Bob Janickey, camera at the ready, waited patiently while his wife, Carol, posed for pictures in front of a Margaritaville sign at the Boardwalk entrance to Resorts Casino Hotel.
The Long Island, N.Y., couple wanted a memento of their visit to Margaritaville, the Jimmy Buffett-inspired entertainment complex that transformed Atlantic City's oldest casino over the summer from its former Roaring '20s decor into a faux tropical-themed paradise.
"We wanted to stay on the Boardwalk. When we saw this place, we really had to come here," Carol Janickey said of Margaritaville.
Resorts' latest financial figures suggest that many other customers feel the same way. Total revenue from Resorts' slot machines and table games jumped nearly 12 percent in August, to $14.6 million, and was up 6 percent in July, to $13.9 million.
Call it the Margaritaville Effect.
"It has every indication of being a terrific partnership that fits well by creating a brand unto itself within the larger market," Michael Pollock, a casino analyst and managing director of Linwood-based Spectrum Gaming Group, said of Margaritaville's influence on Resorts and the Atlantic City marketplace.
Resorts joined Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and Revel Casino-Hotel as the only casinos to post back-to-back revenue gains in July and August. In June, when all 12 Atlantic City casinos ended the month with lower revenue compared to a year ago, Resorts had the smallest decline, just 0.5 percent.
Since its grand opening Memorial Day weekend, Margaritaville has helped rejuvenate Resorts by attracting legions of Buffett's loyal fans, known as "parrotheads." To celebrate his project, Buffett performed a free beachfront concert in June that drew 50,000 people, according to estimates by city officials.
"We really believe that Margaritaville grew the market," said Mark Giannantonio, president and chief executive officer of Resorts. "A true Jimmy Buffett fan, a parrothead that may not have been to Atlantic City before, is coming to Atlantic City now."
Pollock explained that Buffett's fans embody a largely affluent demographic group possessing "hedonistic tendencies" that make them a good fit for the casino and entertainment scene.
"Margaritaville represents a very desirable demographic," Pollock said. "It's a combination of young people and people who don't realize they are no longer young."
Buffett, the singer-songwriter best known for his "Margaritaville" hit record from the 1970s, has created a $35 million, island-like fantasyland at Resorts. The centerpiece is his LandShark Bar & Grill spanning 200 feet out over the beach. Inside Resorts, customers are greeted by a Margaritaville-themed restaurant, retail shop and casino area, as well as a Buffett-owned 5 O'Clock Somewhere bar.
The Janickeys of Holtsville, N.Y., said they were eager to see the Margaritaville complex at Resorts. Normally, they make their gambling trips to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, which also includes a Margaritaville-themed restaurant.
"We really like the atmosphere," Bob Janickey said.
As loyal customers of Mohegan Sun, the Janickeys were rewarded with a free, two-night stay at Resorts. Mohegan Sun took over management of Resorts last year and now combines its marketing and promotional programs for its casinos in Atlantic City, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Mohegan Sun's cross-marketing programs can funnel customers to each of its casinos, similar to how the Janickeys were enticed to visit Atlantic City.
Morris Bailey, Resorts' principal owner, brought in Mohegan Sun to run Resorts after the death last year of the casino's former CEO, Dennis Gomes. Known as a casino turnaround artist, Gomes tried to revitalize Resorts by creating a retro-chic decor inspired by the Roaring '20s.
Giannantonio acknowledged that Margaritaville has replaced the Roaring '20s as the casino's dominant theme. Over the next year, all traces of the Roaring '20s motif are likely to disappear, right down to the sexy, flapper-style costumes now worn by the cocktail servers.
Although its Buffett partnership has brought in a headliner, Resorts has also benefited from a $70 million facelift overall. In addition to Margaritaville, Resorts has recently refurbished its hotel rooms, built two new VIP lounges and opened a high-end slots area.
"We have an owner in Morris Bailey and a management partner in Mohegan Sun that are dedicated to restoring the excitement at this property," Giannantonio said. "For the last year or so, the property has been completely transformed."
Resorts, however, continues to lose money. Although it enjoyed a strong summer revenue-wise, it ended the first six months of the year with a $7.4 million gross operating loss. Giannantonio attributed part of the operating loss to the amount of money Resorts invested in its recent renovations.
Operating results and casino revenue are reported separately by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. Operating results for the third quarter, which includes July, August and September, will not be released until November. The third quarter will represent the first full three months of business for Margaritaville.
Giannantonio, while stopping short of predicting a profitable third quarter, said Resorts will eventually end up in the black.
"We're quite confident the plan in place will help restore profitability to the property," he said.
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