ATLANTIC CITY — Casino executives are calling on the stakeholders involved in the city’s ongoing revitalization to do more to help grow the seaside resort and improve its poor perception.
During a wide-ranging discussion with six of the city’s casino executives at an annual forum, hosted by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber at the Atlantic City Sheraton Convention Center Hotel, the industry leaders said current efforts by the city, state and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority are falling short.
“We need help from the city and the state, obviously,” said Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and senior vice president of Eastern regional operations for Tropicana Atlantic City’s parent company, Eldorado Resorts. “We need boots on the ground, as far as I’m concerned.”
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Matt Doherty, executive director of the CRDA, said the state agency has committed nearly $3 million annually toward increasing public safety through the hiring of police officers. He also said the CRDA has partnered with both Jewish Family Service and Volunteers of America to provide additional social services to those in need.
Doherty also said the CRDA is embarking on a rooming house conversion program, has assisted city code enforcement to address blight and funded projects such as an AtlantiCare expansion and the development of a ShopRite.
“Prior to me becoming executive director (in 2018), I agree with many of their comments,” Doherty said after the panel. “There was an (Office of Legislative Services) audit that showed support for their comments as well. Our focus at CRDA, now, has been, in the last two years and going forward, solely spending money in Atlantic City to benefit the residents.”
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Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, agreed with the other executives that the market needs to differentiate itself from nearby competition by providing more nongaming amenities for visitors, which has been a market focus for the past several years.
But the overall goal of increasing visitors, and thereby profits, is stifled, he said, by what takes place outside the casinos.
“Our buildings can’t be surrounded by drug addicts and prostitutes, the lights need to work, the Boardwalk needs to be fixed, the beaches need to be replenished,” Lupo said to applause from the local business owners in the room. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the city. ... We need to revitalize the city, because it just hasn’t been done in the past.”
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Reiterating a point he made last year at the same event, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa President and Chief Operating Officer Marcus Glover said, “Stability in local government and cleanup of the city is vital” to Atlantic City’s success.
“I don’t know that there’s a silver bullet of one or two menu items. I think there’s a combination and a string of events that need to happen,” Glover said. “There’s still a lot of blight, even though there’s progress being made on the blight ... but we’ve got to get some wins” to generate positive attention.
Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, said the Tourism District — an area under the control of the CRDA that includes the Boardwalk, downtown business district and Marina District — is in need of attention.
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“I think we would all agree, over the decades, that we are not pleased with where we are with the Tourism District,” Giannantonio said. ‘If we could all wake up tomorrow and the Tourism District was something other than it is today, ridden of crime and the things that were already mentioned (by Lupo), there may be a lift in this market of 20% to 30%, easily.”
Ron Baumann, regional president for Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s three Atlantic City properties, said that despite “ample opportunity” to address many of the city’s underlying problems, the area around the casinos looks “the same as when I left here 10 years ago.” Baumann said “alignment and action” from the various stakeholders is needed to get things moving forward.
Mayor Marty Small Sr. said the comments Thursday from the casino executives were another “attempt to indirectly sway voters for the change of government” effort. That effort is being led by the head of the casino workers union, Bob McDevitt, and aided by Morris Bailey, owner of Resorts, and former state Sen. Ray Lesniak. A citywide special election to vote on the change of government is scheduled for March 31.
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“I’m not interested in solving problems in the media,” Small said. “I’m about solutions. The residents of Atlantic City believe the casinos could do more to contribute, but we will save that for another day.”
Small went on to say his administration is “committed to safe and clean, and we’ve shown that in a big way. I’ve been the mayor for a little over three months, and we are doing a great job. I will address this personally at (the next) Casino Association meeting.”
Terry Glebocki, CEO of Ocean Casino Resort, pushed back against her colleagues, saying the negative talk contributes to the overall perception of the city. She said correcting the city’s issues should be their “homework, not the billboard.”
“We need to stop perpetuating (the negative perception),” she said. “There’s so many positive things happening in Atlantic City, and we need to be shouting them from the rooftop.”