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In Atlantic City, Harrah’s Is Betting Big on a New Conference Center

In Atlantic City, Harrah’s Is Betting Big on a New Conference Center


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Don’t count Atlantic City out yet, because Caesars Entertainment, which owns Caesars, Bally’s, and Harrah’s in the seaside city, sure isn’t. They’re putting the finishing touches on a 100,000-square-foot conference center that will be the largest between Boston and Baltimore, and they’ve already lined up some big names to take over the space when it opens its doors in September.

I had the opportunity to visit the under-construction center, and the scale is baffling. Two 50,000-square-foot rooms are stacked on top of each other over two floors, and they can be subdivided into 30 individual breakout rooms each. Huge spaces adjacent to the conference rooms will allow for pre- or post-meeting receptions, and spectacular views of the marina are afforded on the second floor.

“This is one of the largest investments in Atlantic City in a number of years,” Steve van der Molen, the resort’s vice president of meetings and operations, told me during a tour of the site. “The last addition of meeting space to Atlantic City was when [the now-closed] Revel opened. To get large citywide conferences you need a lot of space and hotel rooms, and we’ll be able to offer that. Harrah’s also has shopping, restaurants, the casino, and the largest indoor pool in the country.”

The goal of the Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center is to attract conferences that would have been otherwise held in comparably sized centers in cities like Chicago or Las Vegas. “One-third of the U.S. population is now a three- to five-hour drive away,” van der Molen added. “Instead of sitting on a plane, they can drive here instead, with the added benefit of being close to the beach. And because there are several Caesars properties in Atlantic City we can offer guests extra amenities as well, like the boardwalk beach club.”

The sales team has spent the past year and a half booking the center, and the first clients will be Bradley Caldwell Inc., bringing 1,500 employees.

Harrah’s banquet chef, Louis Heckel, who will spearhead the catering at the conference center, was also excited to show off the impressive kitchen, which is located adjacent to the conference floor. The state-of-the-art facility includes warming cabinets that can be loaded right from the prep area and rolled directly to the service areas, a high-capacity hands-free dishwasher, a tasting kitchen for clients, and assembly line-style prep stations that keep all food at exactly the right temperature. “This is unlike anything Atlantic City has seen before,” Heckel told me.

The Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center has been two years in the making, and comes at a pivotal moment for the city, which has seen several high-profile casino closures within the past year, including the Caesars-owned Showboat. But the response from prospective clients has so far been overwhelmingly positive, and van der Molen isn’t concerned.

“All they need to do is come see it for themselves. Once they see it, they love it,” he told me.


Column: Legalized sports betting is one bet paying off

This Aug. 1, 2018 photo shows gamblers placing bets in the sports betting lounge at Harrah's casino in Atlantic City N.J. On Oct. 30, 2018, Caesars Entertainment, which owns Harrah's and two other Atlantic City casinos, announced a deal to open a sports lounge at Newark's Prudential Center aimed at hockey fans and concertgoers who can place sports bets over their mobile phones. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

This Aug. 1, 2018 photo shows a clerk collecting money from gamblers in the sports betting lounge at Harrah's casino in Atlantic City N.J. On Oct. 30, 2018, Caesars Entertainment, which owns Harrah's and two other Atlantic City casinos, announced a deal to open a sports lounge at Newark's Prudential Center aimed at hockey fans and concertgoers who can place sports bets over their mobile phones. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

This Aug. 1, 2018 photo shows gamblers placing bets in the sports betting lounge at Harrah's casino in Atlantic City N.J. On Oct. 30, 2018, Caesars Entertainment, which owns Harrah's and two other Atlantic City casinos, announced a deal to open a sports lounge at Newark's Prudential Center aimed at hockey fans and concertgoers who can place sports bets over their mobile phones. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

The action is coming fast and heavy.

A bettor in New Jersey used his mobile app to win $325,000 on a $500,000 wager on Boston to win the World Series. Another DraftKings bettor hit a longshot money line parlay on longshots Oregon State and Kansas to collect $4,313 on his $50 bet.

Many others, surely, will be scrambling to pay the rent next month after their can’t-miss bets somehow missed.

For better or worse, sports betting is here to stay. Bettors are crowding into books in the six states where sports betting is now legal, and other states are lining up to open their markets to wagers.

And as it spreads nationwide, sports betting is changing the way America’s biggest sports approach the game.

The NHL this week announced a deal with casino giant MGM Resorts International that officially ties the league to a gambling company. That follows a similar deal MGM made earlier with the NBA.

It’s only a matter of time before the NFL joins in to get a piece of the pie, and baseball wants its share, too.

Meanwhile, regulators in Nevada announced Tuesday that sports books took in a record handle — and had record profits — in September as the stigma that once haunted sports betting fades into the background.

“Our ticket count is through the roof,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, the longtime oddsmaker at the sports book at the South Point in Las Vegas. “It’s driven with new people who are playing. The same old people are there each week and now it’s the recreational guys showing up.”

Those running America’s sports leagues are taking notice. There’s money to be made, and they’re wasting no time in going after it.

A top Major League Baseball executive said earlier this month the league wants a 0.25 percent cut of betting handles in the spirit of “fairness” because it supplies the games bettors wager on.

And the NFL — which was so concerned about betting a few years ago that it wouldn’t allow Tony Romo to host a fantasy sports conference in a casino — is now trying to figure out how to maximize betting revenues for its teams.

How quickly things have changed since the Supreme Court decision in May opened the floodgates to nationwide betting.

There’s no more moral indignation from the leagues. No more hand wringing about possible betting scandals.

Just a mad dash to get a piece of the action in a market that will be worth billions of dollars.

Fortunately, there’s enough money to make everyone happy in the end. The bookies are plenty sharp and the bettors plenty gullible, a combination that will lead to riches in the industry.

Is it all good? No, because there is a cost associated with sports betting just as there is with any other vice that separates people from their money.

Expect plenty of stories about bad beats and chasing money long since gone. Families will break up, and people will become homeless because a gambling addiction can be ruinous.

The bottom line is there aren’t many who can beat the bookies, at least in the long term. The bettor who won a half million on the Red Sox will find that out, as will the longshot bettor who thinks the next parlay will finally be the one he wins.

With the sports books pocketing, for the most part, a 10 percent vig (the house edge) on each bet, a bettor has to win 52.4 percent of the time just to break even. It sounds easy enough, but Las Vegas is filled with sordid tales of those who went bankrupt or worse trying to beat the bookies.

It’s an adult activity that should be enjoyed in moderation. Betting the mortgage never works, and there is no such thing as a sure thing.

But sports betting is here, and it’s here to stay. Like casino gambling did when it expanded beyond Nevada in the 1980s, it will become a part of the fabric of everyday society.

Don’t expect any point shaving scandals to suddenly pop up and ruin that. It’s in the best interest of both the bookies and the leagues to keep their sports on the up and up, and they will.

In the end, the leagues will not only survive the sports betting they feared for so many years, but thrive.

Interesting how quickly they’ve decided sports betting isn’t so bad after all.


Harrah's Gambling on Increased Convention Business

A conventions and meetings market worth an estimated $16 billion is there for the taking in the Northeast. But Atlantic City currently grabs less than 1 percent of it.

Harrah's Resort thinks Atlantic City should get more -- a lot more.

The answer is being built at Harrah's on a dusty construction site overlooking the marshlands. Gigantic crane-like machines are pounding metal piles into the ground to form the foundation for a nearly $126 million conference center billed as the largest of its type in the Northeast.

"In 2015, Atlantic City will welcome the largest conference facility from Baltimore to Boston. It's a game changer," Harrah's exclaims in promotional material trumpeting the project.

Construction is expected to take about 22 or 23 months. When finished, the facility will spread out over 250,000 square feet. Harrah's says 125,000 square feet will be reserved for meeting space. The center also will feature two ballrooms, each offering 50,000 square feet of space.

Rick Mazer, Harrah's regional president and general manager, tells The Press of Atlantic City the conference center will position Atlantic City to capture a much bigger share of the corporate meetings market. Harrah's estimates the city gets only about 1 percent of the Northeast's conventions and meetings market right now.

