ATLANTIC CITY - Some new casino billboards have been popping up in the Lehigh Valley, home turf of the $743 million Sands Casino Resort, Pennsylvania's newest and most expensive slots parlor.
But instead of beckoning customers to the Sands, the billboards invite gamblers to the Trump casinos in Atlantic City, about 120 miles away. They feature a side-by-side comparison of the amenities the resort-style casinos in Atlantic City have and the more modest slot parlors in Pennsylvania do not.
The billboards are part of a marketing effort by casinos to entice Pennsylvania gamblers to Atlantic City this summer, the peak time for tourism. After watching the slot parlors steal their business for the past two years, the casinos seem more willing to raid Pennsylvania for customers.
"Atlantic City has so much more to offer - the beach, the Boardwalk and table games. We want to remind them that, although there are slot parlors in their backyard, we have so much more than they do," said Paula Mauk, vice president of marketing at Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc.
The three Trump casinos are attracting Pennsylvania gamblers through multimedia advertisements in the Bethlehem, Allentown and Philadelphia area. They also are tapping their customer database to mail special promotional giveaways to Pennsylvanians.
"When Philadelphia Park and Chester opened up, we tried to attack it through our database," Mauk said of the competition from two other slot parlors in suburban Philadelphia. "They've opened up a new audience for us by putting gamblers in the Philadelphia market. We've tried to push that by saying, 'Hey, we have hotel rooms and they don't.'"
Rob Stillwell, a spokesman for Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, said Borgata is using its own billboards and marketing offers to draw customers away from the "single-dimensional" slot parlors.
"Everybody understands just how important the Pennsylvania market is to the Atlantic City market," he said. "We're definitely focused on making folks in those areas know what's going on at Borgata."
May's grand opening of the Sands casino in Bethlehem has Atlantic City's casinos scrambling to protect their feeder markets in New York and northern New Jersey. The Sands is conveniently located along the Interstate 78 corridor connecting northern New Jersey with eastern Pennsylvania.
While the arrival of the Sands has intensified the competition, some casinos have strategically targeted the Lehigh Valley for years. Resorts Atlantic City says it has strengthened its ties to the Lehigh Valley by offering gamblers another round of complimentary hotel stays, free slot play and meal deals this summer.
"Like the other slot parlors in Pennsylvania, the new Sands Bethlehem gives players a one-dimensional offering, as compared to the complete beachfront, casino and entertainment experience of Atlantic City," Resorts spokesman Brian Cahill said. "We recently launched an aggressive direct mail campaign to reinforce that fact."
In addition to its mailing campaign, Resorts continues to have a public relations and advertising presence in the Lehigh Valley, Cahill said. As an example, Resorts has teamed up with a Lehigh Valley radio station for a live broadcast Thursday on the Boardwalk to promote the casino's Fourth of July events.
"All of this is aimed toward the biggest holiday weekend of the year," Cahill said.
May, June, July and August are traditionally big money-making months for the casinos, but the recession and intense competition from Pennsylvania could make this summer a bust for Atlantic City. May's casino revenue plummeted 15.4 percent to $351.3 million, the lowest level for that month since 1997. Revenue figures for June will be released July 10.
Unlike Atlantic City, the Pennsylvania casinos have flourished during the recession. Continuing their upward trend this year, the eight Pennsylvania slot parlors took in $178.4 million in revenue in May, a nearly 18 percent increase over the same month last year.
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