Decline continues to slow for AC casinos

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2009 4:17 PM

After being pummeled by casinos popping up all around it for three years, Atlantic City is starting to roll with the punches.

October revenue figures for the nation's second-largest gambling market are down 6.5 percent compared with a year ago, when the nationwide recession hit.

The slowing rate of decline is what passes for good news nowadays in Atlantic City, particularly compared with double-digit declines that as recently as March approached 20 percent.

"I'm a half-full guy," said Don Marrandino, eastern division president of Harrah's Entertainment, which owns four Atlantic City casinos. "But two months does not a season make. I remain bullish, but I'm not ready to say the tough times are over."

The revenue plunge seems to be slowing, but casinos are still winning less than what they did before slots parlors started opening in Pennsylvania and New York.

Last month's results are only slightly worse than the September figures, which showed a 5.8 percent decline.

For October, the casinos won $323.8 million: $222.4 million at slots and another $101.4 million at table games.

But any respite could be brief: Delaware's casinos will soon offer table games, and Pennsylvania has similar plans. And competition from casinos in Yonkers, N.Y. and Connecticut isn't going away, either.

"There's more pain coming," said Joe Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey casino consulting firm. "A lot of the bread-and-butter customers are gone forever. That money has gone to casinos in eastern Pennsylvania, and it's not coming back."

Only two of Atlantic City's 11 casinos showed an increase in revenue in October: Caesars Atlantic City, which was up 11.1 percent, and the Showboat Casino Hotel, which was up 11.2 percent.

Harrah's Atlantic City was down 1.5 percent; Bally's Atlantic City was down 6.6 percent, and the Tropicana Casino and resort was down 7.7 percent.

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, traditionally the city's revenue leader, was down 9.4 percent, followed by Trump Marina Hotel Casino (down 11.2 percent), Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino (down 13.1 percent), and Resorts Atlantic City (down 14.3 percent).

The Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort was down 18.3 percent, and the Atlantic City Hilton was down 22.1 percent.

Analysts note that the October numbers probably would have been worse had there not been a fifth Saturday, compared with four in October 2008.

Weinert said more improvement is needed in coming months before Atlantic City can start to breathe easier.

"If Atlantic City can finish out the year with a single-digit decline, that will give a lot of people optimism that the market has hit bottom," he said.

For the first 10 months of the year, casino revenues are down 13.5 percent compared with last year.