Atlantic City looks to make a big summer comeback [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]
Atlantic City, the original East Coast gambling and vacation destination has fallen on hard times. Our lagging economy, high gas prices, and increased casino competition have squeezed the money tap dry. But, thanks to big time renovations, new casinos, and a flashy new ad campaign they’re trying to woo visitors back to the beach!
When casino gambling was legalized on the island of Atlantic City, New Jersey (yes, most people don’t realize it’s on an island) it was done as a means to support the dying tourist industry there. In the 1970’s, the beach front vacation city had lost a great number of tourists as vacationers were choosing to fly to more luxurious destinations, instead of taking the Oldsmobile or railroad to town.
When the first casino Resorts International opened in 1978, players lined up around the block and east coast gambling instantly became a major success. More and more casinos opened and began to take serious chunks out of Las Vegas’ profits, which at the time was also in a decline. Tourists at the time did not feel safe in Vegas’ mobbed up gambling halls.
The city raked in money hand over fist and more and all going so well until 2006 when neighboring Pennsylvania decided they wanted a piece of the gambler’s wallets and opened a large number of casinos of their own. That, along with the economic recession, dealt two serious blows to the economy. A sweeping round of layoffs came for both casino workers and city employees.
After several years of decline, the tourist dollars are finally starting to return. Last December, after 40 months of declining revenue, the casinos reported a 4% increase in profits. It’s still too early to declare a victory as January 2012 slot and table game revenue totaled $236.9 million, compared to $255.4 million a year earlier.
Several of the casinos have undergone massive rebranding and remodeling to coincide with the opening of the city’s newest mega-resort, Revel. There are many new reasons to return to the beach and a splashy new ad campaign is helping to set the city back on the right foot.
REVELThe massive remodeling for the other casinos in town can mostly be thanks to the opening of the new Revel hotel-casino resort. Revel was almost a victim of the economic crisis itself and came within days of never opening. The city’s largest set of skyscrapers stalled in the middle of construction when funding partner Morgan Stanley refused to sink any more money into the project. Fortunately, they were able to secure more funding with the help of Wall Street and the state, but had to eliminate one hotel tower from the project.
The building is the second tallest in New Jersey and will feature large light beams, similar to the Luxor pyramid in Las Vegas at night. This lighting will not be unveiled until the grand opening.
Revel is still in their preview phase and will not have their official opening until Memorial Day weekend. I had the opportunity to check out what’s open so far and what I found inside can only be described as stunning.
Guests arriving to the resort will find a small city street has been upgraded to four lanes that brings you directly to Revel’s large parking garage, or porte-cochere, and is steps away from the famous Boardwalk.
Skipping out on what other casino resorts do, Revel has made their gambling area almost an afterthought. The main attraction at this resort are their upscale restaurants, outdoor pool, and spacious rooms. The casino is located on the upper floor and requires a long escalator ride or it can be reached via a skywalk from the parking garage. The gambling floor is extremely high tech and offers over 2,450 brand new slot machines and 160 table games.
Many of the tables use electronic cards, which actually help the player avoid making a costly mistake. Large IPAD type screens are embedded into the table for both the player and the dealer.
• the entire casino is non-smoking
• 14 restaurants
• 6 pools
• 3 theatres
• 40 retail outlets
• massive landscaped deck above the Boardwalk that overlook the ocean
On our first visit, we sat down at a $5 electronic blackjack table and played for hours. The electronic tables allow for an easier tipping system for the dealers. The player can tip a standard electronic chip or for more fun place a small side bet that will become the dealers tip should they win. This had the dealer rolling along right with us. Our dealer Christopher was one of the greatest I’ve ever experienced. Not only was he taking good care of the game, he was bringing over cocktail waitresses and was helping us along with the new technology. He obviously has this system figured out and the game ran completely smooth. A small sign on the side notes that the table is still in testing phase with the Casino Control Commission and they are looking for comments.
The casino is arranged in a large circle with Social a performance hall and lounge, in the middle. The music there can be heard on the gaming floor.
A large X shaped runway lies in the table game area for runway dancers, When the entertainment starts, the dancers will descend from the ceiling. This should be online in time for the official opening.
Outside of the casino, a large pool lies on the upper level that features a small, automatic glass door underwater to allow access to the outside heated pool. You can swim in and out and back and forth without ever having to leave the pool. The outdoor pool lies just above the Boardwalk and gives a sweeping view of the ocean.
In other parts of the resort we found a large shopping area, but none of the stores are open during the preview phase. This area features several themed pods with upscale couches, chandeliers, and décor.
In the restaurant area, a large Oyster Bar, featuring hundreds of bottled beers and a motorcycle hanging from the ceiling is located just off the casino floor. A New York style taco truck also serves up street side Mexican food. The resort will not feature a buffet, but will focus on a variety of unique restaurants.
Royal Jelly, a burlesque club, is also located just off the casino floor. A large bar with several blackjack tables line the front of the club. Access to the private area is paid through a fee at the rear. The dancers use large catwalks, which extend over the tables and partially out into the casino. They also walk up and down the large bar.
An escalator bank towards the rear of the gaming floor, also gives gamblers the first of its kind, catwalk access above the gambling floor. Large walk-ways extend over the gaming area and give a sky high view of the band performing in Social. Another bar is also tucked up into this area.
The entire facility is gorgeous and ornate design elements are everywhere. These “little details” offer a great deal to look at. At Revel, a blank wall is hard to find. Even the walkway to the restroom is a long bridge with blue lights giving it a club feel. Modern chandeliers and LED lights change colors on the casino floor, which itself is packed full of energy. The lights of the machines are accented by the red carpeting.
All of this design comes at a price… everything here is a bit expensive. A standard beer will run you $8 and a mixed drink starts at $10 – $12 at most bars. They do offer comp drinks for players and cocktail waitresses were plentiful.
The hotel rooms feature floor to ceiling windows, large beds, and flat screen televisions. I had initially booked a room for one night and was quoted a Thursday night rate of $279. This makes Revel, the most expensive rooms in the city. I’m curious to see if my play will get me a discount offer, but reports say they will not be offering discount room rates.
When the resort and all the amenities are officially open – I will stop back and be sure to pass along any more cool deals and features I see!
GOLDEN NUGGET ATLANTIC CITY
The Golden Nugget is also gearing up for their grand opening as well. They bought out the former Trump Marina Casino and sunk millions in desperately needed renovations, which are nearly complete. The official opening date is April 26th..
The casino was originally built by Hilton Hotels, but they were denied a gaming license and sold the property to Donald Trump. Trump opened it as Trump’s Castle and later renamed Trump Marina. Trump Marina was sold, due to bankruptcy, to Landry’s Restaurants Inc.
Landry’s began extensive renovations and The Golden Nugget now looks identical to their sister property in downtown Las Vegas. On a trip there last summer, the Marina was nearly dead, with hardly any players on the floor. Now, thanks to the sparkling renovations, the players are back!
The casino has been redone in shades of red, brown, and yellow, giving it a warm, energized feeling. Several new restaurants, stores, and bars have also opened. Chart House, Vic & Anthony’s steakhouse, Grotto offering Italian fare, and Michael Patrick’s Brasserie have all opened with some matching their sister locations in Vegas.
The Wave, an old disco nightclub has been transformed into the Live Bar, which features live bands and signature drinks every night. Rush Lounge has replaced a useless lobby bar and features bottle service, bands and private gaming tables. Next to that is the Party Pit, another gaming area featuring bar top video poker.
A mix of old and new machines dot the casino floor, but the stunning new centerpiece is Bar 46, Atlantic City’s largest video poker bar. AC has been lacking a good video poker bar since the last great one’s closure at the Trump Plaza. This poker bar, features 25¢ machines which can be increased to $1 and feature, blackjack, several types of video poker, keno and several slots all on the same touch screen. The lighting, location on the casino floor and design make this one of the signature poker bars on the East Coast and should not be missed.
On the upper level, a wine and Wi-Fi bar has also opened, while the Hooters restaurant that was next door has closed. One closure causing some outcry is the loss of Cosimo’s Pizza on the parking garage walkway. It is unclear what will go in the space.
A new shopping promenade has also been constructed offering multiple new stores including a sunglass boutique, a sundries store, a jewelry and watch store, a denim store, and new clothing shops along a sparkling new walkway.
The check-in desk has also been redone, as have all the rooms. I haven’t had a chance to stay there since the renovation, but I certainly will be the next time I’m in town. Everything you need is there and you could stay the weekend and never have to leave. They have truly brought the Las Vegas experience to the East Coast. I felt like I could exit the front door and be on Freemont Street!
The extensive year round outdoor pool, which will feature fire pits, a bar, and a restaurant are not yet open, but are expected to be, soon. Landry’s has also purchased land adjacent to the property for future casino floor expansion and construction of another hotel tower.
Atlantic City’s second oldest casino, the Borgata, was a breath of new life into town when it first opened in 2003. The city’s nicest resort wasn’t about to let some new guy come to town and take their business. They have undertaken a massive renovation that has redone their entire original hotel tower. The original tan and marble hallways have been given a pink and black color scheme that continues into the rooms, which all include new flat screen televisions, new phones, new design fixtures and linens.
The Borgata continues to offer players some of the most generous comps in town. They do frequent giveaways, slot dollars and are among the first to offer free rooms.
They have gone to great lengths to upgrade their property and are focused on keeping their very loyal players. Their service, rates and comps are more generous than Revel’s and will most likely keep them the most popular place to play in AC.
The Borgata also features one of my most favorite restaurants, Noodle of the World. Located in the center of the casino floor, Noodles offers some of the best Chinese-Asian food around. There is often a line to get in and they would make big bucks if they ever decide to sell the rights to this place!
