Atlantic City Casinos Say NJ’s 50% Capacity ‘Doesn’t Do A Lot’

One year ago, Atlantic City casinos sat empty.

Forced to close because of the coronavirus pandemic, the city’s nine gambling parlors were devoid of guests for nearly four months.
One week ago, the state of New Jersey increased indoor capacity limits to 50%. That is double the occupancy permitted in the fall and 15% more than two weeks ago.

For a struggling industry like brick-and-mortar casinos, the modest increase is a step in the right direction.

But, executives say whether the capacity limit is 25%, 35%, or 50%, the impact on gambling at Atlantic City casinos is relatively small.

“From a casino floor aspect, it doesn’t do a lot for us,” said Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and regional president of Caesars Entertainment Inc.’s three Atlantic City casinos. “(The capacity increase is) not the biggest thing in the world but every little bit helps.”

Not much will change at Atlantic City casinos

In simplest terms, casino floors in Atlantic City won’t be changing much, even with the eased restrictions

There will still be partitions between seats at table games, with a player cap on every table. A percentage of slot machines will still be turned off to promote social distancing.

To be clear, Atlantic City casinos are not kicking a gift horse in the mouth. They accept the realities of the global pandemic and recognize that things could be worse.

“We just hope to continue to work on (easing) the restrictions and make us more business-friendly,” Callender said.

Keep your distance, please

The real benefit for Atlantic City casinos is the increased business volumes at non-gaming amenities.

“The 50% really (has) an impact in our restaurants, which, on weekends when our restaurants are full and we’ve had long waits, that’s where we weren’t able to accommodate,” said Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. “Atlantic City guests come down here for a multitude of activities. They come down here for the whole experience.”

The catch, however, is similar to what non-casino restaurants and bars have to contend with. Namely, that an increase in capacity means very little in a finite space where social distancing mandates remain in place.

“The six-foot distancing is really inhibiting or intruding on the occupancy levels,” Lupo added. “Unless you want to put up Plexiglas bubbles everywhere, it’s limiting the number of people in some spaces, like our lounges.”

Dinner with an ocean view, deja vu?

A silver lining to last summer’s total indoor dining ban was the expansion of al fresco options. Atlantic City casinos adapted and came up with some creative alternatives to offset food and beverage profit losses.

Visitors to Atlantic City can expect to see many of those same outdoor dining concepts return this summer, Callender said.

“Obviously, last year we did it out of necessity, but people really liked it,” he said. “We have beautiful views here of the ocean and if we can get guests outside, why not (do it)?”

Atlantic City casinos need conventions, entertainment

The one thing Atlantic City casinos all say they absolutely need is meeting and convention business.

The new capacity rules only apply to certain businesses. New Jersey still has limits on the total number of people for indoor gatherings and on select indoor locations, such as banquet halls or large meeting rooms.

In Atlantic City, meetings and conventions drive midweek and non-summer business, the casino executives said.

The East Coast Gaming Congress, for example, is now taking place Oct. 25-26 instead of late May at Harrah’s Resort.

A revival of headlining live entertainment would help, too.

“It’s truly about entertainment and convention business, which books out months in advance,” Lupo said. “So, until there is a more definitive understanding of when occupancies go up, those are the two areas where we’re handcuffed.”

AP Photo/Wayne Parry

March Madness Planner: What Atlantic City Casinos Are Offering For NCAA Tournament

Atlantic City casinos are ready to tip off the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament after missing their shot in 2020.

Atlantic City casinos are ready to tip-off March Madness after missing their shot in 2020.

The 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins March 18.
The start of this year’s Big Dance is nearly a year to the day when everything changed for Atlantic City casinos.

On March 16, 2020, the nine gambling parlors were ordered to close to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

‘What a difference a year makes’ in Atlantic City

In a news releaseCasino Association of New Jersey President Steve Callender remarked, “What a difference a year makes.”

“Leading up to the basketball tournament last year, Atlantic City seemed to be unstoppable,” said Callender, regional president for Caesars Entertainment Inc. “We were on a 21-month winning streak of revenue growth, our sportsbooks topped Nevada’s, and our diverse offerings were attracting new visitors. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the National College Basketball Championship was canceled, stay-at-home orders were issued and our casinos were closed for almost four months.”

Callendar went on to highlight the stringent health and safety protocols implemented by Atlantic City casinos since reopening last summer. Mandatory masks, temperature checks, an indoor smoking ban, and social distancing measures are among the policies in place.

As fans finalize their brackets, Atlantic City casinos will be hosting various events in addition to offering room and meal specials.

