A big Memorial Day weekend, highlighted by the debut of some glitzy new casino projects, wasn’t enough to push revenue higher in May for the struggling Atlantic City gambling industry.
The 12 casino hotels took in $253.1 million from their slot machines and table games in May, down 4 percent from the same month last year, according to figures released Monday by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
Although gambling revenue continues to fall this year, May’s figures reflected some improvement in the market. Revenue plunged by double-digit margins in each of the first four months of 2013, so May’s modest decline was somewhat encouraging.
“I think it’s a significant improvement,” said Tony Rodio, president and chief executive officer of Tropicana Casino and Resort. “I think the lower numbers we’ve seen since October are more of a reflection of the lasting effects of Sandy. I think the further we put Sandy in our rear-view mirror, the more we’ll see better results.”
Hurricane Sandy forced the casinos to shut down for a week beginning Oct. 28, costing the industry an estimated $5 million per day in gambling revenue. Moreover, the city has been slow to recover from the hurricane’s lingering effects. Rodio believes that May’s results suggest that the market is finally on the rebound.
“It’s a positive sign heading into summer,” he said. “I think we’ll start to see some positive numbers in the fourth quarter and through the early part of next year.”
Casinos rolled out a series of new attractions in hopes of a blockbuster Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the peak summer tourism season. The projects included a $35 million Margaritaville-themed expansion at Resorts Casino Hotel, a new nightclub at Golden Nugget Atlantic City and a new beach club at Revel.
Several casinos reported that their hotel rooms were either sold out or nearly booked up for the holiday weekend, suggesting strong visitation for the resort town to kick off summer.
“It seems like everyone around town had a reasonably strong Memorial Day weekend,” said Rodio, who also serves as the president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, an industry trade group.
Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville bar, restaurant and casino project immediately boosted Resorts’ results. Atlantic City’s oldest casino, now under the operation of Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun, saw its revenue rise 20 percent in May. Resorts’ increase was second only to the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel’s nearly 25 percent jump in May revenue.
“We certainly feel that a lot of our increase is attributable to Margaritaville and our partnership with Mohegan Sun,” said Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts. “We started to see our numbers turn when we were finalizing our construction projects in the early part of May.”
Giannantonio noted that the momentum Resorts established in early May carried through to Memorial Day weekend.
“We were very pleased with our Memorial Day weekend,” he said. “We had a lot of traffic through the property. We had a lot of excitement from our customers.”
Revel, the city’s newest casino, continued to slump following its exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May. Revel posted just $11.2 million in gambling revenue, second to last among all casinos and 20 percent lower than the nearly $14 million the megaresort grossed in May 2012.
Just four casinos had higher revenue in May. Joining the Atlantic Club and Resorts in positive territory were Caesars Atlantic City, up 7 percent, and Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, up 5 percent.
Borgata maintained its status as the city’s top-grossing casino, pulling in $52.4 million in revenue to far outpace its rivals. Caesars was second at nearly $32.6 million, while Harrah’s Resort came in third at $31.2 million. Harrah’s, though, was down nearly 9 percent in May compared to last year.
Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, the city’s poorest-performing property in 2012, was in the cellar again in May. It plummeted 27 percent, to just $6.9 million in gambling revenue.
Trump Plaza was dealt a setback when its proposed $20 million sale in February to the California-based Meruelo Group was blocked by the casino’s mortgage holder, Carl Icahn. The billionaire investor objected because he felt the sale price was too low.
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