Atlantic City’s efforts to recapture some of the tourism dollars it has lost to casino competition in recent years finally appear to be working.
Nine years ago, the city’s casinos started realizing they needed to offer more than just gambling if they still wanted visitors. They doubled down on expensive investments like additional hotel towers, restaurants, swimming pools, spas, shopping, nightclubs and concert venues.
Now, cash sales at non-gambling outlets within casinos represent 28.5 percent of revenue, up from 22.3 percent two years ago, and bars have increased their payrolls by nearly 39 percent in the past two years, according to a recent study conducted by the consulting firm Tourism Economics and commissioned by the Atlantic City Alliance, which promotes the resort to other parts of the country. The study didn’t address profits, but many casinos have reported upturns in profits after adding extras.
“I’m not really a gambler,” said Brandon Ferguson, of Oaklyn, New Jersey. “I don’t like to give my money away; I like it to work for me. I like to chill on the beach, enjoy some good food, do some sightseeing and people-watching.”
He was one of many who turned out in late June for the opening of The Playground, developer Bart Blatstein’s $52 million remake of the former Pier Shops complex into a music-themed entertainment facility. Its main attraction is T Street, a row of music-themed bars and performance venues meant to evoke Nashville’s Music Row: a honky tonk here, a retro ’80s bar there, an outdoor beer garden, and of course, an Irish pub. A large concert space at the end of the pier can hold 2,000 fans, as well as meetings or even a wedding. Coming soon: a bowling alley and a sports bar designed for fantasy sports aficionados.
Casinos alone have become boring, Blatstein said.
“Would you go see the same movie over and over again?” Blatstein asked. “That’s what’s happening here. Atlantic City needs something else besides gambling.”
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