"It's phenomenal how much there is of that," Mazer said of the amount of business that could come Atlantic City's way once the new conference center is built. "There is the national business, but also the regional market as well. It could all have to do with what has been missing here."

Mazer, during a tour of the construction site Monday, noted the facility is designed to complement the conventions and trade shows at the larger Atlantic City Convention Center. Although Harrah's will host the conference center, he believes the project will serve as a business magnet for the entire city.

"it's truly important to both Harrah's and the rest of the market," he said. "I think it's all part of approaching business in a new, unique way. We can't continue to do the same things in the same old way."

Mazer sounded a similar theme during a Sept. 24 speech to the Atlantic City Hotel & Lodging Association. It represented his first public remarks in Atlantic City since taking over as Harrah's new chief executive last month. He urged the casinos to put aside their old rivalries to collectively revitalize the city's economy.

Public funding from the casino industry is a crucial part of the conference center project. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, a state agency that uses Atlantic City casino revenue for housing projects and economic development, is contributing $45 million for the center. Caesars Entertainment, parent company of Harrah's Resort, plans to supply more than $80 million of equity to complete the financing.

Another state agency, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, has approved $24.1 million in state tax breaks for the conference facility over 20 years. That money will come from the same state program that provided the Revel Casino-Hotel with $261.4 million in state tax credits over 20 years.

Mazer characterized the Harrah's conference center as the type of project that will benefit the entire casino industry. Harrah's officials expect the center to increase demand for hotel rooms across the city, while also boosting business for restaurants, nightclubs and retail shops.

"It's not just the conventioneers, but also the spouses and significant others who will take advantage of Atlantic City's shopping, spas, restaurants or whatever," Harrah's spokeswoman Katie Dougherty said.

Atlantic City usually suffers most during the traditionally slower, midweek periods. Mazer said the types of corporate meetings that will occupy the conference center will stimulate midweek business.

"These are historically weekday customers here for three or four nights. This is a whole different customer," he said.

Harrah's already has started showing meeting planners the construction site. Mazer said the casino has gotten some preliminary bookings, but is not yet ready to make any announcements.

In the meantime, the project is giving a boost to the local building industry, creating 340 construction jobs to this point, Dougherty said. T.N. Ward Co., of Atlantic City, is serving as the general contractor.

The conference center will rise on a 3-acre site in the shadow of Harrah's 960-room Waterfront Tower. Harrah's is calling the facility the Waterfront Conference Center to link it to the hotel tower.

The noisy work of driving the 1,200 piles that will support the building's foundation continues until December. Hotel guests near the construction site are given the option to move to other rooms.

Cranes, big earthmovers, trucks and other construction equipment are crawling all over the site. Later, crews will begin building the superstructure that will reveal the conference center's design.


Harrah's Welcome Bonus Requirements

We have talked a lot about the different features you need to be aware of for the Harrah’s NJ bonus code. As mentioned before in this writing, it is extremely important to read the fine print for the Harrah’s Casino promo code. If you fail to meet the requirements needed when redeeming the bonus offer, you may not be able to retain the reward received.

Harrah's Sportsbook Welcome Bonus

As you already no, Harrah’s does not yet have an online casino of its own. However, Harrah’s parent corporation, Caesars, does have an online sportsbook. And, Harrah’s also has retail sportsbook locations that you are free to visit.

Harrah's Casino Welcome Offer

To receive the $10 in bonus cash, a player must be creating a new Harrah’s online casino real money account. However, if the user is redeeming another Harrah’s promo code at the time of registration, they cannot redeem this offer as well. Users are required to meet the wagering requirement of 1x on any slot games and/or 5x on all other casino games. Users will have seven days to meet these wagering requirements or they risk forfeiting the bonus cash.

To receive the 100% first deposit bonus match up to $300, other requirements must be met. The Harrah’s Casino promo code must be entered on the Cashier page for the Harrah’s online casino. As with other NJ online casinos and casino offers, there is also a wagering requirement that must be met.

