Friends Harry Jones and Frank Denan wandered onto the casino floor Monday, gazed at the expanse of empty slot machines and gave each other one of those “What do we do next?” looks.
“How about this one?” Denan asked Jones about one of the penny slot machines at the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel.
Jones, 84, and Denan, 90, both of Somers Point, usually arrive bright and early at the Atlantic Club most Monday mornings to get their pick of slot machines, but this Monday things were even quieter than normal.
The floor was desolate after Atlantic Club opened its doors at 10 a.m., becoming the last of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos to get back in business after last week’s shutdown caused by Hurricane Sandy.
For the Atlantic Club, a major loss of revenue could be particularly painful. The casino, one of Atlantic City’s weakest, has already suffered a 13 percent drop in gambling revenue through the first nine months this year, compared with the industry’s average decline of 5 percent. Through the first six months of the year, its gross operating loss grew to $11.2 million, compared with a $10.8 million operating loss during the same period in 2011.
Atlantic Club spokeswoman Cathleen Kiernan explained that the casino held off its reopening until Monday to make sure it would be completely ready to welcome back guests in the hurricane’s aftermath. She said additional time was needed to clean the facilities and to get food and beverage deliveries for the Atlantic Club’s bars and restaurants.
“They felt that Monday was a reasonable timeframe, given what had happened,” she said. “When your hotel is closed for that many days because of something of that magnitude, there’s a lot to be considered.”
Casinos were shut down Oct. 28 as the hurricane threatened the coast. Gov. Chris Christie finally gave the go-ahead for them to reopen on Friday after lifting his mandatory evacuation order for the storm-ravaged town.
Tony Rodio, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, an industry trade group, estimated the shutdown collectively cost the casinos about $5 million each day in lost gambling revenue.
Andrew Zarnett, a casino analyst for Deutsche Bank, believes October’s gambling revenue for the entire industry will plunge 20 percent compared to last year. He estimates the total take for October will be around $208 million.
Zarnett and other analysts have warned that the hurricane’s impact could linger for weeks. Most of the casinos have said they expect business volumes to slowly ramp up to normal levels. Kiernan took a more optimistic view Monday.
“Hopefully, the place will be packed,” she said. “We’re hoping that customers come back as quickly as they can.”
Saverio R. Scheri III, president and chief executive officer of WhiteSand Gaming LLC, a casino consulting firm based in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, said casino executives are mistaken if they believe there will be any quick comeback.
“For anyone to say, ‘No problems, we’re going to bounce back and be all right’ is a little short-sighted,” Scheri said.
Atlantic Club’s casino floor hardly came roaring back to life when the doors reopened Monday. It was eerily quiet, similar to the ghost-town atmosphere at other casinos right after they reopened on Friday and Saturday.
Only a small crowd of Atlantic Club diehards waited patiently for security guards to let them begin playing the slot machines and table games. Although customers were allowed in the building at 10 a.m., it was another 30 minutes before the casino floor was opened up.
“We want to gamble and eat. We have been waiting for this,” Atlantic Club customer George Sipps, 66, of Northfield, said as the casino prepared to open.
“If I don’t lose some money, I’m worried that I’ll be in a higher tax bracket,” joked another customer, Harry Fuller, 60, of Somers Point.
Maxine Dumas, 69, of Durham, N.C., was part of a casino bus trip that arrived in Atlantic City on Sunday and is scheduled to leave Tuesday. Dumas said the group was supposed to stay at the Atlantic Club the entire trip but had to relocate to Bally’s Atlantic City because the Atlantic Club’s hotel was closed over the weekend.
Dumas, who travels to Atlantic City for gambling trips only two or three times a year, wondered whether she would ever be back. Referring to the widespread storm damage, she questioned whether many customers will ever return.
“I know it will be tougher for me,” Dumas said. “Already, I don’t come here all that often.”
Contact Donald Wittkowski: