Atlantic City is the nation's second-largest gambling market, but it's America's third choice among all casino destinations, according to a new poll.
The Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll puts the seaside casino resort behind Las Vegas and New Orleans when it comes to where gamblers would like to spend their time and money.
Not surprisingly, Las Vegas was the first choice of 47 percent of respondents who were asked which casino destination they'd most like to visit. New Orleans was second at 10 percent, followed by Atlantic City at 8 percent, Reno, Nev., at 5 percent, and St. Louis at 4 percent.
"Atlantic City is really in a national, if not international, competition for visitors," said Donald Hoover, a professor who teaches in FDU's International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. He's also a former casino worker at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City.
"Businesses and planners need to start thinking and acting like they're in a national market," he said.
Those who picked Atlantic City as their first or second choice say its best characteristic is its beach (26 percent), followed by its casinos (11 percent), the fact that it is "someplace new to go" (8 percent) and offers exciting entertainment (6 percent).
When the Slatterys, a Westlake, Ohio, couple were planning to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary, they considered Las Vegas.
"I said, 'We've gone to Las Vegas so many times; let's go to Atlantic City instead,'" said Rosemary Slattery.
"We made a good choice," her husband, Jerry, added. He last visited Atlantic City in 1949 _ nearly 30 years before the resort offered casino gambling.
"This is my first time here since you added all this stuff," he said. "I wanted to see how it's changed."
The couple enjoyed a rolling chair ride on the Boardwalk, loved gazing out at the ocean, and said the people they encountered were friendly.
Suzanne Malafronte of Naugatuck, Conn., and her husband, Ernie, were staying at the Tropicana. They did so even though they easily could have visited one of two Indian casinos in their home state.
"You've got variety here," she said. "There's, what, 11 casinos here? We have two. When you're in one of those, it's like you're trapped in the building. Here you can walk the Boardwalk."
People who didn't choose Atlantic City as their first or second pick have a variety of reasons. Eleven percent said they simply "like other destinations better," while 10 percent said it is "too far" from where they live.
Significantly, 24 percent of this group did not give a reason why they don't want to come to Atlantic City. Hoover says this is good news for the struggling resort.
"It suggests that Atlantic City still has the opportunity to create a positive image," he said.
Just 4 percent said the city is dirty or rundown, and 3 percent said they won't come to Atlantic City because they "don't like New Jersey."
Don Marrandino, eastern regional president for Caesars Entertainment, which owns four of Atlantic City's 11 casinos, says the resort is working hard to redefine itself.
"When it first opened, this was strictly gaming-centric," he said. "Now it's entertainment, spas, food, shopping-centric in addition to gaming," he said. "I've been encouraged by this for a while now."
As a second-choice destination, Atlantic City does well in the northeast, at 25 percent. Interestingly, Atlantic City fares best as a second choice out west, where 30percent of respondents west of the Rocky Mountains chose it as their Plan B.
"For years, Atlantic City has been scouring the nearest backyards for customers," Hoover said. "It's time the city reached a lot further."
The poll of 711 adults nationwide was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cell phones from March 21 through March 27. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.