First In Line: Hard Rock Atlantic City Reopens Buffet With Changes

Hard Rock AC is now offering customers an all-you-can-eat dining experience at Fresh Harvest. It is the first and only Atlantic City casino buffet to reopen.

Hard Rock Casino finally has the one thing missing from the Atlantic City indoor dining season.

Any idea what it is?

After months of waiting, Hard Rock Atlantic City customers now have the option of eating lunch or dinner at Fresh Harvest casino buffet. For those wondering how a property can operate a buffet when the coronavirus global pandemic is still around, the solution involves some creativity.

Hard Rock is reinventing the concept by replacing the traditional buffet with an all-you-can-eat dining experience.

In other words, for now, forget about the long lines at the food stations. Instead, all of the “classic comforts and international favorites” are served straight to the table. The cost is $29.99 per person.

Call it the social-distance version of the popular Atlantic City buffet.

What’s on the Fresh Harvest buffet menu

Customers familiar with the Fresh Harvest menu will notice many of the regular items are still on the expansive menu.

Here is a small sampling of what’s available:

  • Sliced brisket
  • New England clam chowder
  • General Tso’s chicken
  • Italian chopped salad
  • New York cheesecake parfaits

Hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday noon-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon-10 p.m.

Status of Atlantic City indoor dining

Nothing much has changed since early September when Gov. Phil Murphy cleared the path for AC casinos to bring back indoor dining.

Like the other restaurants across the state, Fresh Harvest employees and guests must follow the indoor dining guidelines mandated by New Jersey.

Hard Rock AC takes things a step further with its Safe + Sound protocols.

At this time, there is no word as to if and when Murphy will increase indoor capacity.

When will other Atlantic City casino buffets reopen?

Unfortunately, this is one of those questions that will remain unanswered, for now.

NJGamblingSites reached out to several of the other Atlantic City casinos, and “nothing new” was the response across the board.

The Buffet page on the Golden Nugget AC website includes a brief statement:

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, The Buffet is closed until further notice.”

The restaurant page on the Tropicana AC website still shows the words “Temporarily Closed” across the Fiesta Buffet image.

The others may be waiting to see how smoothly things go at Hard Rock before moving forward with their buffet reopening plans.

Associated Press photo

Atlantic City Casinos Could Get Some Tax Relief, But Will It Be Enough?

The New Jersey General Assembly passed a bill that would provide temporary tax relief for Atlantic City Casinos, but how bad is it really in AC?

In light of the negative fiscal impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Atlantic City casinos, the New Jersey Legislature voted in favor of providing temporary relief to the industry.

In a vote on Thursday, the General Assembly moved the bill (S2400/A4032) to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for his signature. The state Senate passed the bill back in June.

The ultimate goal of the legislation is to help casinos get back on their feet as well as resume hiring.

The bill allows for a reduction in taxes paid on gross gaming revenue. It also includes a monthly deduction against gross gaming revenue equal to the bonus and promo credits used by the casino’s customers.

According to the legislation, the pandemic “has clearly not just reversed the consistent track of economic improvement that the Atlantic City casino industry had worked very hard to achieve over the last several years, but also has set back the economy of an entire region that is greatly dependent on the jobs, tourism spending and purchases that the Atlantic City casinos generate.”

How bad is it at Atlantic City casinos?

2020 has been a frustrating year for many in the entertainment and hospitality industries, especially in Atlantic City.

When the coronavirus pandemic was at its height in New Jersey, Murphy shut down the casinos. Until the scaled-back reopening in July, Atlantic City’s casinos had to rely on just online gambling to bring in any sort of revenue.

Last month was the first full month that all nine Atlantic City casinos were open since mid-March.

All the casinos reopened at reduced capacity with a reduced number of games and machines for customers to play on as well as a ban on indoor dining.

Indoor dining returned with similar restrictions in September.

All of these various factors played a role in a considerable drop in revenue compared to August 2019.

A drop in casino win across the board

According to a press release from the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE), the total gaming revenue posted in August was $326.3 million. Last year, $352.8 million was earned, a 7.5% decrease.

On its own, that decrease isn’t much. And the reason for that lies in the strength of NJ online gambling sites.

