[toc]About one year ago, the New Jersey casino industry looked like a haggard hold-’em player, nerves frayed and his many losses plainly evident on his face as he slumped over a meager chip stack.
During the summer of 2016, UNITE HERE Local 54 was on strike and the Trump Taj Mahal, the last casino-hotel from the city’s golden years, was bleeding revenue as owner Carl Icahn stood toe to toe against Union President Bob McDevitt and McDevitt’s faithful laborers.
By October, the Taj’s end was in sight. Halfway into the month, the property closed its doors. This was the last verse of an economic dirge that started when the Atlantic Club Casino closed in January 2014 and three more casinos followed within 12 months.
However, several big transactions during the past six months and healthy casino revenue indicate that whatever stormy weather settled over Atlantic City has now dissipated.
Here’s how the Bergen County Record’s John Brennan put it in an May 6 article picked up by USA Today:
“This week, the sound of heavy equipment and hundreds of construction workers echoed near the city’s fabled boardwalk. A new playground stood ready for when the local elementary school let out. Property taxes have been reduced. For the first time in a long time, there is something to be optimistic about in Atlantic City.”
Atlantic City’s credit rating increased in March
The first sign of growth on the horizon came in March when Atlantic City’s credit rating rose from CC to CCC.
While the grade itself isn’t particularly flattering, the fact that Atlantic City’s finances were steady enough to warrant an upgraded rating was a great sign.
Experts noted that this increased credit rating was most likely linked to the state’s takeover of the city’s finances, a move that reaped an immediate reward: the $72 million tax settlement with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
Hard Rock International announces Taj purchase
Less than a month after the city’s credit rating was upgraded, global powerhouse Hard Rock International announced plans to purchase the Taj. The company plans to implement a $375 million transformation of the aging property.
Initial ideas from Hard Rock indicate a complete overhaul of guest rooms, along with a renovation of the property’s Pacific Ave. and Boardwalk exterior.
The new casino is scheduled to feature 2,400 slots and 130 table games.
Earlier this month, Gov. Chris Christie announced MGM and Caesars intend to “co-develop a new project” in Atlantic City.
The parties didn’t reveal many details about the project. That it will be a casino is just a matter of speculation, as is any potential location.
“We are going to be working with our friends at Caesars to find out how we can further move Atlantic City along,” said MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO James Murren at a press conference. “It’s not going to be easy, but we are up for the challenge.”