Open, Closed And Repurposed Atlantic City Casinos

casinos in New Jersey open closed

Atlantic City has seen a dozen casinos open up over the 40-plus years New Jersey casino gambling has been legal.

Four of them ceased operations in 2014 and a fifth closed in 2016. At least one of those properties is now a non-gaming hotel and two others opened under different names. Several plans for the other two have been thrown at the wall, but none have stuck.

The AC casino industry now boasts nine active casinos. It has had its share of ups and downs, including several occasions when all casinos closed due to either government shutdowns or global pandemics.

Below you’ll find brief histories of all 12 casinos in Atlantic City and an explanation of where they are today. Plus, we take a closer look at the most recent and longest casino shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 pandemic shuts down Atlantic City casinos

On March 16, 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered lights out at Atlantic City casinos.

For just the fifth time in the history of legal New Jersey casino gambling, all casinos closed in an effort to contain the coronavirus, also called COVID-19.

Shortly after the March 16 closure, Murphy said AC casinos would remain closed until it is safe for them to reopen.

“It is no longer time for business as usual. This is real. Stop believing folks who say this isn’t real.”

How long were Atlantic City casinos closed?

The exact date for reopening would be 108 days later on July 2. This makes the coronavirus closure the longest shutdown of NJ gambling in the state’s history.

Atlantic City casinos reopened with several health and safety restrictions, including a 25% capacity limit.

Most Atlantic City casinos reopened on July 2 and July 3 before the holiday weekend. However, Borgata’s planned reopening of July 6 was canceled. The casino chose to stay closed after news came that indoor dining would not resume as planned.

Borgata would eventually reopen but nearly a month after the other eight casinos on July 26. Indoor dining resumed at 25% capacity on Sept. 4.

The situation slightly improved on Feb. 5, 2021. Atlantic City casinos and restaurants increased operating capacity to 35%.

By May, Murphy announced his most aggressive step yet regarding the reopening of Atlantic City casinos and restaurants. Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the Garden State lifted indoor capacity restrictions.  And those who are vaccinated no longer need to wear masks.

 

AC casinos forced to close before

AC casinos closed five times since gambling began in 1978. Three closures were related to hurricanes and one due to a government shutdown:

  • 1985: Hurricane Gloria
  • 2006: Government shutdown (three days)
  • 2011: Hurricane Irene (three days)
  • 2012: Hurricane Sandy (five days)
  • 2020: COVID-19 pandemic (108 days)

Operating New Jersey casinos

Bally’s

Bally’s Atlantic City opened in 1979 at the corner of Park Place and the Boardwalk. The property featured two casinos with more than 220,000 square feet of gaming space and more than 5,000 slot machines.

However, with Caesars Entertainment merging with Eldorado Resorts, Bally’s and Wild Wild West Casino  parted ways. The former was sold to Twin River Worldwide Holdings, now Bally’s Corp. The latter is now part of the neighboring Caesars Atlantic City.

The sale of Bally’s was completed in November, and the name is staying put.

Borgata

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened in Atlantic City in 2003. It has been the market’s top-grossing casino property ever since. Borgata was originally a partnership between MGM Resorts and Boyd Gaming. MGM bought out Boyd’s 50% interest in 2016.

The property features a 2,000-room hotel and a 161,000-square-foot casino with close to 3,500 slot machines and more than 250 table games. It is also home to the premier poker room on the East Coast.

Borgata is home to not one but two retail sportsbooks. The BetMGM Sportsbook & Bar and the Borgata Race & Sports Book are located next to each other, but the latter is the only one spot in AC that allows horse betting.

The Water Club at Borgata, an 800-room boutique hotel, was added in 2008.

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Caesars Atlantic City

Caesars Atlantic City first opened as the Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City in 1979. The company bought an 11-story Howard Johnson’s Regency Motor Hotel on the property and renovated it to include seven more floors and a 52,000-square-foot casino. When it opened, it was just the second legal casino in Atlantic City.

In 1983, the company added the name Caesars and it became Caesars Boardwalk Regency. In 1987, Caesars renamed the property Caesars Atlantic City. The casino expanded its gaming floor and added two more hotel towers during the next 20 years.

The property now has more than 1,100 rooms and 145,000 square feet of gaming space, featuring more than 3,000 slot machines and 135 table games.

With the sale of Bally’s complete, Caesars AC is now home to the largest sportsbook in the resort town.

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Golden Nugget Atlantic City

Golden Nugget Atlantic City was originally built by Hilton Hotels. As construction was wrapping up, the company was denied a gambling license. It sold the complex to partner Donald Trump and the property opened in 1985 as Trump’s Castle. Trump renamed it Trump Marina in 1997.

Houston-based hospitality and entertainment company Landry’s, Inc. bought the property in 2011. Landry’s changed its name to Golden Nugget Atlantic City and spent $150 million on renovations.

Golden Nugget Atlantic City now contains almost 75,000 square feet of gaming space and 728 hotel rooms.

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Harrah’s

Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City was the Atlantic City Marina District’s original hotel and casino. It is also the flagship property under the Harrah’s brand.