“We look forward to providing a sense of normalcy for our guests during this difficult time while continuing to prioritize their health and safety through continued enforcement of mask and social distancing requirements,” Callendar said.

What Atlantic City casinos are planning for March Madness

Here’s a rundown of what all nine Atlantic City casinos are offering for the NCAA Tournament’s opening weekend.

Bally’s Atlantic City

Talk about making a big statement. Just in time for March Madness betting, the permanent FanDuel Sportsbook at Bally’s AC is now open.

It features a central 25-foot LED video wall flanked by two 10-foot LED video walls on either side and 10 video displays.

There are five betting windows and 20 self-serve kiosks.

Pub-style fare along with an iPourIt self-service beer wall will satisfy the food and drink cravings.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa

There are three locations to watch the games and put down tournament wagers: BetMGM Sportsbook and Bar; BetMGM Race and Sportsbook, or the Borgata Event Center.

The BetMGM book opens daily at 9 a.m. The sports bar features a 40-foot wide by 11.5-foot tall LED video wall

Three betting windows and two full-service bars will be open in the Event Center.

First come first served viewing is also available at the B Bar, Lobby Bar, and Long Bar.

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Caesars Atlantic City

The William Hill Sportsbook at the Wild Wild West casino is AC’s largest sports betting space (over 15,000 square feet). The centerpiece is the  98 foot by 18 foot, high-resolution LED television wall with surround sound.

The big change here is it’s now part of Caesars Atlantic City. And for those looking to make it an extended stay, there are discounted midweek room rates.

The book will be offering drink specials ranging from themed cocktails such as the Coco Palmer, Alley Oop! and Time Out, $24 Mix N’ Match, and $75 buckets of beer.

Guests can reserve high-top tables,  a fan cave, or other seats.

Golden Nugget Atlantic City

The Sportsbook has more than 50 televisions with a betting counter and self-serve kiosks.

Guests can book a private table at the Rush Lounge, just steps away from The Sportsbook.

Golden Nugget will have $20 beer buckets and $5 shot specials during all games.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City

The property is doing things a little differently with a pop-up space n the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena tunnel.  Customers can watch the games on the big-screen TVs and taking advantage of iGaming activations. The sportsbook lounge will be open to watch and wager, too.

Hard Rock will be showing the games on 140 screens across the property.

Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City

The William Hill Sportsbook at Harrah’s features high-quality resolution LED televisions and extra plush seating. As far as NCAA Tournament drink specials go, there is the Mix N’Match ($24), Pitcher it Up! ($40), Tailgaters (12 for $75), and Mini Tailgaters (6 for $36).

Additionally, guests can reserve their stadium seating starting at $60. Fan Caves are $500 and include food and two buckets of beer or hard seltzer.

Ocean Casino Resort

The William Hill Sportsbook at Ocean is 7,500 square feet, which sits at the center of the casino floor, features panoramic video wall technology.

Ocean Casino Resort’s Madness Zone is offering three unique venues to watch, bet, eat and drink all weekend long.

Full-day and half-day ticketed reservations are available across the William Hill Sportsbook, The Den at Ocean, and Topgolf Swing Suite.

Resorts Casino Hotel

The DraftKings Sportsbook features ultra HD LED video walls, 18 kiosks, and five betting windows.

Resorts is offering prizes and drink specials including Spin the Prize Wheel for a chance at DraftKings prizes, slot cash, or comps from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on March 19.

The March Mania Room Package for $129 includes a $40 dining credit, $25 table game free bet, DraftKings t-shirt, and 2 p.m. late check out.

Tropicana Atlantic City

The William Hill Sportsbook, which is located next to Chickie’s and Pete’s, is 5,000 square feet and includes large video displays and plenty of seating.

For March Madness, customers can order buckets of beer ($30 domestic, $35 imported) and $28 pitchers of beer.

Room rates start at $57.

AP Photo/Wayne Parry

NJ Governor Easing Restrictions, AC Casinos Can Operate At 50% Capacity Starting March 19

NJ Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order increasing indoor capacity to 50% for Atlantic City casinos, restaurants, and bars.

The odds of 2021 putting Atlantic City casinos back in the black got much better this week.

NJ Gov. Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 230 increasing indoor capacity to 50% for AC’s nine casinos, restaurants, bars, entertainment and recreation venues, gyms, and personal care facilities. The new rules go into effect March 19 at 6 a.m.

Seating at bars is still prohibited.

Indoor capacity had been limited to 25% until recently, when it was expanded to 35% on Feb. 5.

“We feel confident in these steps given the data that we have been seeing over the past five weeks, since the last time we expanded the indoor reality,” Murphy said.

NJ has been among the more deliberate states in reopening its economy as the public threat from the novel coronavirus slowly wanes. Infection rates, total cases, and fatalities have declined in NJ with the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

“When our restaurant capacity last changed, our hospitals were treating just under 2,900 patients,” Murphy said. “That number has come down by 1,000 and been consistent since then.”

What it means for Atlantic City casinos

Increasing indoor capacity will have little effect on casino floors. Where it will have an immediate impact is casino restaurants, bars, spas, and entertainment venues.

Atlantic City casino executives have been steadfast in their belief that their properties are among the safest indoor public places. Between strict regulatory oversight, industrywide health protocols, and the sheer size of the casinos, executives have been pushing the state to increase occupancy limits.

More than anything, the casinos want the governor to lift restrictions on large indoor gatherings so the industry can resume much-needed midweek convention and meeting business.

“We need meetings and conventions, and an increase to 50% (for indoor dining),” Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and regional president of Caesars Entertainment Inc., said in November. “We feel pretty passionate that we can do this, and we can do this well.”

2020 was devastating in AC

To say that the last 12 months have been devastating for Atlantic City casinos would be a gross understatement.

Thousands of casino workers lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. Millions of dollars in gaming revenue disappeared. Billions of dollars in economic activity for the greater Atlantic City region vanished.

Online casino and sports betting were the only saving graces last year, as both segments experienced explosive growth.

When Murphy ordered AC’s casinos to close last March, it put an end to a 21-month streak of year-over-year total gaming revenue increases.

The 108-day shutdown of the entire industry in 2020 also halted a three-year growth streak of annual casino win (table game and slot machine revenue). In 2019, casino win reported by the nine gambling parlors was just under $2.7 billion. Last year, that figure fell to $1.5 billion, a decline of almost 44%.

Light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel

As bad as 2020 was for Atlantic City casinos, 2021 has given the industry signs of hope

Total gaming revenue (a combination of casino win, online, and sports betting) increased 9.4% in January 2021 over January 2020. The increase is due entirely to online gambling and mobile sports betting, but it is still an overall net positive.

While casino win in January 2021 was collectively down 16.6% for the nine Atlantic City casinos, two properties posted increases. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Casino Resort reported casino win increases of 23.9% and 21.3%, respectively.

As an added piece of good news, a recent survey conducted by Stockton University found a majority of people felt safe inside Atlantic City casinos and will be returning.

AP Photo/Wayne Parry

Boom With A View: Caesars AC Offering Packages To Watch Trump Plaza Implosion

Would you pay $299 for a front and center seat to watch the Feb. 17 implosion of the former Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino?

But unlike a pro sporting event, you will not be told to leave immediately after the hotel tower transforms into a pile of rubble.

You see, the price is actually for Caesars Atlantic City’s stay-and-view room package.

Talk about a great view.

The two properties are so close you could jump from one rooftop to the other. Figuratively speaking, of course. The buildings are separated by a Boardwalk access ramp.

Steve Callender, Regional President Caesars Entertainment, weighed in on next week’s historic occasion.

“The proximity of Caesars to the implosion site is the closest most will get to the historic milestone in Atlantic City next week, and we’ve had high demand from guests who are seeking to book rooms & suites with a front row seat to the action,”

“We are releasing a limited number of stay-and-view room packages that offer our guests the opportunity to witness the beginning of a new era for Center Boardwalk and a new view of the Atlantic City skyline.”

Details of Caesars stay-and-view package

Yes, some might consider $299 plus tax a little pricey for an Atlantic City hotel room. We are talking about midweek in February.

However, Feb. 17 will be rather unique as Trump Plaza, which sits at the center of the Boardwalk, has been closed since 2014. So guests will be getting a front row seat, or in this case, a hotel room, to watch Atlantic City history.

As of Friday afternoon, Caesars AC had 27 rooms available specifically for the stay-and-view rate.

Here is what the package includes:

  • A front seat with “exclusive view” to Atlantic City history
  • Champagne delivery
  • 1 p.m. checkout

So making early morning mimosas for the implosion is an option.

Bader Field, which is the public viewing area, will be charging $10 a car. Plus. it’s about two miles away and outside.

Trump Plaza implosion will boost mid-week business

The early Atlantic City forecast for Feb. 17  is 36 degrees and partly cloudy.

Not exactly ideal for taking a walk on the AC Boardwalk or the beach. And besides properties operating at 35% capacity due to the pandemic, it is offseason.

However, was far as Atlantic City implosions go, Trump Plaza will be only the second property to see its fate end with a boom.

Sands Atlantic City, way back in 2007, was the other. And that property has been vacant since.

AP Photo/Wayne Parry

Will Esports Entertainment Group Enter NJ Betting Market In 2021?

Esports Entertainment Group announced Tuesday it submitted its gaming license application with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

In an effort to capitalize on the growing sports NJ betting marketEsports Entertainment Group announced Tuesday it submitted its gaming license application with the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

EEG and Bally’s Corp., the parent company of Bally’s Atlantic City, entered into a multi-year agreement in 2020.

According to a press release, EEG operates several entities across three key pillars:

  • esports entertainment and infrastructure
  • esports wagering
  • iGaming

The company has offices in New Jersey, the United Kingdom, and Malta.

Strong demand pushing esports’ market entry

Grant Johnson, CEO of EEG, cited a recent study from Interpret which found over 50% of U.S. fans said they are likely to engage in esports betting. Johnson said EEG is “confident that demand will be strong.”

“This is our first gaming license application in the U.S., and once approved, we believe we will be the first esports-vertical focused sportsbook with a state license in the U.S.,” he said.

“Securing access to what is currently the largest market for sports betting in the U.S. will provide a strong advantage as we look to expand into additional markets in the U.S. moving forward.”

Johnson expects the NJDGE to approve the application sometime in the second quarter of 2021.

The ‘next big thing’ is not here, yet

At the moment, betting on esports has not been broadly legalized in NJ. The DGE director can issue temporary approvals for events.

NJ Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, a former Atlantic City casino executive, has introduced legislation to permanently allow wagering on competitive electronic gaming contests. The bill passed the Assembly but stalled in the state Senate last year.

“Esports is the next big thing when it comes to sporting events,” said Caputo, chair of the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee. “With online sports betting now legal in our state and a rapidly expanding esports industry already in existence, the time is right for New Jersey to expand legal wagering beyond traditional sports.”

However, Atlantic City has hosted several esports tournaments in recent years:

  • Caesars hosted the city’s first event, Gears of War Pro Circuit, in 2017.
  • Harrah’s Resort held the Rainbow Six Siege Pro League event in 2018.
  • In 2019, Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall held the Ultimate Gaming Championship’s Halo Classic tournament.
  • Showboat Hotel has also hosted several tournaments.

Nevada allowed esports betting for the first time in 2020.

Dreamstime Photo 

Super Bowl 55 Bets Top $117 Million At NJ Sportsbooks

Gamblers wagered $117.4 million on Super Bowl 55 with New Jersey sportsbooks, more than doubling last year’s total.

The Garden State sportsbook handle for this year’s NFL championship game was a 116% increase over the $54.3 million bet on Super Bowl 54.

The books paid out $106.1 million to customers resulting in $11.3 million in revenue, according to preliminary data released Monday by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

The revenue figures include New Jersey’s 12 retail sportsbooks and 19 online operators. The DGE said $99.8 million of the total handle came via online wagering.

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Third time’s a charm for NJ sportsbooks

Super Bowl 55 was the first time in three years NJ sportsbooks reported any gaming revenue from the Big Game. The books lost $4.2 million in 2020 and $4.5 million the year before.

New Jersey taxes revenue, so the state finally got a cut this year as well.

NJ Sports betting revenue is taxed at 8.5% at retail books and 13% online. While an exact number is not yet available, the state collected anywhere between $960,500 to $1.469 million in taxes from a single sporting event. With better than 90% of all sports wagers in NJ being done online, the state’s take is on the high end of the scale.

NJ Super Bowl betting scene expands

The amount bet on the Super Bowl in NJ has increased each year, as have the number of ways customers can place those wagers.

In 2019, $34.9 million was bet on Super Bowl 53. At the time, the market consisted of 10 retail sportsbooks and 12 online sites.

The number of retail books did not change the next year, but there were seven more online operators in the state.

For this year’s championship game, there were two additional brick-and-mortar books and two more mobile apps.

In 2021, all nine Atlantic City casinos had retail sportsbooks. Bally’s Atlantic City has a temporary shop at the moment while the permanent FanDuel Sportsbook is being constructed.

Freehold Raceway was also a new retail option for this year’s game. It is the third state-licensed racetrack to take legal sports wagers. Freehold has already announced PlayUp will receive one of its three online sports betting skins.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel