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Edward Lea / Staff Photographer  

St. Augustine Prep against Atlantic City’s during the first half of the boys basketball game at Atlantic City High School Friday Feb 1, 2019. and Stephan Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer

Caesars' three Atlantic City casinos hit hardest by new competition

ATLANTIC CITY — The arrival of two new casinos in 2018 impacted all of the existing seven properties, but none more so than the three operated by Caesars Entertainment Corp.

Bally’s Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City and Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City experienced the largest declines in casino win and total gaming revenue of the casinos that were operating before Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino opened June 27.

The three Caesars properties also had the largest decreases in hotel occupancy, even though Bally’s downsized its total rooms from 1,251 in 2017 to 1,214 in 2018.

“Despite having new competition in the market, we’ve discovered that through our longstanding legacy here in Atlantic City, celebrating our 40th anniversaries (in 2019) at Caesars and Bally’s, our resorts have maintained their unique positions in our market as leading casino-resort destinations on the East Coast,” said Kevin Ortzman, regional president of Caesars Entertainment’s Atlantic City region.

In March 2018, Eric Hession, chief financial officer of Caesars Entertainment, predicted the company’s Atlantic City properties would take a hit both from the addition of new casinos in the market and continued competition from surrounding gaming jurisdictions in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and Maryland.

“We believe the introduction of new competition in some of the regional markets, particularly in Atlantic City, will negatively impact our results in the second half of the year,” Hession said during a conference call with investors.

Even before Hard Rock reopened the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and Ocean revived the closed Revel Casino Hotel, local analyst Anthony Marino felt Caesars Entertainment was waving the white flag in Atlantic City.

“With the exception of Harrah’s, it looks like Caesars simply has lost interest in competing in Atlantic City,” Marino said in March of last year.

David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said Caesars Entertainment, which has a strong presence in the country’s largest gaming market, would find its place in Atlantic City’s changing market.

“With the new (casinos) coming into the market, there’s going to be a lot of creative destruction, I guess you could call it,” Schwartz said. “There’s going be a lot of dynamism, and I think they’ve yet to take advantage of that.”

Despite the challenges facing Caesars Entertainment in Atlantic City, Harrah’s reported $332.9 million in total gaming revenue, which was a decline of 8.4 percent compared to 2017 but still good enough for third place among the market’s nine casinos in 2018. Total gaming revenue at Caesars ($326.9 million) and Bally’s ($191.9 million) declined by 11.2 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively, in 2018, putting the properties in fourth and six place at year’s end.

Some experts believe the lack of capital investment at Caesars and Bally’s, the second- and third-oldest casino properties in Atlantic City, could be part of the reason they are struggling to keep pace.

Since 2008, Caesars and Bally’s have spent a combined $176 million on capital improvements, while Harrah’s spent more than $215 million.

The investment at Harrah’s will continue in 2019 with the $56 million renovation and rebranding of the property’s oldest hotel tower, the Harbour Tower, which will be called the Coastal Tower.

“Most companies with multiple properties usually tier them, and they’ll have (a) high-end property, a middle and maybe one low,” said Schwartz, “and the high-end properties get more capital reinvestment. So that, in and of itself, isn’t unusual. But there usually would be investment across the board.”

Ortzman cited the company’s recent investments in adding more gaming, entertainment and dining options as evidence the company is still committed to its properties in the resort.

“Caesars Entertainment has reinvested over $200 million within the last four years into its Atlantic City resorts, with more enhancements planned in 2019,” he said.

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

Brigantine native Brittany Lee Lewis was Miss Black America 2017. ‘I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong (with) having affinity groups and finding a space where you can celebrate black culture and black identity unapologetically,’ said Lewis, who also competed in Miss America as Miss Delaware.

Miss Black America and its roots in Atlantic City

Staff Writer

The Miss Black America Pageant celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, but it might not have transformed into the national platform it is today if it hadn’t decided to first take a stand on the Boardwalk.

“The statement would have been lost had we not done it in Atlantic City,” pageant founder J. Morris Anderson said.

After not seeing any representation for black women in that other pageant, Anderson decided to start his own, one that continues today and will air its 50th anniversary pageant and history special on local-TV networks throughout February.

The woman drawn on the promotional poster for the very first Miss Black America pageant in 1968 doesn’t have a crown or a sash or any defined features. Instead she is a slim outline presented against a black background.

She stands above words that tell those interested that for just $27, they can enjoy the pageant at the Atlantic City Ritz Carlton hotel, including the midnight finals on Sept. 7, 1968.

Anderson had every intention of scheduling the all-black pageant on the same night as the Miss America Pageant, the city’s much anticipated summer event.

His pageant, just four blocks down the Boardwalk, would spotlight the inequalities in the Miss America Pageant, which at the time had never had a black contestant and had once included in its rules that contestants be “of good health and of white race.”

