The latest Atlantic City casino revenue numbers are out, and the main headline remains the same:

Eleven straight months of revenue growth. And here are three reasons why:

To be fair, the two new casinos did impact first-quarter numbers released on Wednesday by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. Gross operating profit for the industry decreased 29.6% for the quarter to $87 million.

But factor into the equation that more casinos mean less profit to go around, and the report is clearly a sign of AC being in flux.

But can Atlantic City’s nine casinos keep the momentum going?

With Memorial Day Weekend days away, business is not about to slow down. (Sports betting in New Jersey, however, could see a dip until NFL season comes around.)

There is still plenty of room for improvement. Addressing these five topics could be huge to the next phase of Atlantic City’s growth.

1. The former Trump Plaza must go

The name is gone, but the building formerly known as Trump Plaza remains. And it sticks out like an eyesore. 

It has been abandoned since 2014 — the year four NJ casinos closed. Five years later, it remains one of two properties showing no signs of life (The Atlantic Club is the other).

For now, the next chapter of Trump Plaza’s ending is on hold. It’s no secret that Icahn Enterprises would like to demolish the property. But if and when that does happen, what could replace it?

Putting another casino there is a bad idea. Ocean Casino — the former Revel (another property to close in ’14) — reopened on June 27 and got off to a bad start. We’re talking $23 million in the red.

And as the Q1 revenue results show, AC casinos are already seeing the effects of two additions.

When Trump Plaza opened in 1984, casino gambling in key Atlantic City feeder markets (Pennsylvania and New York included) did not exist. Today, the old brick-and-mortar concept no longer works.

But having prime real estate at Boardwalk Central does open the door to endless non-gambling opportunities.

If Atlantic City is going to be more than a summer destination, adding a mixed-use hotel, dining and entertainment destination makes sense. Visitors need things to do beyond slots and table games.

And going the family-friendly route, sort of like the neighboring Rainforest Cafe, wouldn’t be a bad idea.

2. Close the deal on Atlantic Club

Unlike Trump Plaza, The Atlantic Club (aka Golden Nugget, Bally’s Grand and The Hilton) sits alone in the Downbeach section of town. When talking about the future of this property, the all-too-familiar storyline is “deal falls through.”

The most recent occurred in October 2018. A promising deal with nearby Stockton University collapsed when the university’s attempt to purchase the property failed.

In 2017, the proposed water park deal didn’t pan out.

While closing the deal seems to be a difficult task, the reality is Stockton’s Atlantic City campus is within walking distance. And with student apartments included, building something that caters to the college crowd (including those under 21) and their families is a no-brainer.

A buyer with deep pockets could make it happen.

3. Show me the Showboat

The Showboat, also part of the Atlantic City casino crash of ’14, reopened as a non-gaming hotel two years later. Current owner Bart Blatstein continues to offer up some interesting concepts for the property.

The latest is the potential return of the Showboat Casino on the vacant land next door. Blatstein was granted preliminary approval to pursue a casino license in March. Not much in the way of details have come out since.

showboat casino vacant lot atlantic city

Plans to convert hotel rooms into apartments are on the table, too.

But the former casino floor is prime for a makeover. Take a look:

The old Nickel Poker and Mr. Cashman signs are still hanging. The empty floor is used for special events. Otherwise, it serves as a trip down memory lane complete with the old casino cashier windows.

Thanks to a deed restriction, gambling is not permitted on the current property. But there is no rule against converting the space into a sports bar.

Sports betting is generating new life in AC. Why not take advantage of it and cater to sports fans? Plus all 14 NJ mobile sports betting apps will work from inside the Showboat.

Or, maybe take things a step further by adding multiple entertainment and dining destinations.

Showboat has the advantage of attracting customers checking out the newer side of town. With the right concept, this 32-year-old property that once had its own bowling alley could become a true non-gaming destination that the Boardwalk desperately needs.

4. Caesars’ properties need some TLC

Whether or not Caesars Entertainment is sold may be the bigger story.

But in AC, it’s clear Caesars and Bally’s need to be the center of attention. The properties are celebrating their respective 40th anniversaries this year. Despite the staying power, keeping up with the times is key.

Both properties have their set of loyal customers, but what about the new players coming to the Jersey Shore? Many are seeking something unique and different from the basic casino experience available in neighboring states.

Hard Rock AC has the international brand recognition that blends A-list entertainers with the casino experience. Good luck finding a day when there is not at least some form of live entertainment on the property.

And despite its early struggles, Ocean has a wow factor in terms of a true resort experience. Plus, it’s a much newer building.

One year in, even more changes are on the horizon. Consider it one of several big events to look forward to this summer.

Bally’s Wild Wild West Casino seems to at least be on the right track. Sometime next month, Bally’s new retail sportsbook, aka The Book, is slated to open.

 

And with 15,228 square feet of sports betting space, it will be by far the biggest in Atlantic City. And there is no doubt a lot of first-time visitors will be checking out the fan caves.

Building on this momentum is the key to future growth.

Caesars, the company’s flagship brand, could use something new and exciting of its own. Has anyone noticed it’s the only property in town without a sportsbook?

Meanwhile, at Harrah’s Resort …

Sister property Harrah’s Resort has the right balance of what an Atlantic City casino needs. The 2,000-plus “hottest slot machines and video reel games” is certainly a strong starting point.

But the offerings extend well beyond the casino floor:

  • The Pool doubles as a tropical oasis (cabanas and bungalows, included) and one of the hottest nightclubs on the East Coast.
  • Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center features 125,000 square feet of meeting space.
  • The Book, the permanent version, is 3,800 square feet with plush seating for NFL viewing.

And while Harrah’s year-to-date land-based casino revenue is down 11.8% for the year (based on the April numbers released by the DGE), the property still generated $99,259,330.

That’s good enough for second best among AC properties. Borgata remains well in front of the pack with $213,812,774.

By comparison, Caesars came in at $81,465,818 (down 9.7%) while Bally’s finished at the bottom of the pack with $53,859,117 (down 7.1%).

5. Expand the AC airport

Atlantic City has its share of day trippers, but some coming from further distances arrive via Atlantic City International Airport.

Size-wise, it’s on the smaller scale with 180,000-square-foot terminal and 10 gates. And there is only one airline coming in and out — Spirit.

If Atlantic City is serious about becoming a year-round destination, it makes sense to expand the airport and have bigger carriers such as American and Southwest sending passengers into AC.

Right now, Philadelphia International remains the best bet.

However, it’s highly unlikely we will see AC International expand anytime soon. The South Jersey Transportation Authority currently runs the airport. And that scenario is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Back in March, the Press of Atlantic City mentioned the possibility of the Port Authority taking over the site. On paper, expanding flights and aviation services in Atlantic County would seem like a win-win.

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.