The Greater Atlantic City Chamber brought casino leaders together Tuesday at Stockton University, Atlantic City Campus to hear directly from them, the pressing issues they are facing. Michael Monty, General Manager at Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino, Mark Giantonio, President and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, Greg Klein, Senior VP and General Manager of Harrah’s Resort and Casino, and Mike Sampson, the General Manager of Hard Rock Hotel and Casino shared their opinions with moderator David Danzis and more than 100 Chamber members gathered in Fanny Lou Hamer Hall.
Each of the casino leaders weighed in on the recovery of the Atlantic City casino industry since the pandemic and the importance of the investments they have made in their properties. Mark Giantonio said, “We are recovering but I would be dishonest to say we are completely recovered.” He used transportation metrics as a yardstick for the number of visitors to the city’s nice casinos. “The buses are down, there are fewer cars coming into the city and the number of flights in and out of the city is down.” But while profits in all but three properties are down, Giantonio as well as the others agreed there is reason for an optimistic outlook on Atlantic City.
“We are not where we used to be. Working through the pandemic and the macroeconomy, yet we have never been more focused in our effort to move Atlantic City forward,” concluded Giantonio. Mike Sampson added, “If you look at the numbers, 2022 was flat. Kudos to the industry for coming back so strong. We were closed for four months. We had to provide safe messaging to help our customers feel comfortable coming back in and the higher cost of our structures. But while the revenue was flat and our costs higher, the gaming industry is doing well.”
The convention business has not returned to 2019 levels and each of the casino leaders spoke to the importance of the conventions in Atlantic City, particularly in the shoulder season and the winter to help sustain the full recovery of the casinos. Greg Klein said, “At Harrah’s, we rely on the convention numbers and the corporate business is not completely back. If you tell your employees they can work remotely, how can you then tell them they have to go to a convention? But that is changing, these events are booked a year out and though we had hoped it was a 2023-24 recovery, it looks like 2024-25 for a full recovery.”
Significant reinvestment in the properties has been an important part of the casinos and Atlantic City’s success. “I believe the investments in our properties have been important to revive Atlantic City,” said Giantonio. Mark Sampson echoed that saying, “It is not just what goes on in the building, but that we are geared to a clean and safe Atlantic City. At Hard Rock, the investment is in the community.”
Labor shortages have been a problem across all properties but job fairs, investments with Stockton students, and other creative ways are helping to fill those vacancies. Giantonio underscored the importance of employees saying Resorts has made significant investments in their employees. “We see our employees at our property not just for this year, but generational.”
The big concern over casinos in New York City has been around for years. Now that four possible state licenses are closer to reality, the casino leaders discussed the impact of those competitors and if Atlantic City can benefit from New York casinos. Michael Monty said, “We are a destination city and that will not change. Right now, our weekends and our summer are at max capacity, but you can grow the market.”
While the cost to apply for one of the four licenses is $550 million, stakeholders in Atlantic City are also looking to own one of those licenses in New York City. Mike Sampson said there is tremendous opportunity in promoting Atlantic City in New York. While a casino in Times Square would attract visitors, cross-promoting Atlantic City and encouraging reward dollars earned in New York could be redeemed in an Atlantic City restaurant or slot machine would be beneficial.
Klein said, “Sure there is a risk when you add more casinos in a saturated market, and that is not exclusive to Atlantic City. It will present challenges but that is why it is important to have a foothold.” There has always been an ebb and flow to Atlantic City as a brand and Michael Monty said the city is cresting again. “Reinvestment in our hotels, in our restaurants, and on our beaches has helped tremendously.”
Klein pointed out the clean and safe initiatives in the city, the appointment of James Sarkos as the Chief of Police, Hope One, and the Sheriff’s Office along with the new Atlantic County Prosecutor William Reynolds has been positive to improving the image of the city.
Online gaming has been a very successful part of the city’s gaming success. The panelists discussed how land-based casinos are benefitting from online gaming. Giantonio said, “It puts us out there in the digital space. Brick and mortar sustain the online gaming license and we are all creating a synergy between online and in-person gaming.” Greg Klein added to that sentiment added, “What I am hearing, is the ability to be in constant contact with the customer and maintain that connection. We are reaching people in their individual space and connecting with them beyond brick and mortar.”
While there are successes, there are challenges that casino leaders across the board acknowledge. They pointed to the reinvestments in their properties with better restaurants, better entertainment, and better hotel rooms coupled with Atlantic City as a destination that will always draw customers. They also touted improvements in the roads to bring people into Atlantic City as well as non-gaming investments like Bart Blatstein’s water park as more reasons to come to Atlantic City. The clean and safe initiatives still have a way to go but we are working toward improvements.
The Greater Atlantic City Chamber Leadership Series: Casino Executive Panel was sponsored by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber partners, AtlantiCare, Townsquare Media, Stockton University, Atlantic City Electric, and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. Read more about the event from The Press of Atlantic City.