East Coast Gaming Congress

Tony Rodio speaks during East Coast Gaming Congress at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Tuesday.

Edward Lea

A top Atlantic City gambling executive came out swinging Tuesday at casino competitors in surrounding states, ridiculing them as little more than “Walmarts with slot machines.”

Tony Rodio, chief executive officer at Tropicana Casino and Resort, predicted that the slumping Atlantic City market is on the verge of a comeback, in large part because other casinos in the Northeast simply don’t have the attractions to compete with the seaside resort.

“We have a huge advantage over these regional competitors because of our diversified experience,” Rodio said in keynote remarks during the opening day of the East Coast Gaming Congress at Boardwalk Hall.

“These regional competitors are, for the most part, Walmarts with slot machines and a bar and a restaurant,” he continued.

After a steady dose of gloomy news for six years in a row, Rodio gave a surprisingly optimistic outlook for the Atlantic City market.

Paraphrasing a famous Mark Twain quote, Rodio contended that reports of Atlantic City’s death are “greatly exaggerated.”

“I think the future is not as gloomy as anyone would have you expect to believe,” said Rodio, who also serves as president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, an industry trade group.

Rodio conceded that Atlantic City gambling revenue likely will fall again in 2013, representing the seventh consecutive year of declines. But he predicted the market is headed for a recovery once it shakes off the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Atlantic City gambling revenue has plunged more than 40 percent since peaking at $5.2 billion in 2006, the same year rival casinos began opening in Pennsylvania. Atlantic City revenue sank to $3 billion in 2012 amid intense competition from new casinos in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.

However, Rodio believes casino customers ultimately will grow tired of the relatively modest casinos in other states and will return to Atlantic City for its resort-style attractions.

“I’m actually upbeat about Atlantic City,” he said.