high roller

Don Johnson, high-rolling blackjack player who beat three casinos out of about $15 million since December, won big again in October.

ATLANTIC CITY - Blackjack whiz Don Johnson scorched Tropicana Casino and Resort for $2 million in October, adding to the $15 million he had previously won in Atlantic City during an incredible streak of good luck.

Johnson was not the only gambler who scored big last month. Figures released Thursday by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement showed that casino table games revenue plunged nearly 17 percent industrywide in October, while slot machines were down 4 percent.

Overall, the 11 casino hotels posted $261.7 million in revenue, a decline of 8 percent compared with $284 million in October 2010. Atlantic City's wobbly gaming industry has suffered 38 straight months of revenue declines.

October's figures were remarkable for the casinos' awful luck at the table games. In other words, gamblers beat the house this time around.

Johnson disclosed that he won $2 million at Tropicana's blackjack tables. His story was confirmed by Tropicana Chief Executive Officer Tony Rodio after Johnson spoke to The Press of Atlantic City.

"I went back in and did very well," Johnson, of Bensalem, Pa., said of his haul.

Johnson, now an international celebrity dubbed the "Beast of Blackjack," became famous after he beat three Atlantic City casinos out of a total of $15.1 million from last December to April. His April winnings included $5.8 million during a 12-hour gambling spree at Tropicana. He hit it big again at Tropicana in October. His exploits were the main reason Tropicana's table games revenue plummeted 57 percent for the month. Rodio said another Tropicana table games player won close to $1 million in October. The gambler's name was not revealed.

Tropicana has promoted high-stakes table games play as the centerpiece of its casino operations in recent months. The volatile nature of table games wagering has helped Tropicana at times but hurt during others, particularly in October.

"Last month we were the windshield, this month we're the bug," Rodio said. "We're going to have some great months and some months when we get beat up."

Other casinos took a drubbing at the tables in October. Figures show table games revenue fell nearly 50 percent at Golden Nugget Atlantic City and about 47 percent at ACH, formerly known as the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort. Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino and Harrah's Resort both saw their table games revenue decline by about 35 percent.

Resorts Casino Hotel was the industry's lone standout in October. Atlantic City's oldest casino was the only property to post revenue increases at both the slot machines and table games, a gain of 9 percent overall.

Dennis Gomes, Resorts' CEO, said the casino continues to climb out of the "Grand Canyon" of financial holes since its change of ownership last December. Gomes and New York real estate magnate Morris Bailey bought Resorts for $31.5 million after the previous owners defaulted on the mortgage and let the lenders take over the casino.

"We feel we've made steady, slow progress," Gomes said. "We've had some losses, but I think that by the end of the year, we'll show some improvements compared to the other casinos."

Through the first 10 months this year, Resorts' revenue is down 2.5 percent, compared with a nearly 8 percent decline for the entire industry. Only the top-grossing Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa has had a smaller revenue decline than Resorts for the year. Borgata is down 1 percent, while Caesars Atlantic City is tied with Resorts with a 2.5 percent decline.

Atlantic City's gaming market continues to be hurt by the sluggish economy and competition from casinos in surrounding states. The last time Atlantic City had an increase in monthly revenue was August 2008.

Gaming executives were encouraged by September's results, when revenue dropped by less than 1 percent. However, momentum seemed to be lost in October.

"We're still not out of the woods from an industry standpoint," Rodio said.

Rodio, however, found some hope in Atlantic City's slot machine figures, saying they are a better indicator of the overall health of the market. In October, Tropicana, Borgata, Resorts and Harrah's each had increases in slot revenue. On the table games side, only Resorts and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort were up for the month.

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