BUSINESS & ECONOMY

How will legal sports betting affect Atlantic City tourism?

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

“We are very excited. Yesterday was a big day for Atlantic City and the state of New Jersey,” said Jim Ziereis.

Ziereis, Tropicana’s vice president for hotel sales, said executives at Atlantic City casinos got a heads up from New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement long before Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized sports betting in any state.

“A few months ago the Division of Gaming Enforcement brought all the general managers together to bring this up, to say, ‘Hey, the Supreme Court, it looks as though they’re going to pass this. How are you prepared?’ And I can tell you, our property has been prepared in identifying space where that would take place,” said Ziereis.

Ziereis spoke at a panel on shore tourism, sponsored by Stockton University’s Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism. Analysts described how Atlantic City casinos, one of two brick and mortar venues authorized under state law to offer sports betting, could grab a chunk of the brand-new market — an estimated $150 million in New Jersey. They said Las Vegas pulls in $250 million a year from sports betting, about two percent of the gaming resort’s revenues, and it’s not from day-trippers.

“You see large groups of friends getting back together and watching favorite sports teams,” said Brian Tyrrell, professor of hospitality and tourism management studies at Stockton University’s School of Business. “They’re going over and they’re playing the table games, they’re playing the slots, they’re eating in the restaurants, drinking in the bars, taking advantage of the entertainment and making, you know, a real trip out of it.”

“You walk the streets of Las Vegas on a Sunday, and you’ll see every NFL jersey represented by the hundreds of thousands, it is a huge draw. So, it’s an incremental segment. It’s a great segment for Atlantic City to be able to capture. And I believe that there’s still a lot of legislation that still has to be worked out,” said Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC, the marketing arm of the Atlantic City Convention Center.

Hard Rock and Ocean Resort, Atlantic City’s two newest casinos, have also set aside room for sports betting. They’re both scheduled to open June 28. The casino industry’s expecting a banner summer, but they’re in a race with the tracks, the other venue that can take sports wagers in Jersey. While the Meadowlands’ Jeff Gural says his track’s aiming for a September sports betting debut, Monmouth Park plans to start taking sports bets on Memorial Day.

“It does give an entre to the tracks up north to get a foothold on sports betting, and in that way, attract the clientele into their operations,” said Atlantic City casino industry analyst Anthony Marino. “I can just foresee the lobbying efforts that will begin to take place by those racetrack operators to say, now that we have sports betting, why doesn’t the Legislature give us some slot machines?”

Marino warned Atlantic City casinos not to dally. But Ziereis says Tropicana’s more focused on the NFL’s season opener.

“I’m not going to kid you, we’re not going to be ready in two weeks,” Ziereis said. “We’re definitely going see how the regulations pan out, but there’s definitely been preparation.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney said he’d like to see the sports betting regulatory law passed and signed by June 30. The casinos would like a good look at those rules before they kick off.