What was a scheduling coincidence was the women’s liberation movement protest that happened that same day. Women marched outside Boardwalk Hall with signs reading “Judge ourselves as people” and “All women are beautiful” to show their outrage at the pageant’s beauty standards.

Still, the extensive media coverage of these simultaneous events thrust Miss Black America onto the national stage.

“We were staging this protest to cause a change, and I think we did,” Anderson said.

Ralph E. Hunter Sr., founder of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey, said the pageant had a lasting impact.

“Once they broke the color barrier with Miss America, now African Americans like Vanessa Williams and others were able to compete and win a state championship and represent their state,” Hunter said.

Hunter still has some memorabilia of the pageant, which grew into a platform for influential black figures. Hunter’s collection includes a photo of a 17-year-old Oprah Winfrey, who competed in 1971 as Miss Tennessee.

Other notable figures include the Jackson Five, who had their first televised performance on the pageant, and Curtis Mayfield, who wrote the pageant’s anthem.

Anderson had experience producing shows at some of the city’s historic black venues, such as club Harlem. He saw how the Miss America Pageant brought new business into town after the summer and how the black community was excluded from that excitement.

“Miss Black America wanted to provide a stage from which they could display their talent and a podium from which they could present their pride and a microphone from which they could air their views,” Anderson said.

At the time, black women were judged on a white standard, Anderson said.

“If you convince an entire population that they don’t count, that they’re inferior, they start believing it,” Anderson said. “We had to take the sting out of that and turn it around, and that’s what we did.”

Anderson also wanted to make sure the first pageant was designed to celebrate diversity within the black community.

“The Miss Black America pageant dealt basically with black being a state of mind as opposed to black being more representative of one color,” he said.

Brigantine native Brittany Lee Lewis, Miss Black America 2017, said she appreciates the history of the pageant and still sees it as important.

“I think there’s certainly still a need for it,” Lewis said. “I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong (with) having affinity groups and finding a space where you can celebrate black culture and black identity unapologetically.”

With help from Stockton University, Hunter continues to share the history of the Miss Black America Pageant. He brings three panels of information about the pageant to local schools as a traveling exhibit. The middle panel has a small silver tiara that sits above a mirror in the center.

“Any young African American girl or girl of color can walk up to this mirror and instantly be Miss Black America,” Hunter said.

Lewis, who studies African American, U.S. 20th century and urban history as a Ph.D. candidate at George Washington University, got involved in Miss Black America when she found out its local history.

“Its amazing because it’s coming full circle in every aspect,” said Lewis, who also competed in the Miss America Competition as Miss Delaware. “One, being a woman of color, and then competing on both of the stages and then being from that area getting to relive all the different moments through Miss Black America history.”

Egg Harbor Township man charged with leading A.C. drug ring sentenced

MAYS LANDING — An Egg Harbor Township man charged with leading a drug ring out of an Atlantic City hotel, where an alligator was recovered, was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday.

Jamal Campos, 26, who pleaded guilty in May to strict liability drug-induced death and acting as the leader of a narcotics trafficking network, asked first to withdraw his plea, then for leniency, before he was sentenced by Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr.

“Mr. Campos denies that he ever had anybody working for him selling drugs and was high at the time of the plea, and therefore did not comprehend what he was doing,” said his attorney, John Maher. “He also asserts that if he were a kingpin, he would not be sleeping in a dirty hotel.”

Campos was arrested in August 2017 at the Bayview Inn & Suites on Albany Avenue after an investigation into the April 22, 2016, overdose death of Adam O’Gara, 42, who died from a lethal mix of heroin and fentanyl.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin and morphine.

During a search of the motel’s 80 rooms, authorities seized cash, narcotics and Airsoft guns. A 3-foot-long alligator also was found in the motel’s swimming pool.

Campos was first scheduled to be sentenced in September, but all of his court appearances had been delayed or postponed while he tried to withdraw his plea and take his case to trail.

Assistant Prosecutor Rick McKelvey said O’Gara’s family has “endured countless phone calls from our victim witness advocate” to come to court for Campos’ sentencing, only to be told it wouldn’t happen.

“We’re actually at the point where they just stopped showing their interest in coming,” McKelvey said, looking at the empty courtroom.

DeLury denied Campos’ request to withdraw his plea, adding he was the judge who accepted it, and asked at the time whether Campos was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

If Campos didn’t have control of his faculties, DeLury explained, he wouldn’t have taken the plea. He added the state’s offer was a “very favorable plea recommendation.”

Campos, who yawned several times during the appearance, decided not to speak before he was sentenced. However, his mother, Gail Campos, did.

“I want to apologize,” Gail Campos said, her voice shaking and tears rolling down her face. “Jamal is my first-born son, and I didn’t raise him to make all the mistakes that he made.”

Campos was sentenced to 10 years in prison on the drug-indicted death charge and 20 years on the leading-a-narcotics-network charge, which will be served concurrently, with 8½ years of parole ineligibility.

He is currently housed in the Atlantic County jail.