The only thing the Borgata is missing – late night dining options. After a certain point, it is nearly impossible to get a meal, unless you use room service. On my last visit, only Fatburger was open in the food court area and only serving about 6 items that were scribbled on a sheet of tablet paper taped to the register. A little care is needed for the late night diners and hopefully, they are taking immediate steps to resolve that. Outside of that, they have most of the other “little details” covered and is worth a visit. There’s a reason many movies and TV shows have been shot here.
The former Atlantic City Hilton has been reborn as The Atlantic Palace catering to more of a local crowd.
Located at the far south end of the Boardwalk and originally opened as The Golden Nugget, the Hilton had been losing money for years. The Hilton Hotel Corporation has ended their licensing agreement with casinos and forced this and the Las Vegas property to debrand and become the Atlantic Club.
The big draw for locals are the two deep discounted happy hours. $2 beer and $3-$4 mixed drinks are served daily from 5 – 7pm and again from 10pm – midnight.
The Atlantic Palace has also slashed the price of food in their restaurants, in many cases by more than half.
Colony Capital, the company that owns the casino, was able to find a new source of cash to keep the resort in business. The smallest and lest played casino is finally seeing the crowds slowly return. For now, the experiment seems to be working and for those who are looking for a cheap room can find deals starting at $19 a night, which is the best casino rate in town.
A small renovation project is also ongoing on the casino floor, replacing the aging carpet and machines. The player card center is now closed and those who wish to play using a card (as you should, so you get the room offers and comps) must sign up for a new one at the casino cage. The card sign up at the cage is a bit unorganized and at times and stops players from cashing in their tickets and chips. It took a little while for the booth to take care of the group in front of me with new cards, before I could get mine. I would not wanted to be waiting there with a handful of chips, ready to go to bed and waiting for them to print a card, like it’s the DMV. The cage should have dedicated player card issue windows.
While the above four casinos have made major renovations, Bally’s Casino at the center of the Boardwalk has made massive cuts. More than half of the Wild, Wild, West casino and the Claridge Tower have been walled off and most of the slots and all of the table games removed. It is unclear what Bally’s plans are for the massive property, but in those two towers, the changes are depressing and very noticeable. Hopefully, these are just renovations, but no official word has been released by the company.
Bally’s has announced plans to bring their celebrity impersonator dealers from Las Vegas, known as Dealertainers, to town.
All of these changes have happened in just a few short months and vacationers will have plenty to see and do.
Atlantic City is more than just casinos, however. The Boardwalk features food, shops, museums, and games for the entire family. The Steel Pier also offers amusement rides in the warmer months.
Located just one block South of Resorts, and steps off the Boardwalk, another of my favorite watering holes is The Irish Pub. The Irish Pub is open 24 hours and is extremely popular with locals and tourists. The bar has been open since the 1970’s and is a throwback to Irish pubs of old. The low prices, fun bartenders and excellent food make this a can’t miss. For a good meal, I recommend the meatball lollipops and fries. There is a great deal of history to this place, including big name celebrities that have stayed in their hotel. I will focus on that in a future blogumn.
To push all of the exciting changes, the city has created a new ad campaign “Do AC.” The splashy television commercials feature everything from the Boardwalk to bars and are designed give the town a hip, exciting feel, like something you could see promoting Las Vegas. But, they do not feature any shots of gambling.
The $20 million campaign designed by Euro RSCG Worldwide is funded by an alliance of the AC casinos. In addition to TV, radio, and billboards, the campaign will also feature internet advertising and social media ties to entice tourists to the city. In New York, several ads placed in the Port Authority Bus Terminal promote “the city to escape the city.”
Atlantic City draws their largest crowds of the year during the summer months between Memorial and Labor Days.
With so many new options for this season, the only nail in the whole recovery plan is the skyrocketing gas prices, which are predicted to continue to rise. $4 a gallon and above will take a chunk out of everyone’s wallet and will force families to cut back. Spend money on chicken, or spend it on a slot machine. Hopefully, this isn’t a hard answer.
The ACES train, which I wrote about last year, is now officially dead. The service, which ran directly from New York using luxury trains, lost millions of dollars. New Jersey transit does offer rail access from New York via Philadelphia.
Name: Atlantic City, New Jersey
What: popular East Coast vacation resort and gambling destination
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS
This is looking to be a great summer for Atlantic City and I plan on visiting often. It is a much cheaper option than Vegas, with options for the entire family. While the casinos are the center of the action, there are plenty of non-gambling activities to check out.
When the summer season kicks up, the beach bars will be open featuring live bands up and down the Boardwalk and can be a destination to themselves.
Hopefully, the oil speculators come to their senses, and keep the fuel prices down. Otherwise, it won’t just be Atlantic City’s recovery, but rather our entire nation’s recovery, that will go down the tubes.