Users are required to bet the bonus amount of 5x on eligible slot games as well as 25x on all other casino games. And, users must meet this wagering requirement within seven days of redeeming the first deposit match bonus offer. If the requirements are not followed to the letter, then you will risk losing the bonus money that you earned.


3. The Wheel At Steel Pier

Ferris wheels are so much fun, especially in towns like Atlantic City because there’s so much to look at. So The Wheel At Steel Pier (1000 Boardwalk) gives you an aerial view of the entire town during its 15 minute ride.

It’s $9.99 for a ride (kids 2 and under are free), and it is open from 2pm to 8pm Monday through Friday noon to 11pm on Saturday and noon to 9pm on Sunday. Yes, there are night hours. Atlantic City is beautiful lit up, but I know what you’re thinking. Ferris wheels are cold at night. Worry not. Each of the 40 gondolas are temperature controlled. They can also hold up to six people each, so the entire family can have fun together.

If you don’t go for a ride, be sure to look for The Wheel at night when it’s lit up by 14,500 lights. It’s a pretty sight to see.


GMID: All Together Now in Atlantic City

First visiting in 1989, my nearly 30 years’ perspective on Atlantic City includes a decade covering the destination for Meetings Today. Three intertwined storylines have defined this period: divisive political, labor and economic issues, unforgiving mainstream media portrayals of a city mired in turmoil and sustained turnaround efforts.

For too long, the trend has been to buy the first two and ignore the third. Since 2014, however, renaissance has taken the lead. Successfully hosting MPI WEC ’16 last June established a new benchmark for Atlantic City. How measures the yardstick today? In town for Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) last week, the stories were nothing but bright, under the headline of unity and collaboration.

The day before GMID, I attended a packed press conference at Hard Rock Cafe Atlantic City confirming the acquisition and $375 million total reinvention of Trump Taj Mahal into Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City . With Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen announcing 3,000 permanent jobs at the new property, plus 1,000 construction jobs (work is already underway, targeting completion by summer 2018), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke about moving past hard decisions (specifically, last year’s state takeover of Atlantic City) and ensuring a governmental climate that will spark more success.

Citing original brand mottos, including “Love All--Serve All,” “All Is One” and “Save the Planet,” Allen affirmed Hard Rock’s commitment to the local community.

“Our marketing plans are not…to take the customer from existing properties,” said the New Jersey native. “It is the direct opposite. Our goal is to work with property presidents around town to market Atlantic City as one destination.”

On hand to commend the deal, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt promised to bring his brand of rock and roll to Atlantic City.

Buoyant and familial, the GMID events amplified the message of common purpose. Held at the bustling Atlantic City Convention Center, the agenda kicked off with an overview of local progress and developments from Gary Musich, Meet AC’s vice president of sales. (See next month’s East Coast Gaming feature for details.)

Then, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow moderated a lively panel discussion featuring Meet AC President & CEO Jim Wood MPI President & CEO and Meetings Means Business Coalition (MMBC) co-chair Paul Van Deventer MGM Resorts International Chief Sales Officer Michael Dominguez Caesars Entertainment Chief Sales Officer Michael Massari Freeman Company EVP and Chief Sales Officer Larry Luteran and Harrah’s Atlantic City Vice President and General Manager Karie Hall.

There were many highlights. Van Deventer cited a new MMBC finding that “one face-to-face meeting is equivalent to 20 e-mails or 10 conference calls,” while Luteran affirmed that face-to-face meetings have “nothing to fear” from technology, which is only driving meetings demand and enhancing interaction and learning at events. The subject of legalized recreational marijuana impact on the meetings industry drew humorous asides—and word from the panel of significant leads making this “a growing vertical market we should all be chasing.”

Echoing Atlantic City’s long battle against agenda-driven reporting, Dow reminded of the “piling on” by media and politicians that defined the downturn’s “bad optics” era, and his team’s efforts to ensure that the new administration understands the effect that meetings have on communities and jobs.

“Context, not content, is king,” stated Dominguez, who praised one reporter for correctly asking about the “proposed” travel ban. “There is no travel ban in place,” he said. “We have done a really poor job of communicating that it is a proposed ban.”

To that point, Dow cited a conversation with former NFL star Terrell Davis on concussions.

“He said it’s not the big hits, but the ‘tap, tap, tap’ of smaller hits,” Dow said, “and we are concerned that if that ‘tap’ keeps up, we could have big problems.”

Telling, too, was Dominguez’s exchange with “my peer, friend, colleague, and competitor last,” Massari. “We often have a genuine conversation around the belief that what’s good for the destination is good for all of us,” Dominguez said. “As for Las Vegas, that’s true for Atlantic City. It’s not Pollyanna to think about unifying the power of MGM, Caesars and Meet AC to change the destination.”

Atlantic City is not just changing—it is breaking out. Breakfasting at the Harrah's Atlantic City Waterfront Conference Center that morning—the $126 million investment spearheaded by Massari that is driving significant meetings growth for the city—I met coffee break staffers Robert Mancuso and Annette Flack. Veterans of the Atlantic City hospitality scene, they have experienced job loss and economic setback. Yet, like the city itself, they have stayed resilient, and when they smiled and said that things are getting much better, that’s the news to believe.


In Atlantic City, Harrah’s Is Betting Big on a New Conference Center - Recipes

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- Atlantic City's efforts to recapture some of the tourism dollars it has lost to casino competition in recent years finally appear to be working.

Nine years ago, the city's casinos started realizing they needed to offer more than just gambling if they still wanted visitors. They doubled down on expensive investments like additional hotel towers, restaurants, swimming pools, spas, shopping, nightclubs and concert venues.

Now, cash sales at non-gambling outlets within casinos represent 28.5 percent of revenue, up from 22.3 percent two years ago, and bars have increased their payrolls by nearly 39 percent in the past two years, according to a recent study conducted by the consulting firm Tourism Economics and commissioned by the Atlantic City Alliance, which promotes the resort to other parts of the country. The study didn't address profits, but many casinos have reported upturns in profits after adding extras.

"I'm not really a gambler," said Brandon Ferguson, of Oaklyn, New Jersey. "I don't like to give my money away I like it to work for me. I like to chill on the beach, enjoy some good food, do some sightseeing and people-watching."

He was one of many who turned out in late June for the opening of The Playground, developer Bart Blatstein's $52 million remake of the former Pier Shops complex into a music-themed entertainment facility. Its main attraction is T Street, a row of music-themed bars and performance venues meant to evoke Nashville's Music Row: a honky tonk here, a retro ྌs bar there, an outdoor beer garden, and of course, an Irish pub. A large concert space at the end of the pier can hold 2,000 fans, as well as meetings or even a wedding. Coming soon: a bowling alley and a sports bar designed for fantasy sports aficionados.

Casinos alone have become boring, Blatstein said.

"Would you go see the same movie over and over again?" Blatstein asked. "That's what's happening here. Atlantic City needs something else besides gambling."

For nearly 30 years, Atlantic City's casinos drove busloads of people to their doors, let them play the slot machines or table games for a few hours, and sent them home. It worked fine - until other casinos started popping up nearby, and suddenly people could drive 20 minutes to play the same slot machines and table games that otherwise would be a three- or four-hour round trip.

"All we really needed was gaming," said Tony Rodio, president of the Tropicana casino and a longtime Atlantic City casino executive. "We were the convenience option for the entire Northeast. We had more demand than we had supply. We didn't need conventions."

Now, he said, his casino and the city are both staking a good portion of their futures on offering more than gambling. If revenue from third-party businesses that lease space at attractions like The Quarter, the Tropicana's Latin-themed dining and shopping complex, are included, Rodio said, his casino's gambling and non-gambling revenues would probably be close to even.

The Quarter is designed to evoke Old Havana, with indoor palm trees, Spanish architecture and the ceiling painted sky blue with clouds. There are restaurants and bars, clothing shops, a somewhat risque candy store, and, every Christmas, an indoor light show.

Atlantic City has plenty of company in banking on non-gambling attractions as a way to reinvent itself, among them Las Vegas and tribal casinos. But Atlantic City had far to fall and, some observers say, waited too long to shift its strategy.

