zanadu Theatre at the Taj Mahal, are on sale for $25 and $35. The magic show "Carnival of Wonders," starring Kalin, Jinger & Hobson, will open June 23 at Trump Plaza Theatre with tickets for $25.

"Since we are a drive-to market and people will not have to purchase airline tickets, we feel they may stay for a few days, maybe a week," said Paula Mauk, vice president of marketing for the Trump casinos. She said the Steel Pier would open again this summer with family rides and attractions.

Harrah's. "We're pushing experiences that customers would not necessarily find in a casino that is closer to their home, particularly in Philadelphia," said Jennifer Weissman, regional vice president of marketing for the four Harrah's casinos here - Bally's, Showboat, Caesars, and Harrah's Resort.

Weissman said that meant leveraging the casinos' distinct amenities: Bally's will have a $7.77 food-special menu and $10 table games all day every day this summer; Harrah's Resort will give new members to Harrah's players' club $500 in cash and a value book good for admission to the pool and complimentary food items at McCormick & Schmick's restaurant; Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars began a new therapy treatment on May 1 that offers organic seaweed at special "Spring Into Summer" rates, starting at $99, and good through May 31; and Showboat continues "Fat Saturdays" to the end of the month, with all-you-can-eat prime rib at Mansion Cafe for $19.99, free live music at the House of Blues lounge, and free admission to Club Worship nightclub. A production show with a Mardi Gras theme will start next month at the casino.

"If you like choice and variety, Atlantic City has it all," said Amanda Richardson, 42, of Jersey City, N.J., who recently spent the weekend here to attend a bachelorette party. "It's a nice change, and it's cheaper than New York. You get more bang for your buck."


Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley

at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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