The property opened in November 1980 as Harrah’s Marina Resort. It was the first casino in Atlantic City not on the Boardwalk.

It opened with a 506-room Harbor Tower. A new all-suite Atrium Tower premiered in 1986. In 1997, the property constructed the 16-story Marina Tower. In 2002, the 25-story Bayview Tower debuted. Finally, in 2008 came the addition of the Waterfront Tower, along with a new pool and spa.

The casino has been expanded to feature 177,000 square feet of gaming space, with more than 5,500 slots and video poker games. It also has close to 140 table games and a 40-table poker room.

Resorts

Resorts Casino Hotel became Atlantic City’s first legal casino when it opened in May 1978. It was originally built on land that housed two three-story wooden Quaker rooming houses. The casino and hotel grew in 2004 with the addition of a 27-story hotel tower.

Renovations in 2011 saw Resorts converted to a Roaring Twenties-themed property. Resorts now boasts 80,000 square feet of gaming space with more than 1,500 slot machines and 70 table games.

The property also includes a 5,000-square-foot DraftKings Sportsbook located just off the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

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Tropicana

The bones of the Tropicana Casino & Resort Atlantic City are made up of the original Ambassador Hotel built back in 1919. The historic hotel closed in the early 1970s. Ramada bought it in 1978. In 1981, Ramada rebuilt the property into Tropicana Atlantic City, a 521-room hotel and casino on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Tropicana expanded with a second hotel tower and an amusement center called Tivoli Pier in 1988. The property changed its name to Tropworld Casino and Entertainment Resort. In 1996, a new 604-room hotel tower opened, Tivoli Pier closed, and the entire property was renovated. It then took on the name Tropicana Casino & Resort Atlantic City.

The property underwent further expansion and more renovations in 2004. At that time, The Quarter at Tropicana, an old-Havana themed shopping mall, opened up.

Tropicana, or the Trop as it’s known locally, now boasts three floors of gaming with more than 3,000 slot machines and 135 table games. There are also some 2,400 hotel rooms on the property. Plus, Tropicana acquired The Chelsea in 2017, a 330-room boutique hotel next door.

The casino was an Eldorado Resorts company, but the Caesars Entertainment merger puts Tropicana under the Caesars umbrella.

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New Atlantic City casinos

Ocean Casino Resort

Plans to build the Revel Casino Resort on the Atlantic City Boardwalk property across from the Showboat Casino Hotel began in 2007. A $2 billion casino hotel with two-700-foot towers was expected to be completed in 2010. Financial troubles and construction slowdowns plagued the project and the opening date was pushed back several times.

Revel opened on April 2, 2012. Operators filed for bankruptcy within a year. The hotel and casino shut down in September 2014. Florida developer Glenn Straub bought it out of bankruptcy court for $82 million in 2015. Straub had difficulties obtaining the necessary state and local permits to reopen. After rebranding the property TEN, he pushed back relaunch dates several times.

At one time, the property contained 1,400 hotel rooms and as much as 130,000 square feet of gaming floor space.

In late 2017, rumors started to churn that Straub was considering selling the former Revel. Those rumors proved to be true when in January 2018, word came that the casino had been sold to Colorado developer AC Ocean Walk.

The property opened as Ocean Resort Casino on June 28 and was one of the first casinos on the Boardwalk to have a sportsbook.

In early 2019, the casino was once again sold, this time to Luxor Capital Investments. The casino was rebranded to Ocean Casino Resort and has since gained market share.

Hard Rock Atlantic City

Built at a cost of more than $1 billion, Trump Taj Mahal first opened in 1990 and was the largest casino in the world at the time. It was the top-grossing casino in Atlantic City prior to the opening of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in 2003.

However, Trump Taj Mahal went through numerous bankruptcy proceedings and ownership changes over its more than 25 years in operation.

Trump Taj Mahal closed down on Oct. 10, 2016, in the middle of a labor dispute.

The property was sold to Hard Rock International in 2017 and went through a $500 million renovation. It reopened as Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City in June 2018, quickly becoming one of the top casinos in the market.

Repurposed casino properties in AC

Showboat Atlantic City

The Showboat Hotel, Casino and Bowling Center opened in March 1987 featuring a 60,000-square-foot casino and a 60-lane bowling alley. A renovation in 1995 brought in a Mardi Gras theme. In 1998, Harrah’s Entertainment bought Showboat’s parent company and took ownership.

The casino converted the bowling alley into a buffet in 2001. In 2003, it built another hotel tower and remodeled the original. In 2004, it constructed a third hotel tower. That same year, Harrah’s Entertainment became Caesars Entertainment and made plans to close and sell the casino. Caesars shuttered the Showboat on Aug. 31, 2014, after failing to find a buyer.

Richard Stockton College bought the property with plans to turn it into a college campus but later sold to Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein. It reopened as a non-gaming hotel in July 2016. (A deed restriction on the property prevents it from reactivating a casino.)

Blatstein’s Showboat plans include an indoor water park on the vacant lot next door to Showboat.

