Atlantic City International Airport

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Planes, trains and automobiles.

The Atlantic City area is seeing fewer of them, according to South Jersey Transportation Authority data from January and February.

Yet one segment is booming even as some major indicators show big drops in commercial airline traffic to Atlantic City International Airport, casino bus trips and tolls at the Atlantic City Expressway’s Pleasantville plaza that gauges resort traffic.

Charter flights — many used by casinos to bring in visitors — are up nearly 48 percent the first two months of the year compared with a year ago.

Authority officials did not speculate on the increase, but travel and casino analysts believe it’s tied to casino operators bringing more high rollers to Atlantic City.

“That is very good news and emblematic of the resort business model,” said Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming, adding that the state’s low casino tax rate makes it attractive.

Through February, more than 14,018 passengers had taken charter flights to the region, about 4,500 more than a year ago.

This comes as commercial passenger service lags. Commercial airline passengers at Atlantic City International, which features one carrier, Spirit, dropped nearly 13 percent during the first two months of the year.

“February was the third consecutive month of significant statistical increases in this indicator, which suggests, based on other information, that Caesars has committed to ramping up its VIP gambler program,” said Anthony Marino, a local market analyst and retired executive with the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

Pollock said MGM, the owner of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, as well as three Atlantic City properties owned by Caesars, is in the best position to leverage charter flights.

For the last several years, Borgata has offered Fly Borgata, a charter service that flies to the airport. Fly Borgata, which started in March 2013, features a luxury 30-seat jet, no security delays at the airport and direct travel to the resort. The service flies to 20 cities.

“Fly Borgata is the most convenient way to travel from destinations outside a three-hour drive time,” said Mike Woodside, vice president of marketing at Borgata. “With programs like Fly, Borgata continues to lead the market by showing its commitment to growing visitation to Atlantic City.”

Caesars representatives said they have been offering charter service for a while.

“It’s a way to bring in new customers to the market and have them experience our resorts here in Atlantic City,” said Noel Stevenson, spokeswoman for Caesars. “As we go into the summer season, we would typically plan more charters going into our peak season.”

Bringing in high rollers from other states is nothing new, said Gary Martin of GM Casino Ventures, a company that sets up trips to properties.

“You look back and properties were using 100-seat planes to bring people into the city,” Martin said. “Most of the people that they are bringing in now are from outside of the driving distance.”

Contact: 609-272-7046 Twitter @acpresshuba

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