A decade later, Borgata still a winner

Aerial view of Borgata, whose style encouraged other Atlantic City casinos to reinvest in their properties. Yet some analysts worry that A.C.'s future is in doubt.
Aerial view of Borgata, whose style encouraged other Atlantic City casinos to reinvest in their properties. Yet some analysts worry that A.C.'s future is in doubt. (GREGG KOHL)
Posted: July 04, 2013

ATLANTIC CITY - Despite pounding competition from casinos in Pennsylvania, the Borgata has flourished in an otherwise fiercely challenged and slumping market.

Borgata's opening a decade ago - the casino celebrated its 10th anniversary Tuesday - transformed the Atlantic City skyline and attracted a younger customer to the resort. It pushed the concept of nongaming attractions as moneymakers, a key attribute of Las Vegas' enduring appeal.

The property features classy nightclubs, celebrity-chef restaurants, and high-end retail in a seamless flow. Its cocktail waitresses are the Borgata Babes, another nod to Vegas.

The Borgata style encouraged other Atlantic City casinos to reinvest in their properties, resulting in some refurbished rooms and new towers at Resorts, the Taj Mahal, and Harrah's Resort.

"The Borgata's impact has been profound," said Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group L.L.C. of Linwood. "It changed the conventional wisdom in Atlantic City from one that said the casino was the only cash register that counts."

Borgata's impact, however, seems to be benefiting only Borgata.

It generated $612.7 million in total gaming revenue in 2012 and has been the revenue leader every year since it opened. Most of the other casinos saw double-digit declines last year. Borgata was down only 6 percent.

Since 2006, revenue from gambling in Atlantic City has fallen to about $3 billion from a peak of $5.2 billion.

To some analysts, the very future of Atlantic City is in doubt.

"Had things happened differently, Borgata would be remembered as a difference-maker - like the Mirage in Las Vegas," said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"But Atlantic City's future is so uncertain that it's difficult to assess what ultimate impact the Borgata had on the flow of casino history on the East Coast."

Nonetheless, it is worth pondering how stricken Atlantic City would be today if Borgata hadn't arrived a decade ago. "Atlantic City would be in far worse shape today had the Borgata not been built," Pollock said.

Before Borgata, nongaming revenue in Atlantic City was less than 5 percent of total annual revenue. By 2011, that figure rose to $1.2 billion, or 27 percent, according to figures from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Borgata's $294 million in nongaming revenue last year was nearly a quarter of all nongaming revenue among the dozen casinos here. It was more than 30 percent of all cash food and beverage revenue.

As the most technology-advanced casino, Borgata was the first in Atlantic City to introduce coinless slot machines and to add e-gaming from a hotel room using a TV remote control.

It continues to plow money into its infrastructure. Borgata was built at a cost of $1.1 billion in 2003. Since then, it has invested about $1 billion in upgrades.

Schwartz, author of Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, said of Borgata: "Its design brought a level of sophistication to the city that wasn't there before. It prompted a few expansions and moved the city away from its slot-house roots."

Borgata employs the largest staff - 5,500.

Pollock called Borgata's opening "one of the most defining moments for Atlantic City, and [it] changed the face of gaming on the East Coast. . . . The old business model, under which many properties were built, was that Atlantic City was the most convenient place in the Eastern United States to gamble. That business model will never work again."

Industry observers say the casino has just the right mix of offerings to lure every demographic, particularly young professionals from New York City and Philadelphia.

"We listened to the Atlantic City rejecters and wanted to provide them with what they were looking for - experiences that were of a resort destination, Las Vegas-centric, with the entertainment, spas, and dining," said Joe Lupo, Borgata senior vice president of operations.

"We've increased market share every year since we opened," he said, "and shown that you need a product that's a differentiator."

Assemblyman John Amodeo (R., Atlantic) said: "When you look at where it's situated, off the beaten path of the Boardwalk, for them to survive, they had to sell a product that, once you parked, you would not leave. They created their own world of tourism and gaming out there" in the Marina District.

And it is a world apart.

Consider the lush, $2.4 billion Revel, which unabashedly modeled itself after the vertical, golden-hued Borgata, but went into bankruptcy 10 months after opening.

"They do a very good job. We respect them as a competitor," said Revel interim CEO Jeff Hartmann.

"By itself, the Borgata couldn't stem the tide of history," said Schwartz of UNLV. "In the middle of the decade, it looked like Borgata was leading Atlantic City to an exciting new future, with several more developments along similar lines planned.

"Instead, the proliferation of gaming throughout the Northeast, particularly in Pennsylvania, has shrunk Atlantic City's revenues and visitor counts."


Contact Suzette Parmley

at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com,

or follow on Twitter @SuzParmley.

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