Atlantic City's casinos still aren't playing "Back In Black" over their loudspeakers, but the decline in their revenue slowed significantly in May.
And that's what passes for good news these days in a market still struggling to find its footing after being bludgeoned by new competition, a recession and a devastating storm.
The city's casinos won more than $253.1 million last month, down 3.8 percent compared with a year ago. The figure is far less than the double-digit declines the casinos registered in the first four months of this year.
"I've said for a while now that the biggest challenge of ours has been Sandy-related, and once we put Sandy in our rear-view mirror, we'll get a much better picture of where we are as a market," said Tony Rodio, president of the Tropicana Casino and Resort and head of the Casino Association of New Jersey, the industry's trade association. He was speaking of Superstorm Sandy, which made landfall just north of Atlantic City on Oct. 29 and caused tens of billions of dollars' worth of damage.
Although the casinos themselves were virtually unharmed, the storm forced them to close for a week, and many of Atlantic City's primary feeder markets in New Jersey and New York suffered damage that still has not fully been repaired, making people less likely to gamble.
"I think it's a general stabilization of the market," Rodio said of May's figures. "If we can keep the low-percentage declines and get close to even as we enter the crucial summer months, that would be a positive indicator."
It was indisputably the best month of the year for the casinos. January saw a 13.7 decline, followed by plunges of 12.5 percent in February, 10.5 percent in March and 12.1 percent in April.
For the first five months of the year, the casinos have taken in $1.138 billion, down 10.4 percent from the same period in 2012.
Slot machines took in nearly $180 million in May, down 3.7 percent from a year ago. Table games revenue was just over $73 million, down nearly 4 percent from a year ago.
Four of the 12 casinos posted revenue increases, led by The Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, which was up 24.5 percent to $13.3 million. Resorts Casino Hotel, which opened its Jimmy Buffett-themed Margaritaville entertainment complex last month, was up 20 percent to $12.6 million. Caesars Atlantic City was up 6.9 percent to $32.5 million, and the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa was up 4.8 percent to $52.4 million, the highest revenue total in the city.
Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, which was supposed to change hands last month before a deal to sell it to a California company fell through, saw the biggest decline. It was down 27.1 percent to $6.9 million. Revel, which emerged from bankruptcy last month, was down 19.6 percent to $11.2 million. But that was still the best month Revel posted since September 2012, when it won $16.8 million.
The Golden Nugget Atlantic City was down 11.6 percent to $9.5 million; Bally's Atlantic City was down 11 percent to $23.1 million; and the Showboat Casino Hotel was down 10.9 percent to $16.8 million.
The Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort was down 10.7 percent to $22.3 million; the Tropicana was down 9.2 percent to $20.8 million; and Harrah's Resort Atlantic City was down 8.5 percent to $31.1 million.
New Jersey's casino revenue has been steadily declining since the first casino opened in neighboring Pennsylvania in Nov. 2006. Back then, Atlantic City's casino revenue reached a high of $5.2 billion. It has since fallen to just over $3 billion last year, due in large part to casinos popping up in neighboring states.
The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement said slot revenue was hurt in part by a $2 million reduction in the amount of promotional gambling credits that were wagered by casino customers in May compared with a year ago.
The casinos paid $18.2 million in state taxes on their gross revenues in May, down 0.4 percent compared with May 2012.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC