The reinvention of Atlantic City has been a priority for officials, including Tony Rodio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and president and CEO of Tropicana Entertainment. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he believes Atlantic City has bottomed out and will begin to prosper. He also said allowing casinos at the Meadowlands would be a mistake.
Although Atlantic City has gone through struggles over the last few years, Rodio said, “I do think that there are some signs that we can point to that it has bottomed out and we’re going to begin moving in a positive direction. And quite frankly I’m excited about what I’ve seen at my property in July and hopefully that’s a sign of better things to come.”
Rodio said he gets numbers on a monthly basis and found that the industry in June was flat, but better than what had been experienced in the prior months. While he doesn’t know the data for July yet, he said he has seen strong occupancies at Tropicana along with what he called “good energy.”
Many have said Atlantic City needs to establish itself as a resort destination, which Rodio said he agrees with since the city lost its monopoly of gaming on the East Coast and will never get it back. “So for us to stay viable, we have to focus on some of the non-gaming amenities and the things that set Atlantic City apart from those regional convenience destinations,” he said. “That’s our hotels, our restaurants, our entertainment options, the spas, the nightclubs, the beach, the boardwalk, all those things that make Atlantic City unique. That doesn’t always translate into gaming revenue, but I think we have to get away from just looking at the gaming numbers each month as our only metric.”
Rodio said gambling revenue will continue to decline in Atlantic City, but he believes it will level off in the next year or so. “We just added a property that is over $2 billion in investment and that certainly is creating a lot of buzz and attraction and so I think that as we get into the next year you’ll start to see Atlantic City again, hitting a bottom and hopefully start to rebound,” he said.
Rodio said he wouldn’t want to open a casino at the Meadowlands because it doesn’t make sense for the state. He said Gov. Chris Christie and members of the legislature agreed to give Atlantic City a chance to reinvent itself for five years and that was only seven months ago. “To change course that quickly I think would be a mistake,” he said.
Atlantic City also employs many, according to Rodio. He said the casino industry employs 40,000 people while the industries that support casinos employ more than 60,000 people. Rodio also said the Atlantic City gaming industry pays more than $1 billion in taxes to the state.
“Lastly I think it would be a mistake for the state to have two different casino models within its borders,” Rodio said. “You’d have a convenience market at the Meadowlands and a destination market in Atlantic City — one with a high tax rate, one with a low tax rate. I really think that we would be fighting with ourselves and we wouldn’t be doing the state a service that way.”