Is the Showboat Casino coming back to life?

Property owner Bart Blatstein is at least seriously considering the idea. He appeared before the Casino Control Commission on March 18 and was granted preliminary approval to pursue a casino license.

The Philadelphia developer is not offering much in the way of details. But according to an Associated Press article, he believes the Atlantic City market can handle one more casino.

“There are 104 casinos in Las Vegas in the middle of nowhere. We have nine casinos well within a short trip from one-third of the nation’s population. The market is looking for something different.”

Reviving former casino sites is becoming an ongoing theme along the Uptown section of the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Showboat sits between the two newest additions — Hard Rock Atlantic City and Ocean Resort. The rebranded Trump Taj Mahal and Revel, respectively, both reopened on June 28 of last year.

But are 10 casinos a good idea for AC right now?

What we know about the Showboat casino plans

Caesars Entertainment closed the Showboat in August 2014 for not being “profitable enough.” The company placed a deed restriction on the property that it could not operate as a casino for 10 years. That restriction expires in 2024.

But Blatstein found a loophole around it.

According to the AP, the casino will not be part of the existing structure.

The plans are to build it on a vacant lot that Blatstein owns next to the Showboat. The former outdoor volleyball court is not included in the deed restriction. The two buildings can easily be connected.

Table games, slot machines, sports betting, and yes, NJ online gambling are all expected to be part of the proposed casino.

Blatstein plans on operating it through a third undisclosed party. And that company would need to be approved for a license.

10 casinos in Atlantic City: good or bad?

But there is an elephant in the room. How many casinos are too many for Atlantic City?

The opening of Hard Rock and Ocean brought fresh excitement to this previously struggling casino town. While the excitement was real, some see a downside.

According to the AP story, six of the seven casinos that were operating before the Hard Rock and Ocean joined the market won less from gamblers in 2018 over the previous year.

Once the gambling industry started expanding in nearby PennsylvaniaMaryland, and New York, AC was hit really hard.

Showboat was one of four properties to close its doors in 2014. Trump Plaza, the Atlantic Club, and Revel were the others. Trump Taj Mahal finally closed its doors in October 2016.

As such, the AC market fell from 12 casinos to seven in a matter of two years. Trump Plaza and Atlantic Club remain vacant with no plans to reopen.

At Ocean, the name is different but the story remains the same.

The casino portion of the business continues to struggle. In the meantime, the property is in the process of switching ownership once again, this time to Luxor Capital Group.

Showboat gambling in AC: then and now

But to understand the wishes of Showboat, you have to look back at its history and the history of the AC market.

The Showboat originally opened with a 60,000-square-foot casino back in 1987 and continued to offer slots and table games all the way up to its 2014 closing.

Blatstein purchased and reopened the property as a non-gaming hotel on July 8, 2016.

When Caesars Entertainment closed the property, NJ online gambling was still in its infancy. And the launch of legal sports betting in New Jersey remained an ongoing legal battle.

Fast forward to 2019, and NJ online casino revenue soars to the tune of back-to-back $30 million months.

The sports betting handle for the first two months of this year is at more than $700 million and climbing. With mobile sports betting accounted for the majority of that total, there are obviously new avenues to generate revenue.

Online gambling makes 10 casinos seem possible

So the upside is that gambling sites in New Jersey have allowed casinos to grow despite increased competition.

Case in point is Golden Nugget. On any other day without its NJ online casino, Golden Nugget would likely be on its last legs. Its land-based casino revenue falls way behind Borgata.

But with its market-leading casino app, Golden Nugget finds an edge among the nine casinos.

In January, AC casinos generated $230 million in revenue and 21 percent of that came from online gambling.

Bart and his big AC plans

Bringing back gambling is just part of Blatstein’s vision for the Showboat.

Last summer, around the time Hard Rock and Ocean opened, the property completed a series of renovations that included the addition of 479 guest rooms and a renovated restaurant.

Blatstein also is in the process of converting 400 of the property’s hotel rooms to 264 market-rate apartments and rentals. There is no update as to when the project will be completed.

There also is talk of converting the Showboat’s former bus depot into a family entertainment center.

But with Blatstein, the biggest question is when.

For example, Blatstein also owns The Playground that connects to Caesars via a skywalk over the Boardwalk.

He reopened the property in 2015, but things have not exactly played out according to the $50 million transformation plansT Street, a row of bars with different themes, was short lived.

And the complex that was once home to an Apple StoreTiffany’s, and Gucci remains mostly vacant.

Blatstein is clearly invested in Atlantic City and willing to take a gamble. But time will tell whether or not his big gambling plans come to fruition.

Bill Gelman

About

Bill Gelman is a veteran sports writer based just outside of Philadelphia and not too far from the Jersey Shore. Bill spends time in Atlantic City writing about casino openings and expansions, special events and world championship boxing at Boardwalk Hall. He is now adding NJ sports betting and online gambling to the mix.