Barely a week on the job, the new chief executive of Harrah’s Resort is sounding a new theme for the Atlantic City casinos: Let’s put aside the old rivalries and work together to boost the local economy.
With competition from gambling markets in surrounding states growing even more intense, the city’s casinos simply can’t afford to act independently anymore, Rick Mazer said.
“We really need to start looking at it from a citywide perspective, not just isolated to our individual boxes,” Mazer told the Atlantic City Hotel & Lodging Association on Tuesday.
Mazer, in his first public speech since becoming Harrah’s regional president and general manager seven days ago, said cooperation, not confrontation, will be key to drawing more tourists to town.
“I would encourage you all to think a little bit differently about how we approach the business going forward and how we start working together to bring people to Atlantic City and bring it back to what I believe it could be — the dynamic environment, the dynamic town and the natural resources that don’t exist anywhere else, including Las Vegas,” he told the audience.
The fragile economy and competition from casinos in neighboring states have pushed down Atlantic City’s casino revenue for seven straight years. Mazer urged the casino industry and tourism officials to capitalize on the attractions that distinguish the city from other gambling markets.
“We have a lot of things that we need to offer, that no one else can offer,” he said. “We need to take advantage of those things. We need to start working together more as a team, and less as independents, to enhance the entire city.”
Mazer pointed to the resort town’s oceanfront location as a prime example of how Atlantic City can elevate itself above its rivals. He maintained that Atlantic City has “the most beautiful beaches in this country.”
“Believe me, California does not have nearly as nice a beach,” he said.
Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations for Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, said the gambling industry began cooperating more after the creation of the Atlantic City Alliance in 2011. The alliance, a private marketing coalition funded by the casinos, uses $30 million annually to promote and advertise the city, including the highly publicized “Do AC” tourism campaign.
“They are working together and it has made an impact,” Lupo said of the casino executives who sit on the alliance’s board of directors.
Lupo also touched on the cooperation theme during remarks Tuesday to the Public Relations Council of Greater Atlantic City. Like Mazer’s speech before the Atlantic City Hotel & Lodging Association, Lupo emphasized the need for the gambling industry to band together for the city’s overall benefit.
Lupo noted how dramatically things have changed since Borgata first opened in 2003, when some competitors were hoping that Borgata would fail. When Revel Casino-Hotel opened last year, the industry recognized the importance of the $2.4 billion resort and was cheering for it to succeed, he said.
“We were really hoping that Revel would grow the market and bring more visitors here,” Lupo said.
Borgata vaulted ahead of other Atlantic City casinos by supplementing the gambling action with an array of nongambling amenities — upscale nightclubs, posh spas and gourmet restaurants operated by celebrity chefs. Ten years later, Borgata continues to be the city’s top-grossing casino.
Mazer said more nongambling attractions are needed to broaden Atlantic City’s appeal to overnight guests and conventioneers. Among his duties as Harrah’s new general manager, Mazer will oversee the construction of a $126 million conference center. The project will help Atlantic City grab a larger share of the $16 billion conventions and meetings market in the Northeast. Currently, it captures only about a 1 percent share.
Mazer said the conference center is an example of how one casino project could benefit all of the casinos. The project, expected to be completed in 2015, should boost demand for guest rooms and allow the casinos to gain greater profits from their hotel operations, Mazer said.
“Everyone benefits from this,” he said.
The 59-year-old Mazer started his casino career in 1979 as a craps dealer at Caesars Atlantic City. He worked his way through the executive ranks to eventually become the president of the Caesars Entertainment-owned Harrah’s, Flamingo and Quad casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. Caesars Entertainment transferred him to Atlantic City to run its flagship casino here and supervise the conference center project.
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