Atlantic City seeks to remake gambling reputation

Pedestrians on the Atlantic City N.J. boardwalk look up at the newly renovated facade of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort on Monday, April 8, 2013. Atlantic City tourism officials unveiled a new $20 million advertising campaign on Tuesday, April 9, 2013, designed to bring more visitors to the seaside gambling resort. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
Pedestrians on the Atlantic City N.J. boardwalk look up at the newly renovated facade of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort on Monday, April 8, 2013. Atlantic City tourism officials unveiled a new $20 million advertising campaign on Tuesday, April 9, 2013, designed to bring more visitors to the seaside gambling resort. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) (AP)
Posted: April 09, 2013

Despite gaming revenue's precipitous decline at Atlantic City's casinos in the last six years, glamorous images of gamblers behind poker and blackjack tables will be included in the 2013 campaign of the Atlantic City Alliance, which is charged with rebranding the Shore town and its new tourism district.

The addition of gaming ads - one titled, "Your Tables Are Ready;" another, "Bring Your Game Face and Your Poker Face" - is a shift from last year's inaugural campaign. The alliance works in partnership with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and was created as part of Gov. Christie's five-year revitalization plan for the ailing resort.

The ads also are timely - Maryland's three casinos will be adding table games starting Thursday.

"Last year, we famously omitted gaming," said alliance president Liza Cartmell, who previewed two of the new TV commercials Tuesday at the Hotel Monaco in Center City. "Now, we are reinserting it.

"Gaming is an attraction - one of the things we offer," Cartmell said. "We can't miss out on a very huge, significant market. There are new gamers out there."

The new TV ads with this year's theme, "DO AC Now," will air starting Monday,, and new billboards (on the Vine Street Expressway and I-95 here) and print ads will be unveiled in the alliance's three target cities: Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore.

Cartmell said she will hit Baltimore Thursday with her presentation, and will do the same in North Jersey Friday for the New York media.The campaign's official name remains "Do Anything, Do Everything, Do AC," and Cartmell focused on what's in store at the Shore for the summer and the rest of the year, post-Hurricane Sandy. She said the storm closed Atlantic City casinos for at least five days, and forced the alliance to devote significant marketing dollars to altering the perception that the famous Boardwalk had been wiped out.

Among events Atlantic City will host this year, she said:

A Boardwalk Wine Promenade May 4-5, "to market Atlantic City as a great food and wine destination;"

The World Championship of Sand Sculpting June 13-30;

The Atlantic City Offshore Grand Prix June 23,

And the big one, the one that's returning after leaving for Las Vegas - the Miss America Pageant and its festivities, which return to the resort Sept. 3-15.

Last year, a new state-run tourism district debuted in Atlantic City, with the backing of Christie and the New Jersey Legislature. Its aim is to spruce up the Boardwalk and vacant lots, change the city's image as being unsafe, and improve infrastructure.

Cartmell touted some 2012 successes helped, in part, by the campaign. Three key metrics were up year-over-year from 2011, she said: casino parking fees (up 1.2 percent ); hotel-occupancy fees (up 14.8 percent), and luxury-tax revenue from liquor and entertainment tickets (up 13 percent).

The resort needs all the help it can get. Last week, two rating agencies - Standard & Poor's and Moody's - gave Atlantic City a negative outlook.

Increasing competition, declining gambling revenue that will make it difficult for Shore casinos to repay debt, a still sluggish local economy, Revel's bankruptcy filing, and continued devaluations of Atlantic City's existing casinos will make for a tough 2013, the agencies said.

"The negative outlook reflects our concerns about weaker-than-projected debt service coverage in the next two years," S&P analyst John Sugden wrote in an April 3 report. "Lower automobile traffic to Atlantic City, potential declines in tourism due to Superstorm Sandy, and weaker performance by the casinos could lower revenues and translate into diminished coverage."

Revel, which marked its first birthday April 2, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 25 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Camden.

Cartmell said she was optimistic that Revel, built at a cost of $2.4 billion and front and center in some of this year's ads, will emerge stronger from its bankruptcy restructuring.

"Revel will get rid of much of its debt burden and be able to compete more aggressively with having new people and marketing dollars," she said.

Cartmell cited the need for better ways to shuttle conventioneers from Philadelphia International Airport to Atlantic City and for boosting midweek conventions there.

But other tourism indicators don't bode well. Data from the South Jersey Transportation Authority for 2012 showed a 2 percent decline in car visits (via the Pleasantville Plaza tolls), a 22 percent decline in casino-bound bus passengers, and a 5.4 percent decline in rail passengers since 2005.

In late 2006, Pennsylvania opened the first of what are now 11 casinos, which many see as one of the biggest reasons for Atlantic City's decline in gambling customers.

The Moody's report cited A.C. casino revenues as down 40 percent since 2007, and down 13.2 percent in calendar year 2012 alone.


Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

 

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