East Coast Gaming Honchos Strategize On Non-Casino Growth

By Lauren Wanko

For casino executives at the 16th annual East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City, the focus wasn’t just about turning around the declining revenue numbers but how the city’s 12 properties can expand, apart from their casinos. “What we need to do here is to make a distinction between gaming and non-gaming and create an attractive environment for visitation,” said John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA).

According to Don Marrandino, Eastern Division President of Caesars Eastern Division, a key factor in attracting more people is finding a way to improve convention group visits, which he says has seen double-digit growth this year. While Atlantic’s City’s convention business continues to grow, casino revenues continue to slump, down 10 percent in April from the same period last year. But the Tropicana is the exception. Its slot machine revenue has grown over seven straight months, up 17 percent in April. CEO Tony Rodio credits his casino’s success with a shift in their strategy. “I look more now then I ever did at our non-gaming revenues than our gaming revenue,” says Rodio.

Casino executives and politicians are counting on Revel to jumpstart the city’s revitalization, due in large part to the amenities they offer. With so much focus now on the destination resort experience, will this hurt Atlantic City’s other casinos?

“I think of Borgata and Revel as a price point or two above us. They’re Tiffany’s and Saks and we’re Macy’s which is great, because I don’t think our customers are necessarily the same customers that go to that. I think it’s going to help us. I don’t think that we’re as susceptible to as much loss of business as Revel,” says Rodio.

And then there’s the competition from across the border. Last month, Pennsylvania made history becoming the second largest gaming industry next to Las Vegas. Pennsylvania’s Parx Casino isn’t threatened by Atlantic City’s aggressive new marketing campaign — DO AC. “I think maybe during the summer we’ll see a dip if everything goes well in Atlantic City, but then when September starts I think we’ll be back to where we want to be,” says Frank McDonnell of Parx Casino. But New Jersey industry leaders insist this summer is just the beginning for Atlantic City.