Here’s the way to get to Atlantic City:
Pick up the phone, dial a few numbers, and tell the person at the other end of the line you were thinking about making a trip. Within an hour, a jet is scrambled and crews rush to pick you up, flying you to Atlantic City International Airport in comfort and style. When you’re finished, that night or whenever, the casino jets you back home.
For most people, this sort of travel is a dream. But for a handful of top players, it is a way of life.
Atlantic City’s casinos have long treated their top players far differently than other gamblers. The gaming halls cater to the whims of their high-rollers, getting them the best food, tickets to the best shows and keys to the swankiest accommodations. They also get the best travel, including chauffeured jet service to and from Atlantic City.
While some of the gambling halls have cut back on the travel options, one casino — Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa — owns a pair of jets used to shuttle patrons along the East Coast. Federal Aviation Administration records show Borgata owns two British Aerospace 125s, now sold as Hawker 800s, that have the option of seating about a dozen people and have the ability to travel at a cruising speed of 463 mph, reaching 41,000 feet.
The planes, distinguished by stripes and Borgata’s capital B painted on the tail in purple, can travel between 2,359 and 3,145 miles without refueling, according to The Handbook of Business Aviation.
Joe Lupo, Borgata’s senior vice president of operations, confirmed that the casino owns the jets and keeps the pilots on staff, but would not make the pilots available for interviews, allow access to the planes or even disclose many details of the planes themselves.
Records show the planes typically stay close to Atlantic City, according to FlightAware, a flight-tracking website. Between Aug. 12 and Dec. 12, one plane took off 170 times, but averaged just 36 minutes per flight. The other plane took off 115 times, with an average 43-minute flight. Many of the trips are apparently multileg jaunts, with the website’s records tracking the separate legs of the journey as individual trips.
The records also show the planes were flown mostly along the East Coast. They stopped in New York City-area airports 63 times during that time period, including 28 visits to Teterboro Airport, a popular Bergen County hub for corporate jets. It’s a time saver: A flight from Teterboro to Atlantic City averaged about 21 minutes, compared with about a two-hour drive covering the same ground.
Borgata jets also made 24 visits to Washington Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C.; five stops at Trenton-Mercer Airport in Ewing Township, Mercer County; four trips to Raleigh County Memorial Airport in Beckley, W.Va.; and two excursions to Philadelphia International Airport.
The jets can travel far, twice flying to Toronto Pearson International Airport, and on Sept. 17 taking a jaunt to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., stopping briefly both ways in Salina Municipal Airport in Salina, Kan.
Tropicana Casino and Resort also offers high-end charter flights to certain select players, said Eric Fiocco, vice president of marketing. Fiocco said the casino bet heavily on the high-limit table games market, and many of the top players prefer to fly privately.
Tropicana does not own airplanes, Fiocco said, but its VIP staff works with outside contractors across the country, largely on the East Coast, to bring in players.
The players typically fly on six- to 12-seat, small-to-midsized Lear jets, although for larger parties they can arrange a bigger jet, such as a Gulfstream, Fiocco said. There are typically televisions on flights and a stewardess on board the larger planes.
“The best amenity is it is private.” Fiocco said. “You’re getting right to the plane and to your destination without having to go through security screenings.” And when the plane arrives, a car awaits to take the customer straight to the casino, he said.
All this can be done quickly. With sometimes as little as an hour’s notice, the casino can arrange for a jet and get a high-roller headed to the resort.
Fiocco would not say how much the casino pays for this service, nor would he allow the customers to be interviewed.
“These people are such high-visibility people they would not want to be quoted,” Fiocco said.
TWC Aviation, based in San Jose, Calif., is one of about a half-dozen aviation companies approved by New Jersey regulators to do business with the casinos. The company trades on convenience, company Vice President Scott Cutshall said.
“You don’t have to get to the airport two hours before the flight, you don’t have to go through secondary screening, you don’t have to wait to pick up a rental car or wait for your bags,” Cutshall said.
Most companies rent the planes by the hour, Cutshall said, with smaller planes such as the four-seater Cessna Citation Mustang costing between $1,700 and $1,800 per hour. Larger jets, such as as a Boeing Business Jet — essentially a 737 reconfigured for luxury accommodations — run between $10,000 and $15,000 per hour.
A number of other companies also handle flights for the casinos, treating customers to the convenience of jet travel in hopes of separating the players from their wallets.
The largest charter company in the region is Margate’s Gold Transportation, a company incorporated in 1982 to provide air transportation services to the nascent casino industry. The company, like other public charter companies, arranges air transportation for groups of passengers through set air carriers.
On its website, the privately held company said it has arranged more than 1,500 flights for its customers, with 95 percent of the flights for Atlantic City properties. The company also claimed more than 200,000 tourists arrive and depart on Gold flights.
One of its programs is arranging flights for Harrah’s Entertainment’s Total Rewards programs. Harrah’s lists 69 cities in 22 states, two Canadian provinces and Washington, D.C., that Gold Transportation arranges flights to, through agreements with Sky King, of Los Angeles, and the now-defunct Pace Airlines.
FAA records show that in 2011, Gold Transportation used Sky King for Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, Harrah’s Resort, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, Trump Marina Hotel and Casino, and Caesars Atlantic City. In the filings, Gold said the seats were engaged for $100 apiece, with casino accommodations included.
Through Sky King, Gold Transportation arranged more than 425 flights, using a 120-seat Boeing 737-200. But with 30 to 45 people per flight, this means the plane typically took off with a largely empty passenger compartment, giving passengers plenty of space to move around in.
Gold also scheduled 31 flights with Falcon Air of Doral, Fla., for Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal and Harrah’s, according to FAA filings, and four flights with Cleveland’s Charter Air Transport for the Golden Nugget and Trump properties.
Tim Smith, vice president of Gold Transportation, said confidentiality clauses in the firm’s contracts kept it from commenting. Trump officials declined comment, while Harrah’s officials said they were barred from public comments on the firm by federal Securities and Exchange Commission regulations. Sky King officials also did not return requests for comment.
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