To the outside observer, Atlantic City's
glass-clad towers, sparkling lights, and historic boardwalk are
powerful and impressive. But a look under the flashy surface
reveals that Atlantic City, a tourist destination since 1870
when it unveiled its first boardwalk, is a city fighting to
Its competition has never been so fierce. Atlantic City is
losing ground in gaming revenue to Connecticut, Delaware,
Maryland, and West Virginia. Last year, New York surpassed the
destination in gaming revenue even though it has not yet
legalized the full spectrum of casino gaming. Pennsylvania, a
state that many do not instantly associate with gaming, now has
10 casinos that include Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Sands
Casino Resort Bethlehem, Mount Airy Casino Resort, SugarHouse
Casino in Philadelphia, and the Valley Forge Casino Resort.
According to the North American Gaming Almanac released by
Casino City Press, New Jersey ranks fourth on the list of top
gaming states. Nevada sits at the top, with $10.5 billion in
total gaming revenue, followed by California with $9.7 billion,
and New York with $5.4 billion. New Jersey brought in $4.4
billion in total gambling revenue in 2010, down from $6.4
billion in 2009.
"Atlantic City went wrong from the very beginning when it
positioned itself as a convenience gambling town and not a
resort town," says Vin Narayanan, managing editor of Casino
City, a Newton, MA-based company that gathers and publishes
data, information, and news about the gambling industry. "It
was easy to bus people in from all over the Eastern seaboard
for the day and not worry about the resort infrastructure."
Today, Atlantic City is focusing on much more than just gaming.
"I have been saying for years that in the future, one would not
have to go far from home to pull a lever on a slot machine.
Well, the future is here," says Jeffrey Vasser, president,
Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. "We have to
continue to focus on compelling reasons to come to Atlantic
City and that's not just for slot machines. It's for retail,
dining, entertainment, spa, golf, beaches, and meetings and
Betting on Diversification
In order for Atlantic City to rise above the competition,
diversification and reinvention will be vital, says Narayanan.
"Take Las Vegas. On the weekend, the big nightclubs make more
money per square foot than the actual gambling floor. Revel is
going to help, but it's going to take more than one property to
save Atlantic City," he adds.
Narayanan has a few suggestions:
• Bring in more good restaurants outside of the casinos.
• Eliminate some of the schlocky souvenir shops on the
• Add compelling special events.
• Constantly reinvent.
Narayanan says that every time he visits Las Vegas, things look
a bit different, and that's an experience that isn't common
enough in Atlantic City.
Now, however, change is happening. The city's most recent
marketing push has been focusing on the wide diversity of
experiences the destination has to offer. "If you look at our
new 'DO AC' campaign that has been very successful, gaming is
not a part of it," says Vasser. "It's about raising the level
of awareness of other ancillary amenities in the city."
The new beachfront Revel property fits the campaign perfectly
as it is marketed more as a lifestyle resort than a gaming
destination. The months-old resort, which cost a staggering
$2.4 billion and received more than $260 million in tax
reimbursements, promises a full entertainment experience with
celebrity chefs, a spa with "wow" factor, and big-name
Revel opened in April and has 1,898 rooms, each with a view of
the Atlantic Ocean; 55,000 square feet of retail space; 12
restaurants; two nightclubs; a 31,000-square-foot spa; two
theaters - one with 5,500 seats and another with 700 seats; 10
pools; a 150,000-square-foot casino; and 160,000 square feet of
indoor and outdoor meeting, convention, and event space. Some
see it as the emotional lift the city needs.
"We realize we couldn't survive on gaming revenues alone,"says
Lori Beth Gumnitz, Revel's national sales director. "It's a
fortunate thing that Revel has been designed for other purposes
and offers a wide array of experiences for our guests. We are a
complete, full-service resort with amenities that have not
existed previously in Atlantic City or the northeast market."
Vicki Gold Levi, co-author of Atlantic City: 125 Years of Ocean
Madness and a historian to the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire,"
is blown away by Revel.
"It should be a game changer," she says. "It's a vertically
integrated resort with pools, spa, shops, nightclubs, a
burlesque show, and a beach with a beach bar. If someone just
wants to gamble they can go around the corner. If they want the
experience of all these things plus the boardwalk, rolling
chairs, Steel Pier, and beach, they should come to Atlantic
Reflective of a trend happening in the entire hotel and resort
industry, Revel has partnered with a name-brand spa and
celebrity chefs to bump up its offerings. Exhale was brought in
by Revel ownership to complete its vision of a spa with a
brand- and hospitality-driven paradigm. The spa is a shrine to
wellbeing with 35,000 square feet encompassing a coed
bathhouse, wet and dry lounges, 32 therapy rooms, and a gym. A
mind/body studio for the wildly popular core fusion and yoga
classes is in the process of being built.
"A spa like this is a first for Atlantic City," says Exhale's
COO Julia Sutton. "Leveraging Exhale's brand, retreats, and
proprietary class programming draws the local community as well
as our dedicated guest base from our 19 other U.S. properties,
so we are able to positively influence Revel's overall
The last time there was such hope surrounding a hotel opening
was in 2003, when the first pair of dice rolled on a craps
table in the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Atlantic City's
location has always been a strong draw, but the city has lacked
a variety of incentive-quality properties until now, when it
boasts both the Borgata and Revel.
Shortly after Borgata, a $1.1-billion, 43-story golden
monolith, opened in 2003 - with 2,022 guest rooms, 70,000
square feet of meeting space, 12 restaurants, and a
53,000-square-foot spa - there were expansion plans. July 2008
saw the opening of The Water Club, a $400-million tower with
800 guest rooms and suites, 18,000 square feet of meeting
space, retail shops, culinary creations from the likes of
Geoffrey Zakarian, and a two-story, 36,000-square-foot spa.
Not All Glitz and Glamour
Atlantic City still has work to do. When leaving the boardwalk,
you're likely to see vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and
"This is not the Vegas Strip or Disney World. This is an actual
living city and there is improvement that needs to be made, not
just for tourists but for the people of Atlantic City as well,"
says Gold Levi.
Improvements are noticeable. The Casino Reinvestment
Development Authority, which uses casino investment obligations
to improve the city, has a Special Improvement Division, which
recently joined forces with the Atlantic City Alliance. This
newly created nonprofit plans to improve the boardwalk.
New lighting has been installed and a 3-D sound-and-light show
has been created that illuminates the facade of Boardwalk Hall
in the evenings all year long. Boardwalk Ambassadors, on foot
and on bicycles, have been employed to answer questions and
provide a sense of security simply by their presence.
Twenty new police officers have been deployed in the city,
where they will help provide an enhanced law enforcement
presence in the city's tourism district. In 2010, the governor
helped create the Atlantic City Tourism District, directed by
the state's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which
encompasses the beach, boardwalk, casinos, Marina District,
Gardner's Basin, Bader Field, and downtown retail districts.
Beyond the boardwalk, the Atlantic City Alliance's "Do AC" ad
campaign has created a buzz. Part of the city's $20-million
rebranding effort includes ads that end with the catchphrase:
"Do Anything. Do Everything."
Atlantic City, often portrayed as a gritty place, has had its
fair share of obstacles to overcome. Even the Miss America
pageant, which debuted there as a publicity stunt in 1921 by a
group of hoteliers aiming to extend the summer season, left
town in 2005.
Reminders of Miss America's history can be found all over the
city. The Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel
showcases memorabilia and pageant treasures. In front of the
hotel, a statue commemorating past pageant master-of-ceremonies
Burt Parks stands ready to crown the next successor. It's the
hope of tourism officials in this famed destination that with a
great deal of investment and hard work, their beloved Atlantic
City will once again be crowned "Jewel of the East Coast."