In August, $87.8 million in NJ online casino revenue was brought in compared to $41.1 million last year, an increase of 113.6%.

There was also a year-to-year increase in NJ sports betting revenue as $39.5 million for the month, up from last year’s amount of $25,210,342. The majority of that revenue was also online.

Land-based casino win, however, is another story. Eight casinos saw year-over-year decreases between 14% and 55% in August.

The only outlier was Ocean Casino Resort, which grew by only 1.4% year-over-year.

CasinoTable & OtherSlot MachinesAug 2020 TotalAug 2019 Total% Change
Bally's$ 3,915,944
$ 11,540,973$ 15,456,917$18,756,628-17.60%
Borgata$ 11,671,996$ 28,821,017$ 40,493,013$71,925,945-43.70%
Caesars$ 6,444,970$ 14,766,485$ 21,211,455$30,920,635-31.40%
Golden Nugget$ 1,515,939$ 7,747,523$ 9,263,462$20,684,016-55.20%
Hard Rock$ 12,586,066$ 20,287,550$ 32,873,616$38,456,242-14.50%
Harrah's$ 5,278,263$ 16,234,162$ 21,512,425$31,125,574-30.90%
Ocean Casino$ 6,340,123$ 18,034,934$ 24,375,057$24,050,2961.40%
Resorts$ 3,182,446$ 10,718,845 $ 13,901,291$18,889,794-26.40%
Tropicana$ 4,004,543$ 15,961,030$ 19,965,573$31,671,211-37%
Total$ 54,940,290$ 144,112,519$ 199,052,809 $ 286,480,341-30.50%

Note: Atlantic City poker rooms were open in August 2019, but remain closed as of September 2020. The total gaming revenue in August 2019 includes poker.

AC casinos struggle to maintain growth

The industry’s total gaming revenue last month was only $1.618 billion compared to last year’s $2.278 billion, a 29% decrease.

These numbers continue the downward revenue trend that Atlantic City’s casinos are on this year. The first-quarter numbers were down 65% compared to the previous year. That included the first two weeks of the casino shutdown.

The second-quarter numbers were much worse as there was a $112 million, or 85%, decrease compared to last year. This was the quarter that was completed affected by the shutdown.

The back-to-back quarterly losses come on the heels of a period where Atlantic City casinos saw a 21-month streak of growth come to an end.

Casinos and hiring during a pandemic

While AC’s casinos are up and running at a limited capacity now, the impact of the months-long shutdown will be felt into 2021. That’s something that is not lost on Assemblymen John Armato (D-Atlantic) and Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic).

“We all know that the casino industry is vital to the success of the local finances and to the over 30,000 individuals it employs,” Mazzeo said in a Press of Atlantic City article.

“Atlantic City will be feeling the downturn in the economy like the rest of the state and country. Ensuring that we do not intentionally worsen that or place any extra burden on the taxpayers is our top priority,” Armato added.

That being said, the new bill does require something of casinos in return for tax relief. Casinos in Atlantic City must make a “good faith effort” to hire as many former and new employees as possible.

In the last few months, casino management had to get creative in order to making the most of the restricted opening in July. Hard Rock Atlantic City, for example, moved their VIP high-roller lounge from indoors to an outdoor ocean view tent.

“We’ve been able to bring back about 60% of our employee base, so not everyone,” said Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock AC.

“We can’t fill our hotels because we can’t put as many people in our hotel elevators, nor do we have enough seating outside to supplement all those guests if we did fill our hotel rooms.”

The local effect of an Atlantic City casino downturn

The fiscal impact that the city itself will experience due to the casino shut down is already being felt by the city and its businesses. But it will also be felt in next year’s municipal budget.

According to the PILOT bill, which was enacted in 2016, Atlantic City’s nine casinos pay a portion of their annual earnings to the city instead of taxes for 10 years.

The casinos paid the city $150 million last year, a number that will not be achieved this year due to the pandemic, according to the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

“DCA projects that 2020 gross gaming revenues will be lower, which will result in lower PILOT payments to the City of Atlantic City in 2021,” Lisa Ryan, a DCA spokesperson, told the Press of Atlantic City.

Despite the expected lower PILOT payment for 2020, the DCA still feels that there will not be any real impacts to Atlantic City’s budget for next year.

However, Michael Busler, a public policy analyst and finance professor at Stockton University, has a less-than-optimistic view.

“I think (the casinos) are going to have a tough time even meeting the amount that they have to pay (for 2021),” Busler said.

Where To Eat At Atlantic City Casinos Now That Indoor Dining Is Being Resumed

In Atlantic City, indoor dining will soon be an option for casino patrons again, and some AC casinos are offering special deals to celebrate the occasion.

Atlantic City casinos have been back in action for months, but Atlantic City dining has been under restrictions that have mostly relegated it to outdoor options so far.

That’s all about to change.

On Friday, AC casinos can start welcoming guests to dine indoors again. That doesn’t mean things are back to the way they were before the COVID-19 pandemic began, however.

The restaurants at Atlantic City’s nine casinos still have to abide by a set of protocols to keep everyone safe. Despite that, the casinos are offering specials and a wide menu of culinary delights to celebrate another amenity they can once again offer guests.

Atlantic City dining indoors: what to know before you go

As previously mentioned, there are still statewide restrictions for indoor dining in place. Gov. Phil Murphy laid out the basics.

As Murphy noted, the 25% capacity applies to the restaurant areas inside casinos, meaning they can only seat a quarter of the guests they normally would at one time.

Although guests obviously won’t have to wear face masks while they’re drinking and eating, masks will still be mandatory in the restaurant and everywhere else in casinos.

Food and beverages at restaurants must be consumed while seated. And another note for guests: Smoking is prohibited at AC casinos for now per a recent order from Murphy.

Open-container rules are for real on the Boardwalk

Speaking of drinking, that’s also been in the news lately as it pertains to Atlantic City. Murphy finalized a legal change that allows open-carry consumption of alcohol in many areas near the casinos.

That includes parts of the beaches, the famous Boardwalk and other zones. Murphy didn’t hesitate to extoll the benefit of the change.

“Despite the economic hardship that this pandemic has levied on our casino and hospitality industries, the Atlantic City community has once again proven its resiliency and readiness for a strong future,” Murphy said.

“By permanently allowing outdoor consumption of alcoholic beverages in certain areas of the Tourism District, we can extend short-term support to small businesses who need it and further strengthen the resurgence of Atlantic City as the East Coast’s premier resort destination.”

Indoor dining options in Atlantic City

In conjunction with the return to indoor dining, AC casinos are rolling out the red carpet for guests.

Following is a breakdown by casino of what’s opening for indoor dining Friday. Bars and lounges are reopening as well, but not all offer indoor seating. However, drinks are now allowed on the casino floor.

We will update the list with new information as it becomes available:

Bally’s

  • Buca di Beppo
  • Guy Fieri’s Chophouse
  • Harry’s Oyster Bar
  • Johnny Rockets

Outdoor seating and to-go services are still up and running for most restaurants at Bally’s. Sac O’ Subs, Walt’s Primo Pizza, and Guy’s Bar-B-Que Joint offer takeout menu items.

Borgata

  • Angeline by Michael Symon*
  • BetMGM Sportsbook & Bar
  • Bobby Flay Steak*
  • Borgata Baking Company
  • Bread + Butter
  • Izakaya by Michael Schulson*
  • The Metropolitan
  • Noodles of the World
  • Old Homestead Steak House*
  • Starbucks

Borgata’s indoor eateries will not offer paper menus but rather have digital menus that guests can view on smartphones. The casino’s fine dining outlets (marked with an asterisk) will require reservations. Guests may obtain those by calling 609-317-1000.

Borgata plans to continue offering its outdoor beer garden and its own delivery/takeaway service BorgataEATS despite the new indoor dining options.

Additionally, several of the restaurants will continue to offer grab-and-go items.

Caesars Atlantic City

  • Nero’s
  • Betty’s Back Room (Saturdays only)
  • Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill
  • Kwi Noodle Bar
  • Morton’s The Steakhouse

Additionally, the Beachside Bar is open on weekends. Palace Court Pizza and Tazza are available for to-go service only.

In-room delivery from Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant is available on weekends. And be advised: Reservations are recommended when eating indoors.

Golden Nugget

  • Bar 46
  • Bill’s Bar & Burger
  • Chart House
  • Chairman’s Club
  • Lillie’s Asian Cuisine
  • Michael Patrick’s
  • Party Pit
  • Rush Lounge
  • Vic & Anthony’s Steak House

The Chairman’s Club is reserved for Chairman and Elite members only. All of Golden Nugget’s other dining options will continue to serve guests on a carryout or outdoor seating basis.

Reservations are strongly recommended for the Chart House and Vic & Anthony’s.

Hard Rock

  • Center Bar
  • Council Oak Steaks & Seafood
  • Hard Rock Café
  • Kuro
  • Legends Lounge
  • Lobby Bar
  • Sugar Factory
  • YOUYU Noodle Bar

Hard Rock will also reopen the Plum Lounge and DAER Deck on Friday for X Card members. Many of the above properties will continue to feature carryout and outdoor dining. The casino recommends reservations for indoor dining.

In addition, Hard Rock will host some events involving its dining properties soon. These will include beer and wine tastings. Guests must register in advance by visiting the Hard Rock website.

Hard Rock currently offers a promo especially for guests who dine at two of its restaurants.

Harrah’s Atlantic City

  • Martorano’s
  • McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood

Coastal Craft Kitchen & Bar will reopen for indoor dining after Labor Day. The AC Burger Co. on the Baywalk offers outdoor service and takeout.

Alfresco dining at Gordon Ramsay Steak will continue as well.

Ocean Casino

  • American Cut
  • Dolce Mare
  • Harper’s
  • Zhen Bang Noodle & Sushi

Pit Boss BBQ will have limited hours Sept. 6-7. Topgolf Swing Suite remains temporarily closed. The bar at the William Hill sportsbook also remains temporarily unavailable.

Reservations are recommended for all indoor dining, as space is limited. But restaurants at Ocean Casino also include takeout options and/or outdoor seating where available.

Resorts Atlantic City

  • Bar One
  • Breadsticks Café
  • Capriccio
  • Eastwind and Mukashi
  • Gallagher’s Steak House
  • Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville
  • Landshark Bar & Grill
  • Quick Bites Food Court (+ Quick Bites Patio)

Resorts will reopen 5 O’Clock Somewhere on Sept. 11. Gallagher’s Steak House will open on Saturday, Sept. 5.

All venues will offer outdoor seating options along with takeout for guests who prefer to dine that way.

Tropicana

  • Palm Restaurant
  • Cuba Libre
  • Broadway Burger Bar
  • Carmine’s
  • PF Chang’s Atlantic City

Tropicana advises on its website that reservations are recommended. Most of the indoor dining options listed above use Open Table to reserve a table.

Where available, restaurants offer outdoor dining, and most provide takeout options, too. The Quarter is also open for shopping.

Are you hungry yet? Atlantic City is waiting

If these properties aren’t your destinations of choice, don’t be dismayed. The other half of Atlantic City’s nine casinos are preparing to offer indoor dining again as well.

Guests can find the latest information about outdoor dining options at all AC casinos here.

While there are still protocols in place, the resumption of indoor dining activities even at a reduced level means more reasons for people to visit Atlantic City’s casinos and more casino workers back on the job.

Murphy’s decision to make alcohol open-carry a permanent fixture of the Boardwalk is a huge plus, too.

Atlantic City Casino Sets Sights On Esports Betting With New Online Partnership

Esports Entertainment Group announced a multiyear partnership to launch an NJ online sports betting product under the Bally’s Atlantic City license.

Twin River Worldwide Holdings is wasting little time building its NJ online sports betting footprint.

The Rhode Island-based company announced a multiyear partnership with Esports Entertainment Group ($GMBL).

This will pave the way for the latter to launch its proprietary mobile sports betting product. The timing remains a work in progress.

Twin River is in the process of purchasing Bally’s Atlantic City from Caesars Entertainment. And Twin River still needs licensing approval from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Here is what Esports CEO Grant Johnson has to say about the deal:

“We are excited to partner with Twin River [and] bring mobile sports betting to the New Jersey market.

