In Atlantic City, a not-as-bad December caps year with lowest casino revenues since 1997

By Geoff Mulvihill, AP
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Atlantic City casino revenues down 13 pct in ‘09

HADDONFIELD, N.J. — Atlantic City’s casinos posted their worst financial returns since 1997.

The resorts’ gambling business won $3.9 billion in 2009, down 13.2 percent from the previous year, according to data released Monday by the state Casino Control Commission.

It was the worst showing for the resort’s gambling business since 1997.

But one key player in the industry said he’s optimistic about one new measure: the December revenue. The 11 casinos brought in $272 million for the month, down 9.8 percent over December 2008.

Don Marrandino, the eastern regional president of Harrah’s Entertainment, said it signals some improvements.

He said that if it weren’t for a snowfall that hit southern New Jersey hard on Dec. 19 — and throwing off business for four days — his company’s four casinos might have brought in as much as they did in December 2008.

And for the industry, the declines may have been in the low single-digits.

“It was a tough year, a hell of a tough year,” Marrandino said. “I’m encouraged. We had an encouraging December.”

His company’s Caesars was the only casino with higher revenues last month.

For the year, every casino in the city had its revenues down, ranging from a 5.9 percent decline at the Borgata to 22.9 percent declines at the Atlantic City Hilton and Trump Plaza.

The second down year in a row in a city used to annual improvements is attributed to a deep recession coming at the same time as ramped up competition from neighboring states.

The competition is only getting steeper. Table games have been approved in Delaware and Pennsylvania, though it will take months to get it running.

Casino Control Commission Chair Linda Kassekert predicted Atlantic City will survive those challenges because of its extensive nongambling offerings, such as concerts, spas and high-end restaurants.

While most of the city’s

Matt Jacob, a casino analyst for Majestic Research Corp., said gambling revenue won’t pick up in Atlantic City, or anywhere, until the economy picks up and the unemployment rate declines.

But until then, he said, better monthly revenue numbers won’t signal better times ahead for the industry.

He said it’s not clear Atlantic City’s casino winnings will top the $5 billion mark, as they did in 2006 and 2007.

But at least, he said, the resort city is doing better at making money from nongambling sources.

Marrandino said that will continue this year as the casino industry and the city expect to book more concerts in Boardwalk Hall, which he said benefits the entire resort.

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