By the time the first casino opened in Atlantic City’s Marina District in late 1980, four casinos were already lined up along the Boardwalk to compete with today’s Harrah’s Resort, which was soon to start branding itself as “the other Atlantic City” and “the better Atlantic City.”
When the then-Trump’s Castle opened in the Marina area in 1985, the Boardwalk was home to a total of nine casinos.
The two sections of the city have competed for market share ever since, but a new Stockton University analysis shows that the Marina casinos have been winning that battle consistently for the last few years.
Starting in early 2014, the three casinos in the Marina won more from gamblers every quarter than all their combined competitors on the Boardwalk, according to Felicia Grondin, the associate director of Stockton’s Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism, or LIGHT. Grondin reported her findings in the latest edition of “Light’s On,” a Levenson Institute newsletter.
The number of those Boardwalk casinos started shrinking in January 2014, when the former Atlantic Club closed after more than 33 years and several changes of identity. Then in September 2014, Showboat, Revel and Trump Plaza all closed within weeks of each other.
So the number of Boardwalk casinos has dropped considerably in the last two years, Grondin acknowledges in her report. Still at points in her study years of 2009 to 2015, Atlantic City had eight casinos on the Boardwalk and three in the Marina, and those three were taking in more gross gambling revenue than the other eight combined.
The analysis by Grondin, a former legislative liason for the state Casino Control Commission, reports that sometimes the competition has been very close. The Marina casinos took in 52 percent of the city’s gross win in that first quarter of 2014 and 51 percent the following quarter.
But by the last quarter of 2014, just after that September spate of closings, the three Marina casinos had 67 percent of Atlantic City’s total win. The five Boardwalk survivors split the rest.
“That was surprising,” Grondin said Monday in an interview. “I really thought because of the (number) of casinos on the Boardwalk, it would exceed the Marina.”
And for years, that was how the city’s win broke down. From 2009 to 2013, the Boardwalk casinos never took in less than 50 percent of the city’s gross gambling win. The Boardwalk share reached as high as 60 percent of the city’s total, in the fourth quarter of 2013, just before the casino closings started.
That was despite the fact that a Marina property, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, has been the city’s dominant casino since it opened in 2003. In the latest quarterly reports posted by the state Division of Gambling Enforcement, for last year’s third quarter, Borgata took in more total revenue than its two closest competitors combined — neighboring Harrah’s and Caesars Atlantic City, on the Boardwalk.
Grondin also notes that the third Marina casino, the Golden Nugget Atlantic City, has made some of the city’s biggest gains in its gambling win in the last several years.
Grondin points out that the win breakdown often followed the seasons. The Boardwalk casinos’ market share normally went up in the second and third quarters of the year, the spring and summer months, and dropped to closer to 50-50 in the city’s off-season.
Analyst Joe Weinert, of Linwood-based Spectrum Gaming Group, has no trouble seeing why the Marina properties have been dominating the city’s numbers.
“The Marina just has some advantages that the Boardwalk doesn’t,” he said. “All three properties have seen considerable capital investment over the last several years, and all together, there’s a real critical mass there. If you drive on the Brigantine connector and look around, there’s a real sense excitement clustered in one local area.”
And, he added, “The Marina District doesn’t have the perception of crime and grime ... that some people have with the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk properties, some of them over the last year or two, have started to put some serious reinvestment dollars into their properties, and that’s helping.”
But they’re not connected, “and you’re passing some areas of the Boardwalk that are attractive, and some that aren’t” to get from one to the other, Weinert noted.