With COVID restrictions lifting and the warm weather returning, Atlantic City casinos are looking for ways to entice visitors to enjoy some updated offerings. That includes a permanent outdoor dining option at Harrah’s Resort, new slot machines at Ocean Casino Resort, and renovated rooms at Bally’s and Hard Rock:
The heavy spending to overhaul spaces and add new enticements reflects the industry’s bullish outlook, and they have reason for optimism.
Revenues are trending upward and about 170 events are booked in the city through 2025, Larry Sieg, president and chief executive officer of the marketing organization Meet AC, said in a recent business roundtable.
Record-setting bets on sports and online games have helped cushion the financial blow to casinos under months of restrictions harming their business model, but they may soon become complements to in-person games, [Gregg Klein, senior vice president at Harrah’s] said.
Casinos in Atlantic City saw outstanding gross operating profits in the first quarter of the year — more than $95 million, which is over three times what they earned the first quarter of 2020 after COVID shutdowns started last March. To compare these profits to a year that wasn’t cut short by a pandemic, this year’s Q1 earnings are 11% higher than they were in Q1 of 2019:
“The strength of internet gaming and the safe return of tourists to Atlantic City are a powerful combination,” [James Plousis, chairman of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission] said. “Last week’s lifting of casino capacity restrictions bolsters confidence for a strong recovery this summer.” … The figures generally comport with nationwide statistics showing the casino industry is recovering from the economic hardship of the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the American Gaming Association, the casino industry’s national trade group, said the nation’s commercial casinos took in more than $11.1 billion in the first quarter of this year. That matched the industry’s best quarter in history, the third quarter of 2019.
Restaurants, retail stores, gyms, churches, and casinos no longer have to maintain 6 feet of social distancing between patrons. This also comes on the same day of no more mask mandates for most indoor public spaces as well as the coming end of other limitations:
New Jersey will then end all indoor gathering limits on June 4. The state currently limits 50 people for private gatherings and 250 people for political activities, wedding ceremonies and receptions, funerals, memorial services, performances, catered events, and commercial gatherings.
The state that day will also end its current 30% capacity limit for large indoor venues with fixed seating of 1,000 or greater. That will allow for full crowds, with no social distancing, at indoor concerts and sporting events.
All this effectively means most New Jersey businesses will soon be stripped of remaining capacity limits that were put in effect more than a year ago to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the restaurant had to temporarily close last year due to COVID, the restaurant Grotto has been a mainstay at Golden Nugget for nine years now. To welcome back diners, they’ve instituted some new ideas, including a special happy hour:
“Right now we are offering a happy hour at the bar from 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, with a happy hour menu and specialty cocktails such as our signature peach bellini with prosecco and peach schnapps, as well as wines and domestic drafts and imported bottled beers,” [Grotto General Manager Christina Capuano] says.
When Hard Rock and Ocean opened in June 2018, some industry experts and analysts wondered if Atlantic City could handle additional casinos.
Would the two Boardwalk properties help invigorate a recovering gambling market that had recently been cut in half by competition? Or would they simply draw customers away from existing casinos and exacerbate the market’s woes?
Well, even before COVID-19 shut down the entire city last March, the answer started to take shape. And, based on gambling revenue in the months following last year’s industry shutdown, the conclusion is now pretty clear.
Hard Rock and Ocean have steadily increased their market share of casino win (table game and slot machine revenue) since 2018 while the rest of Atlantic City casinos have all seen declines.
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