For those wondering what happened to the former casino floor, it’s now home to The Lucky Snake Arcade & Sports Bar.

The Claridge

The Claridge opened in 1930 and was the last of the great Atlantic City Boardwalk hotels constructed before casinos.

In the summer of 1981, Del Webb’s Claridge Hotel and Casino opened to the public. The London-themed property featured a multi-level gambling floor and a 600-seat entertainment venue.

But The Claridge struggled to compete with the newer, larger casino hotels constructed in Atlantic City.

In 2001, the historic building was purchased by Park Place Entertainment, then-owner of Bally’s Atlantic City. One year later, The Claridge’s operations were combined with Bally’s.

In 2009 the casino floor was rebranded theRidge in an attempt to appeal to a younger crowd. A DJ booth was at the center of the casino floor with table games along the outside.

The gaming floor at theRidge was shut down in 2012.

Florida-based TJM Properties bought The Claridge the following year and has operated it as a non-gaming hotel since 2014.

Last year, TJM joined the ownership group of the former Atlantic Club Casino Hotel in appealing a decision to not lift gaming deed restrictions on the properties by the state Casino Control Commission.

New Jersey casinos closed for good?

The Atlantic Club Casino Hotel

The Atlantic Club Casino Hotel was Atlantic City’s original Golden Nugget. In fact, it opened up as the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in 1980. Bally Manufacturing acquired the casino in 1987 and changed the name to Bally’s Grand Hotel and Casino.

Hilton Hotels Corporation bought Bally in 1998 and renamed the property Atlantic City Hilton.

In 2005, Resorts International Holdings bought the casino and ran Resorts Atlantic City and the Atlantic City Hilton for the next four years as a single entity.

The Hilton name was removed in June 2011 and it became the ACH Casino Resort. It was rebranded and renamed The Atlantic Club Casino Hotel in 2012.

The casino shut its doors on Jan. 13, 2014. Caesars Entertainment bought the property and Tropicana obtained all the gaming equipment. However, Caesars Entertainment sold the property to TJM Properties in 2014. TJM made plans to reopen it as a non-gaming property.

The company announced in 2017 another developer would be purchasing the property and turning it into an indoor waterpark. The financing for this project ultimately fell through.

Several other deals fell through in the next two years before TJM announced in October 2019 that Colosseo Atlantic City Inc. had purchased the property with plans to turn into a non-gaming hotel. Those plans are mostly still a mystery.

Brighton/Sands

Sands Atlantic City was borne from the legacy of one of the city’s most iconic Boardwalk hotels.

The Brighton Hotel opened in 1876 and stood until 1959. On its footprint, The Brighton Hotel & Casino was constructed for a cost of $70 million. It opened on Aug. 13, 1980.

The casino hotel consisted of a 21-story tower with 532 rooms and a 57,045 square-foot gaming floor.

The Brighton was the fourth casino to open in AC and the first to be built from scratch.

After two ownership changes, the property became the Sands Atlantic City in 1981.

A second-floor gaming area was opened in 1994. The additional 26,000 square-feet, including a new racebook, gave the Sands the fourth largest casino in Atlantic City.

That same year plans to rename the property as a Hollywood Casino were announced but never came to fruition.

The Sands filed for bankruptcy protection in 1998, opening the door for billionaire Wall Street investor Carl Icahn to gain control of it. Icahn went on to buy two other nearby hotels, the Madison Hotel and the Traymore Hotel, which allowed the Sands to expand its gaming floor even more.

In September 2006, Pinnacle Entertainment agreed to buy the Sands and the Traymore site for a total of $250 million. Pinnacle wanted to close and demolish the Sands and build a larger casino.

The Sands closed on Nov. 11, 2006. The sale to Pinnacle was completed shortly after.

The building was imploded at 9:37 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2007, the first-ever casino-hotel implosion on the East Coast.

Pinnacle never built a casino in AC and canceled its plans in 2010.

The Sands site remains vacant.

Trump Plaza

Harrah’s at Trump Plaza was the biggest casino in Atlantic City history when it opened in May 1984. It was a joint partnership between Donald Trump and Holiday Inn’s gaming division Harrah’s. It originally featured 614 rooms and a 60,000-square-foot casino.

When Trump opened Trump Castle, Harrah’s claimed it was a conflict of interest. Trump bought out Harrah’s interest in the property and rechristened it Trump Plaza.

The property went through a bankruptcy in 1992 and Trump’s publicly traded Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts took ownership. Trump added a new hotel tower in 1996.

In 2011, the renamed Trump Entertainment Resorts announced it was looking to sell or find a financing partner for a renovation. The company could not find a buyer and Trump Plaza shut down in September 2014.

Over the next six years, the crumbling facade of Trump Plaza would become more than a nuisance. Carl Icahn bought the land in late 2018, terminating the lease on the land and halting any potential buyers. Demolition seemed imperative and likely with no buyers on the horizon.

After a push from Atlantic City’s mayor, Trump Plaza was demolished on February 17, 2021.

Image credit: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com