After nearly five years of plunging revenue caused by ever-growing competition in nearby states, Atlantic City's casinos are regaining their footing.
Revenue at the 11 gambling halls fell less than 1 percent in September, a heartening development in the nation's second-largest gambling resort where revenues have been falling for nearly five years.
The casinos took in $294.7 million, which was down just 0.6 percent from September 2010.
Table games revenue actually increased last month, up 2.7 percent to $89.8 million. Slot revenue was down 1.9 percent, to $205 million.
For the first nine months of the year, casinos won $2.6 billion. That's down 7.8 percent from the same period in 2010.
Five of the 11 casinos reported revenue increases last month, led by the Tropicana Casino and Resort, up nearly 20 percent, to $30.3 million. Casino president Tony Rodio said the Tropicana's big month was due to success at the table games, where it has adopted a high-limits strategy designed to allow players to bet big hands.
"We're going to have months when we look great, and months when we look terrible," he said. "We're not concerned so much with the month-to-month swings. We're confident we're on the right path with this."
The casino also absorbed multi-million-dollar hits earlier this year caused by big losses to high-limit gamblers.
Rodio said the Tropicana's slots revenue increased by 4.3 percent _ the first time since April 2008 the casino saw the amount it took in from slots increase compared with a year earlier.
Speaking of the city as a whole, Rodio said, "We're getting close to the bottom. We might not be at the bottom yet, but we can see it from here."
Other gainers included the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, up 11 percent to $58.8 million; Caesars Atlantic City, up 5 percent to $36 million; Harrah's Resort Atlantic City, up 1.8 percent to $37.5 million, and Resorts Casino Hotel, up 0.6 percent to $13 million.
The biggest decline was registered by Trump Plaza Casino Hotel, which is up for sale. Its revenue was down 21.6 percent to $10.9 million. The Golden Nugget, formerly Trump Marina, was down 17.9 percent to $10.6 million; and the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort was down 14.8 percent to $30.5 million.
ACH, the casino formerly known as the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort, was down 11.3 percent to $12.1 million. The casino hasn't paid its taxes since the summer of 2009, has been seeking a buyer, and is widely believed to be in danger of closing if a new owner can't be found soon.
Bally's Atlantic City was down 5 percent to $31.6 million, and the Showboat Casino Hotel was down 4.6 percent to $22.9 million.
Don Marrandino, eastern division president of Caesars Entertainment, which owns four casinos here, said Atlantic City has been inching its way back in the second half of this year. He said August was shaping up as an excellent month before Hurricane Irene forced a three-day closure of the casinos, causing a historic monthly revenue plunge of nearly 20 percent.
The casinos rebounded from their hurricane-related woes. In August, which included the hurricane, the casinos took in $278.8 million. September's $294.7 million haul represented an increase of nearly $16 million over August.
"I think in August we really felt some wind in our sails, and the market in September had a decent month," Marrandino said. "I was pretty pleased."
Last month, 13,588 people stopped for information, directions, maps and brochures at the visitors' centers on the Atlantic City Expressway and on the Boardwalk, a 19 percent increase over September 2010. Year-to-date 2011 figures show a 7 percent overall increase compared to the same period of 2010, according to the Atlantic City Tourism District.
The number of hotel rooms booked in connection with trade and public shows at the Atlantic City Convention Center increased by 10 percent in September 2011 over last September.
And bus rides to Atlantic City by day-trippers also increased last month by 18 percent over the previous year, the district reported.
"We're not out of it yet; there's still a lot of work to do, but I think this town should start feeling better about itself now," Marrandino said.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC