That doesn’t mean that the brick-and-mortar casinos didn’t achieve some milestones of their own.
The AC casinos that are keeping the Boardwalk hopping include:
Those nine casinos generated $247.65 million in revenue for November, a 20 percent increase from the same period in 2017.
Record revenues are certainly worth celebrating, but its the events that led to generating that revenue we are highlighting here.
Here’s a look back at the top five AC casino headlines for the year and what’s in store for 2019.
1. Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino come to life
Two casinos coming back to life on the Boardwalk dominated NJ casino and gambling news for much of the year. Hard Rock Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino may have opened on the same day, but their lead up to the big day was entirely different.
Hard Rock documented its entire journey in the press. It courted the community, opened a preview center, and celebrated its 3,000th employee. It gutted the former Trump Taj Mahal, giving new life and a new look to the once ostentatious property.
Ocean Resort, on the other hand, kept its plans close to the vest almost until opening day. Well, most of its plans, anyway. The one thing Bruce Deifik, the owner of Ocean Resort, made very clear from day one was his intent to open a state-of-the-art sportsbook.
Other than that, though, we spent much of the time leading up to the opening speculating how the former Revel Casino would look.
The two properties stayed true to their character on opening day, June 28. One held an over-the-top opening with guitar smashing and Carrie Underwood. The other took a more quiet-celebratory approach.
Hard Rock Atlantic City took guitars and smashed them in an iconic opening ceremony. Ocean Resort cut a big red ribbon with Mark Wahlberg, Jaimie Foxx, and Diplo providing the entertainment.
Now, the two casinos are busy fighting for a piece of the market share. Atlantic City casino revenue is growing, but it appears the market is redistributing the revenue among the casinos — including the new ones.
Once the market completely settles into a new normal, it will be interesting to see if Atlantic City can continue to support all nine AC casinos.
Cautious optimism is the theme.
2. AC casinos add new sportsbooks and a new revenue stream
Exactly one month after PASPA was struck down by the Supreme Court, Borgata became the first AC casino to open a sportsbook.
Surprisingly, other casinos weren’t rushing to get their betting windows operational.
Of course, Ocean Resort (William Hill, now rebranded as Caesars) was ready to accept its first bet the minute it opened its doors on June 28. Even so, it would be another month before more casinos stuck their toes in the warm sports-betting waters.
Eventually, seven of the nine AC casinos would open a sportsbook by the end of the year. Most of the initial books were temporary, giving the casinos two opportunities to host a party.
An eighth, Hard Rock, is scheduled for an early 2019 opening. The only casino not scheduled to open a physical sportsbook is Caesars.
That doesn’t mean Caesars Entertainment doesn’t have a sports betting presence on the Boardwalk, though. Both Harrah’s and Bally’s accept sports wagers.
Since the launch of NJ sports betting, retail sportsbooks earned $34,401,715 in revenue. To earn that figure, the sportsbooks took in more than $388,549,047 worth of wagers on their properties.
That translates into more food and beverage revenue, more entertainment revenue, and overall, more activity on the Boardwalk. These are all good indicators for a prosperous New Year for AC casinos.
3. Casino celebrations liven up the Boardwalk
At a time when Atlantic City was preparing to welcome two new casinos, AC’s very first casino, Resorts Atlantic City was celebrating its 40th anniversary.
The famed Beach Ball Drop, a live performance by the Village People and fireworks served to honor Resorts’ epic accomplishment. Resorts has long held a position near the bottom of the revenue leaderboard. Even so, it weathered the economic downturn and the closing of five casinos.
The birthday party for Resorts was more than a reason to have some cake; it marked the beginning of AC’s most anticipated summer in a long time.
Part of the anticipation was the promise of 365 days of live performances.
Hard Rock, the global music-themed brand, is determined to help make AC a resort destination.
Its commitment to set “the tone for a new era of entertainment in Atlantic City” undoubtedly helped remind tourists that the Boardwalk is the place to be.
4. AC casinos sharing the wealth
Atlantic City casinos have been posting some strong revenue figures. Accordingly, record revenue often leads to record jackpot distribution.
Through Dec. 15, AC casinos distributed 359 jackpots worth $37,621,422 to New Jersey gamblers. That figure represents a 165.9 percent increase over the number of jackpots doled out in all of 2017.
The Division of Gaming Enforcement‘s jackpot report includes jackpots of $50,000 or more. In 2017, the threshold for reporting was $75,000. The change in how jackpots are reported might account for some of the increase, but surely not all of it.
The 359 jackpots were distributed to the following AC casinos:
- Borgata (89)
- Caesars (66)
- Golden Nugget (50)
- Tropicana (36)
- Harrah’s (33)
- Hard Rock (18)
- Resorts (17)
- Betfair – now FanDuel (13)
- Bally’s (12)
- SugarHouse online casino (11)
- playMGM (9)
- Ocean Resort (5)
Two of those jackpots came in at over $1 million.
Borgata wrote a check for $1,672,498.68 in July. A lucky pull on a Wheel of Fortune Pink Diamond machine activated the lights and sounds indicating a big win.
In September, Harrah’s coughed up $2,481,940.75 when a player sat down at a Wheel of Fortune Crystal Red machine and made the perfect spin.
AC casino revenue shows no signs of slowing down. If that holds, expect more jackpots to make their way into the hands of New Jersey gamblers in 2019.
5. AC casinos spreading their wings
As two NJ gambling sites get ready to launch in neighboring Pennsylvania, it is hard not to think about what it means for AC casinos. This is even more relevant as gaming expansion remains a topic of discussion in the region.
Two AC casinos have applied to launch Pennsylvania online casinos in the Keystone State: Borgata and Golden Nugget. And while the application is strictly for online operation, the casinos and Atlantic City stand to benefit.
Atlantic City is once again staking claim to the title of “America’s Playground.” It will no longer be enough to have a strong presence on the Boardwalk.
Brand recognition outside of the Garden State is important, and the casinos that spread their wings into other states will benefit the most.
When people head to Atlantic City to “play,” they will most likely choose to stay and play with the casinos they know. Ironically, a focus on brand recognition beyond AC may be just what the city and the casinos need to keep growing.
Yes, revenue is at record highs, but not high enough to alleviate the cannibalization that is happening. Borgata and Golden Nugget have the right idea to spread the wings and build their brand outside of AC to solidify their standing on the Boardwalk.
Looking ahead to 2019
As more and more players take to NJ gambling sites, casinos will look for innovative ways to get gamblers to their properties. Expect more parties, promotions and pomp and circumstance.
More than likely by the end of next summer, AC and its now nine casinos will settle into their positions on the revenue leaderboard. By then, we may get an indication if the Boardwalk can sustain all of them going forward.
For now, though, AC casinos will continue to post record revenue numbers, and each casino will continue to do its part to secure its market share.