Gaming panelists gloomy about Atlantic City's future

A file photo of Bally's Casino in Atlantic City. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
A file photo of Bally's Casino in Atlantic City. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 22, 2014

ATLANTIC CITY - The first casino opened here almost 36 years ago. Since then, casino operators have raked in $26.8 billion in gross operating profit, including eight straight years through 2007 with operating profit that topped $1 billion.

Yet, at the East Coast Gaming Congress on Tuesday, one politician after another spoke of how making Atlantic City clean and safe was still a key to recovery.

Except for one.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D., Essex) said that all the things now being done to improve Atlantic City should have been done years ago.

Atlantic City should have seen a renaissance, Caputo said during a panel discussion at the Borgata.

"It should have been the Paris of the Eastern Seaboard," Caputo said. "It didn't occur. The reason it didn't happen: The companies themselves were most concerned about profit, market share, immediate goals, rather than having a vision about the future."

Meadowlands backer

Caputo is a strong proponent of allowing a casino in the Meadowlands, going so far as to say that it's the only way to save the industry in New Jersey, given the likelihood of a casino in Orange County, N.Y., near wealthy North Jersey residents and New York City.

He was alone in his view.

Atlantic City should have been made safe and clean years ago, agreed State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D., Cape May), but it's not too late.

Republicans and Democrats need to work together to make sure that what Van Drew likes to call "the lighter, brighter, better, safer, nicer, cleaner, friendlier Atlantic City" is achieved.

"We're still working on that," but it's too important for the region not to, he said.

Even if Atlantic City uses the window of opportunity it has to turn itself into a destination resort, industry panelists said, if only for conventions before New York opens casinos, there are still too many casinos there.

Likely casino sales

Among those likely to be sold or closed, Showboat and Trump Plaza are often the first to be mentioned. But buyers are hard to find.

The Cordish Cos. looked at buying Trump Plaza several years ago because of its connection to the Baltimore company's Tanger Outlets in the center of town. Cordish passed because the casino hotel was not economically viable even at a relatively cheap price, said Joe Weinberg, Cordish's managing partner.

James Allen, of Florida-based Seminole Gaming, who started his career in 1979 in Atlantic City, had a disheartening report for the industry. In the last six months, he said, he had friends check out hotel rooms in every casino in Atlantic City.

"The product that we are offering," he said, "no longer competes."


hbrubaker@phillynews.com

267-443-3516

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