Atlantic City casinos escape damage, wait for approval to reopen
Atlantic City casinos escaped Hurricane Sandy without major damage, but they will remain closed at least through Wednesday while the seaside resort is sealed off to tourists by the governor’s mandatory evacuation order.
No reopening date was decided during a conference call Tuesday afternoon between the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement and the chief executives of the 12 casinos. David Rebuck, division director, plans to visit the casinos Wednesday to assess their condition and the city itself.
“That information will be shared with state leaders in order to assist the governor in making his determination on when residents, business owners and citizens may begin to return to Atlantic City,” division spokeswoman Lisa Spengler said in a statement.
Tony Rodio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, an industry trade group, said it is premature to discuss a possible reopening date while Gov. Chris Christie’s evacuation order remains in effect and cleanup efforts continue, preventing tourists from entering the city.
“They don’t want roads filled with employees and customers while they’re still trying to resolve safety issues,” Rodio said.
Rodio, who also serves as chief executive officer of Tropicana Casino and Resort, said the gambling industry fully supports Christie’s action. He noted that casinos remain ready to open whenever the evacuation order is lifted.
“Each of the properties held up really well. Now, it’s just a waiting game,” he said.
Casinos closed on Sunday as the hurricane churned up the coast and the governor ordered everyone to leave the barrier islands. Rodio estimated the shutdown is costing the industry between $4.5 million and $5 million each day in lost gambling revenue.
Casino executives say they should be able to quickly ramp up operations to get their properties reopened. Although other parts of Atlantic City were hit hard, the massive casinos emerged from the storm largely unscathed, executives said.
“Once the state gives the word, we’re ready to go,” said Tom Pohlman, general manager of Golden Nugget Atlantic City.
Pohlman said Golden Nugget’s casino complex and hotel tower were undamaged. The adjacent Farley State Marina operated by Golden Nugget suffered some minor damage to the bulkheads and docks, he said.
Other casinos reported they had only minimal damage or were unharmed by the storm. Rodio said damage inflicted by Hurricane Irene on Tropicana in August 2011 was worse than Sandy’s wrath.
“Tropicana had very little minor damage, even less than with Irene,” he said.
Atlantic Club Casino Hotel spokeswoman Cathleen Kiernan reported there was only minimal damage to the property.
Kiernan said Atlantic Club has not yet committed to any reopening date. She stressed that the casino wants to be fully prepared to offer customers a high level of service before it welcomes them back.
Rodio said the casinos should be able to reopen without much difficulty once the state gives final clearance. But he cautioned that it could be some time before Christie deems Atlantic City safe enough for casino customers and employees to return following extensive street flooding and damage to the beachfront.
“We’re going through a damage assessment, not just in Atlantic City, but with the bridges, the roads and the whole transportation system,” Rodio said. “Even if the Atlantic City casinos are not damaged, I don’t know if the employees and customers can get here yet.”
This is only the fourth shutdown in Atlantic City’s 34-year history of casino gambling. Hurricane Gloria in 1985, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and a state budget crisis in 2006 also forced the casinos to temporarily close.
In a related development, the Atlantic City Alliance has suspended its “Do AC” publicity campaign in major markets across the Northeast while the city remains closed to tourists.
“We have suspended the media campaign because it makes no sense to run it right now,” said alliance spokesman Jeff Guaracino.
Guaracino also said the alliance has been closely monitoring the media coverage of the hurricane, particularly the way Atlantic City is being portrayed on national TV.
The alliance, a private organization funded by the casinos, launched a $20 million multimedia blitz last spring built around the “Do AC” theme. It is designed to polish Atlantic City’s image and lure tourists from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore and other areas of the Northeast corridor.
The publicity campaign touts Atlantic City as an exciting, higher-end tourist destination offering more than just casino gambling. An additional $6 million is being spent on a fall ad campaign that emphasizes the city’s retail shops, restaurants, nightclub scene, spas and other nongambling attractions.