ATLANTIC CITY - Gaming revenue fell for the 13th straight month in September, but the rate of decline slowed down dramatically to give the struggling casinos some hope that their luck is finally changing.
New Jersey Casino Control Commission figures released Friday showed that Atlantic City's 11 gaming halls took in $335.4 million in revenue in September, down 5.8 percent from the same month last year. However, that was a big improvement compared to the 15.1 percent decline industrywide for the first eight months of 2009.
Don Marrandino, who oversees the four Atlantic City casinos owned by Harrah's Entertainment Inc., said he has been encouraged by an increase in weekend and some weekday business, but is not yet ready to predict that a full-fledged turnaround has begun.
"You look for the silver lining," said Marrandino, president of Harrah's Eastern Division. "My gut (reaction) is that it's way too early to say, but I think you feel a little bit better. But the game's not over yet, that's for sure."
Marrandino credited a strong Labor Day holiday weekend and a series of gay-themed events at the Harrah's properties for drawing customers to town in September. Revenue was up 3.1 percent at the flagship Harrah's Resort, one of only four casinos that posted higher winnings for the month.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, led the industry with $63.1 million in revenue, an increase of 6 percent. Other gainers included Resorts Atlantic City, up 3.9 percent, and Tropicana Casino and Resort, which eked out a 1 percent increase.
Resorts was the biggest surprise in September, finally posting higher revenue after struggling throughout the year. Resorts, Atlantic City's oldest casino, is in the process of being taken over by its lenders after it fell behind on its $360 million mortgage and faced foreclosure.
John Pasqualoni, chief operating officer of Resorts, attributed September's gains to the casino's marketing programs as well as an increase in slots play and a better hold percentage at the table games. Resorts' table game revenue rose 17.5 percent and slot winnings declined only fractionally.
Overall, Atlantic City has been hurt by tighter consumer spending during the recession and fierce competition from the Pennsylvania slot parlors. Gaming revenue has declined in every month since August 2008 and is down 14.2 percent industrywide for the year, to $3 billion. January was the last month that revenue dipped by only single digits.
Marrandino said Atlantic City must diversify its entertainment and other nongaming attractions to overcome the weak economy and competition from Pennsylvania. An example of that was Harrah's "Out in Atlantic City" marketing blitz on Sept. 25-27, a weekend of special events catering to gay and lesbian customers.
"We said we needed to speak to this market, and we got tremendous results," Marrandino said of the turnout for the gay-themed promotion.
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