The swelling competition for Atlantic City's casino industry was front and center today as Revel, the city's newest resort, hosted this year's East Coast Gaming Congress.
At a panel discussion on the growing number of mid-Atlantic casinos, New Jersey gaming executives sat with counterparts from neighboring states as they recounted plans to revive the struggling resort city. Tony Rodio, CEO of the Tropicana casino, said Atlantic City gaming halls face the unusual challenge of having to compete with one another — in a state that has no limit on casino licenses — and with regional competitors.
But the solutions include leveraging the amenities that are unique to the city and focusing on increasing nongaming revenue, Rodio said. The city's 12 casinos should then look to continue the collaboration and momentum that has developed over the past year.
"Once we have achieved some level of success, I think it's important that we minimize our internal marketing competition," Rodio said. "We do have the second-lowest game tax in the country, at 8 percent. However, our industry operates with a self-imposed marketing tax that it's in the 40 (percent) to 45 percent range."
The panelists discussed other developments in the regional gaming market, including the upcoming opening of the Maryland Live casino in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area. The resort will open with 4,750 slot machines — the highest total any U.S. casino has ever opened with, said Cordish Co. Chairman David Cordish, whose firm built the facility.
And in Pennsylvania, where new casinos have decimated Atlantic City's share of the market, lawmakers recently began a competitive bidding process for the state's last casino license, said Jay Snowden, a senior vice president for Penn National Gaming.
State officials and Atlantic City business leaders are pinning their hopes on several new developments from the past year, including the creation of a state-run tourism district, sweeping reform legislation and the long-awaited opening of Revel last month. April also marked the launch of a new multimillion-dollar campaign by the Atlantic City Alliance, the nonprofit, casino-financed agency charged with promoting the city's nongaming attractions.
Don Marrandino, eastern division president for Caesar's Entertainment, said future bookings for the summer are up about 27 percent at "some of our properties." But he said collaboration has been key for the city's casino executives.
"It's interesting that in this crowded market, the CEOs at the properties in Atlantic City get together at least twice a month," Marrandino said.
The executives on the panel also discussed restoring the midweek business that has been lost to the Pennsylvania market. Their plans include seizing upon meeting and convention business and bringing in more entertainment offerings during the week, they said.
At the policy level, Rodio said lifting the federal government's ban on sports wagering could provide a boost to Atlantic City. Another important step would be legalizing Internet gaming at the state level, an issue that currently faces uncertainty in the state Legislature.
"I think both of those legislative changes would really go a long way toward helping the market," Rodio said.