“When we completed out IPO on Nasdaq earlier this year, it was with the intention of expanding our operations to the US. With this partnership, we’re delivering on that goal.”

Who is Esports Entertainment Group?

For Garden State bettors, Esports Entertainment does not have the same brand recognition as, say, FanDuel Sportsbook and BetMGM.

So who is this company?

According to its website, Esports Entertainment Group, which has offices in New Jersey and in Europe, is a “licensed next-generation online gambling company focused purely on esports.”

And this is where things get interesting.

Esports betting legislation is still in the works for New Jersey.

Earlier this year, the NJ State Assembly approved Bill A637 after it passed through committee. It is sponsored by Assemblymen Ralph Caputo (D-Essex) and Eric Houghtaling (D-Monmouth), who view esports as a skill-based competition that should be available for legal betting.

It still needs to be approved by the Senate and get Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature. For now, esports betting at NJ sportsbooks is approved on a case-by-case basis.

In 2019, the DGE permitted wagering on the League of Legends World Championship.

Should the legislation be signed into law, esports betting would become an actual thing. And that makes Esports Entertainment Group’s deal with Twin River and impending launch just a bit more intriguing.

Big NJ online gambling plans for new Bally’s

Twin River has yet to settle in at Bally’s. Yet the company is quickly lining up NJ online gambling partnerships.

PointsBet NJ has a deal in place to launch its online casino app under the Bally’s license.

The company currently has an NJ sportsbook app operating under the Meadowlands Racetrack license. But it’s safe to assume PointsBet customers would have access to a shared wallet between the casino and sports wagering products.

The Esports Entertainment platform adds another layer to Twin River’s iGaming plans.

Here is what George Papanier, president and CEO of Twin River, has to say about the Esports deal:

“Esports Entertainment will be a great addition to our growing partnerships with sportsbook leaders around the world, as we currently operate sportsbooks in Rhode Island, Colorado, Delaware and Mississippi.

“Bringing this new, unique offering to the AC market with a prominent gaming partner is one of the many exciting changes we have in store for Atlantic City in the months to come.”

Judging by that comment, Papanier and his team are far from finished with announcing Atlantic City plans.

Dance To The Music: Harrah’s Ready To Bring Live Music Back To Atlantic City

If Harrah’s Resort gets regulatory approval, the Bayside ROCK Live concert series will mark the return of outdoor concerts to Atlantic City.

It won’t look like it did before, but it will still represent the best-case scenario right now. If state regulators give their approval, Atlantic City outdoor concerts could soon be an option next time you head down to the shore.

Harrah’s Resort AC has put together a plan to offer a music series starting later this month. If successful, it could provide a blueprint for similar venues across the country.

Details of the proposed Atlantic City outdoor concerts

Harrah’s has put together the series in conjunction with LG Business Solutions and the NJ Lottery. The casino stated in a press release that a portion of ticket sales will benefit the Community Food Bank of Southern NJ.

The Atlantic City series, if it goes forward, will be named Bayside ROCK Live. It will “feature contemporary DJ sets and the iconic hit music of the ’70s and ’80s provided by some of today’s top tribute bands.”

The plan is to offer guests a different act every Friday night from Aug. 28 through Oct. 23. Among acts on the schedule are:

  • New York Bee Gees – Bee Gees Tribute Band – Aug. 28
  • Zoso – The Ultimate Led Zeppelin Experience – Sept. 4
  • DSB – An American Journey – A Tribute to Journey featuring Myles Buckley, son of Journey guitarist Neal Schon – Sept. 11
  • Aerosmyth – The Ultimate Aerosmith Tribute Experience – Sept. 18
  • Songs In The Attic: The Music of Billy Joel – Sept. 25
  • Desperado – The Nation’s Premier Eagles Tribute – Oct. 2
  • Tusk – The World’s Number One Tribute To Fleetwood Mac – Oct. 9
  • The FABBA Show – A Tribute to ABBA – Oct. 16
  • Beatles For Sale – Beatles Tribute Band – Oct. 23

When and where to buy tickets

Harrah’s plans to hold the concerts in the Waterfront Conference Center parking complex. Guests must purchase tickets through Ticketmaster and do so in advance of the shows.

However, there will be no physical ticket sales at Harrah’s or anywhere else.

To attend, guests must be at least 21 years of age. Tickets cost $44.50 each and go on sale on Thursday, Aug. 20, at 10 a.m. EST. Each ticket will give the bearer access to two seats within the complex.

Harrah’s plans to offer beverage options and popcorn for sale during the entertainment. All of these plans are tentative, however. The casino must convince regulators it can keep its guests safe in this makeshift venue.

Health and safety key to Harrah’s Bayside ROCK music series

If officials do sign off on Harrah’s plans, it will be the first outdoor concert series in NJ since the pandemic shut things down in March.

For that reason, breaking the ice will require some safety precautions.

Outdoor gatherings in New Jersey are limited to 500 people. Face coverings are required in outdoor public spaces when social distancing is difficult to maintain. And there are other rules that organizers must follow as outlined by the state.

A press release from Harrah’s doesn’t mention specific measures the casino will take, outside of the intent to practice social distancing. From the ticket configuration, it’s safe to assume that pairs of seats will have at least six feet between them.

The casino might need to take additional measures beyond that to convince regulators, however. That might include things like:

  • Limiting entry points
  • Requiring temperature checks
  • Mandating masks in certain areas
  • Making hand sanitizer stations available

Harrah’s follows Caesars Entertainment’s health and safety protocols throughout its property. And those guidelines will be “at the forefront of the outdoor entertainment experience.”

It’s also possible that Harrah’s and Ticketmaster will add a special waiver section to the ticket purchase that indemnifies them from liability if a guest contracts COVID-19. If it’s not plainly stated, interested parties should inquire before buying tickets.

Since casinos in Atlantic City started to reopen, getting live entertainment back to attract guests has been a goal. Harrah’s and its Bayside ROCK Live music series might be the first to achieve that goal later this month.

Hoping For Change: Coin Shortage Has Ocean Casino Asking For Your Pennies

Atlantic City casinos are facing the same problem as many other businesses right now: a coin shortage. Ocean Casino will give you free play for your change.

Under normal circumstances, you’d have to pay to have your coins changed into bills. These aren’t normal circumstances, however, as evidenced by the national coin shortage going on.

Because of the lack of pennies, dimes and nickels in circulation, those who have those coins now have the upper hand. It’s a reversal of fortune that allows Ocean Casino Resort guests to get a premium for their pennies.

Why is there a coin shortage?

Change is in short supply right now for two reasons, both related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first is that to protect employees from coronavirus transmission, US mints have limited production.

The second is that more people are using contactless forms of payment and leaving their coins at home.

A rise in e-commerce, such as getting food delivered instead of dining out, also has contributed to a lack of change in circulation.

Few businesses use coins to the extent that casinos do, so the shortage has hit them the hardest. The majority of casinos in the US utilize a ticket system for slot machines and the like. But even so, coins matter.

And it’s not just New Jersey gambling halls. Casinos in other states are also feeling the pinch.

That’s why Ocean Casino has started a special promotion.

Coins for cash at Ocean Casino

For the rest of July, Ocean will give select customers face value for their change in credit for casino play. For your trouble, the casino will also give away $5 in free play on top of the value of the coins contributed.

If you get lucky at the games of your choice using that credit, you could multiply your loose change several times over.

If it’s been a while since you’ve visited an Atlantic City casino, there are a few things you should be aware of before you go, however. The properties are still taking precautions to protect everyone.

What to know before you go to Atlantic City

A few of the normal amenities remain shuttered at Ocean Casino and the other AC gambling halls. These include indoor dining and valet services.

Casinos have shifted or shuttered games to promote social distancing as well. Perhaps most importantly, casinos require that you wear a face mask over your mouth and nose at all times unless you’re drinking or eating.

There is currently no smoking indoors.  And casinos will screen your body temperature before allowing you access to the property.

Additionally, casinos are only operating at 25% of their fire-code capacity. It’s uncertain how much longer these precautions will remain in place.

Despite the restrictions, you’re in an enviable position if you have a jar full of change at home right now.