Opening a noodle bar in an Atlantic City casino to attract Asian gamblers was innovative 20 years ago, but it’s considered formulaic today.
“Everyone has jumped on the bandwagon,” said Ed Spotts, a tourism instructor at Temple University who spent 27 years working in various casinos in Atlantic City. “It’s come to be expected. You’re going to have a gourmet restaurant, you’re going to have a buffet and you’re going to have a noodle bar.”
Nearly every Atlantic City casino has a noodle bar or restaurant that serves authentic Asian cuisine. The only exceptions are Revel, which opened this year, and Harrah’s Resort. Katie Dougherty, Harrah’s spokeswoman, said its Sammy D’s restaurant has an Asian noodle menu, while Maureen Siman, Revel’s spokeswoman, said the casino’s overall plan is to eventually include Asian and quick-serve concepts.
It's unclear, though, what percentage of Atlantic City gamblers are Asian, according to observers.
The Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at the Richard Stockton College conducted a survey in each of the past two years that showed, on average, 40 percent of Asians polled have visited Atlantic City at least once in their lives. That compared with 54 percent of whites, 61 percent of Hispanics and 72 percent of blacks, according to the institute. The surveys polled more than 3,000 people living within a 200-mile radius of Atlantic City.
In addition, only 15 percent of Asians said they had visited a casino within the past year while 23 percent of whites, 29 percent of blacks and 29 of Hispanics said they had, according to the institute.
“This finding was surprising given the common stereotype of the high percentage of Asian gamblers,” said Israel Posner, executive director of the institute.
But even though Asians might represent a small bloc of Atlantic City gamblers, they remain a valued contingent because those who do frequent casinos are seen as more regular gamblers, according to observers.
“It’s still a highly sought-after market segment,” Spotts said.
The Stockton study did find that Asians who visited Atlantic City came primarily to gamble and that other reasons, such as going on vacation or to see a concert, lagged far behind, Posner said.
Even if numbers on how many Asians gamble at Atlantic City aren’t available, casinos believe they are an important customer segment, based on where they place noodle bars and cater to different tastes. Many of the Asian eateries, particularly noodle bars, are mere steps from the casino floor, allowing gamblers to take a quick break for food before returning to the game tables.
Location, authenticity of food, healthy portions and speed of serving up a hot meal that consistently tastes good have been what Asian gamblers demand of noodle bars, according to Becky Schultz, the vice president of food and beverage at Borgata. That combination of features becomes a challenge for the casino’s Noodles of the World eatery, which has only 35 seats, but at its busiest can serve 1,000 customers a day.
“We have found that our Asian clientele prefer consistency and reliability,” Schultz said.
Open until 2 a.m. on the weekdays, 4 a.m. on weekends and even later when the casino hosts special events for Chinese New Year or other festivities, the noodle bar is a few feet away from mini-baccarat and other casino table games considered popular among some Asians.
Dishes spanning multiple cultures, such as Vietnamese pho beef noodle soup and Cantonese chow fun noodles, are included in the eatery with Borgata priding itself on getting the authenticity of each culture and dish correct, said Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations for the casino.
Schultz said her group is in frequent contact with the casino’s Asian marketing department and sometimes revises the menu accordingly. For instance, the noodle bar will soon feature Korean grilled short ribs based on player feedback, she said.
But while casinos target a certain demographic when it comes to developing their menus, the food also appeals to a diverse demographic that includes more than Asians.
Egg Harbor Township Dennis Goldberg, 67, and his wife, Marsha, dine at Golden Dynasty in Tropicana Casino and Resort once a month.
“We really enjoy the food there,” he said. “They recognize us there.”
Goldberg said he grew up in New York, where he would frequently eat in Chinatown. He typically orders the same dish when eats at Golden Dynasty — Dungeness crab served with a ginger and scallion sauce — a popular dish often associated with Hong Kong cuisine.
“I hadn’t seen it anywhere else,” Goldberg said of the crab dish. “They’ll hold it for me when I go.”
Unlike the quick eats offered at a noodle bar, Golden Dynasty is more typical of a dining room and often frequented by a mix of races and ethnicities, Goldberg said.
“That’s a restaurant that when you come in, dinner takes awhile,” he said. “They don’t rush you.”
Contact Hoa Nguyen: