By early next year, Atlantic City will have a reporting system in place allowing officials to track what’s spent in the city outside of gambling more accurately than ever before.
The Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority currently releases monthly tourism barometers that provide data on the number of conventions in the city, events at Boardwalk Hall and inquiries made online about the city. More precise breakdowns of how and where people spend money in the resort have eluded officials — until now.
Beginning next month, the authority will be able to track spending on food and beverage, retail and ticket sales throughout the resort, with the first month’s worth of data likely released in February. With the help of Atlantic City-based research firm Spectrum Gaming Group, it’s expected that those categories could be broken down even further to differentiate spending between high-end restaurants and family restaurants among other categories, officials said.
Over time, that will allow the authority and other stakeholders to look for patterns in spending habits and perhaps adjust plans accordingly.
“What we’re going to have is a much deeper understanding than we’ve ever had before about nongaming activity,” Spectrum Gaming Group Managing Director Michael Pollock said. “We don’t know the full potential of what we have here. We don’t know the snags we could run into, but the potential is so exciting.”
ACCVA President Jeffrey Vasser called the development huge. The authority and other groups have discussed ways to expand the data in the barometer for some time, but that kind of reporting takes a great deal of cooperation, he said.
Currently, the data included in the barometers comes primarily from within the authority itself, with the bulk of the data based on events at the Atlantic City Convention Center and Boardwalk Hall, both operated by the authority. Casinos provide some data, and the South Jersey Transportation Authority provides transportation statistics.
The new data, however, will require additional reporting from the casinos, as well as reporting from credit card services.
“Imagine how many different retail stores are out there. Trying to get everybody to report a certain way and in timely manner every month is a challenging thing to do,” Vasser said.
While no organization has a strong handle on what’s spend in the city in those categories, it isn’t for lack of trying. Some groups have tried to extrapolate some of that information from reports of Atlantic City’s luxury tax, a 3-percent levy on alcoholic beverages sold by the glass and a 9-percent levy on all other purchases covered by the tax, including ticket purchases, hotel rooms and food.
But breaking down what’s spent where is difficult, if not impossible, said Brian Tyrrell, an associate professor of hospitality and tourism management at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. There, the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming Hospitality & Tourism has looked at luxury tax data and is considering whether it might want to buy ACCVA’s new data to work with, Tyrrell said.
“Particularly with the Atlantic City Alliance’s renewed focus on nongaming aspects of the city, this is particularly important,” Tyrrell said. “If this is going to be the focus, there needs to be an accurate way to measure what’s happening.”
Jeff Guaracino, a spokesman for the alliance, a casino-funded marketing coalition, said it’s too soon to say how much the alliance might use the data, but noted that the group is always looking for better ways to track nongambling activity. The alliance’s “Do AC” campaign kicked off this year. The campaign uses no images of gambling and instead focuses on images of the city’s beaches, Boardwalk, restaurants, nightclubs and shopping areas.
Tracking what goes on in those sectors has been difficult, Pollock said. Traditionally, the majority of data available comes from government sources, but government reporting can be limiting.
“What we’re looking at is breaking out beyond the traditional government sources,” Pollock said, noting that if the new reporting system works, it should raise additional questions about the breakdown of spending in the area.
Vasser noted that data can be broken down into categories and analyzed in different ways. That kind of analysis can be expensive, but the potential is there.
Data released in this month’s barometer shows nongambling activities took a hit in the wake of hurricane Sandy, mirroring to some extent data released by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement on Monday. It showed the casinos saw an unprecedented 28 percent decline compared with the same month last year.
The number of conventions, tradeshows and meetings at the Atlantic City Convention Center was down by 91 percent from November 2011, with 10 fewer events this year because of cancellations after Hurricane Sandy.
Boardwalk Hall, however, provided a bright spot. There was one fewer public show last month, but with three sporting events in November, attendance was up by 26 percent over the same month last year, with a total of 28,022 people at the venue. In the year to date, Boardwalk Hall has seen an 11 percent increase in attendance, with 286,629 attendees.
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