Even with the extras, the city's casino revenue continues to plunge, from its high of $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.74 billion last year, as competition from casinos in neighboring states continued unabated. Four of the city's 12 casinos closed last year. The remaining gambling halls - and the city itself - need to replace that money.

A poll released in June by Fairleigh Dickinson University found that non-gambling attractions are the most important factor for most New Jerseyans in choosing a casino to visit 40 percent listed it as their main priority.

Also in June, the Borgata casino opened a $3.5 million outdoor concert center that can hold 5,000 fans with a show by The Hooters, Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, and G. Love & Special Sauce. In April, Bass Pro Shops opened a $15 million superstore. In August, Caesars Entertainment will open its $126 million conference center to grab a bigger piece of the Northeast meetings trade.

Non-gambling attractions are not the only reason some casinos are doing better. The elimination of a third of Atlantic City's casinos last year reduced competition and increased market share for the eight survivors. But casino executives say the extras are helping.

The Tropicana spent $50 million on renovations this year, including a huge outdoor video display, on top of $25 million in 2012. When billionaire investor Carl Icahn bought the casino out of bankruptcy in 2010, it posted an operating loss of nearly $4 million. In 2014, that had swung to a $59.8 million profit.

Resorts Casino Hotel spent $35 million on its Jimmy Buffett-themed Margaritaville dining and entertainment complex in 2013, a year in which it lost $12.2 million. But a year later, Resorts posted a $2.5 million profit, and it has since spent another $9.4 million to expand its meeting space.

When the Borgata opened its $400 million Water Club non-casino hotel in 2008 it had a profit of nearly $61 million. By 2014, with another $50 million room renovation completed, its profit had swelled to $158 million.


Intermission

Over the last decade in Atlantic City, it’s been, well, bleak is the word that comes to mind. Casinos became legalized in neighboring states, over-saturating the East Coast gaming market. Five of the city’s 12 casinos—Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, Revel Atlantic City, Showboat Atlantic City and The Atlantic Club Casino Hotel—took their final bow from 2014 to 2016, according to Curbed Philadelphia, as customers with more choices took their dollars elsewhere.

Atlantic City also faced a rise in property taxes, an economic slump and a loss of jobs during its downfall. And that’s still not all. “Corruption in Atlantic City, combined with actions in Trenton, helped to bring this town to the brink of bankruptcy,” said former Gov. Chris Christie in his final state of the state address on Jan. 9. “Bad decisions and timid inaction…led to Trenton nearly killing the goose that laid the golden egg for all of New Jersey.”

The once-proud boardwalk empire was already down when Superstorm Sandy blew through town in October 2012, forcing it to rebuild not only figuratively, but also literally.

Today’s Atlantic City is rebranding itself as more than a gaming destination. Like never before, it needs the meetings industry. The question is, do you need Atlantic City? We’re betting you will decide the answer is yes.


Atlantic City: It’s “Game On” in AC 2.0

Just like smartphone apps and computer software, cities need to press the update button to avoid becoming obsolete. Atlantic City upgraded twice last June—two new hotels opened and sports gambling was introduced. This double-dose of milestone events changed the trajectory of the city immediately and for the distant future.

The day that will go down in AC history is June 28, 2018. It began with a guitar-smashing at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City to signify its opening, followed by a ribbon-cutting for Ocean Resort Casino.

Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC, credits these properties with providing a “significant bump” in good news and positive perception. “Plus, it spoke to our customers, saying Atlantic City is back, alive and well,” he says. “The openings have provided a new level of confidence in meeting and convention consumers, which has encouraged them to sign multiyear agreements, in some cases booking AC up to seven years out.”

In a city heavily reliant on gambling, numbers are everything. And, since last summer, the house is winning big time, with the house being AC.

Hosting meetings industry-specific shows, such as MPI’s World Education Congress and TEAMS in 2016, and Meetings Quest in 2017, contributed to the increase in booked convention room nights. In 2014, the total was 171,465 and by 2018 it had risen to 371,996. Since launching Atlantic City Sports Commission in 2015, the CVB has also noticed an upward trend on the sporting event front. Atlantic City Convention Center and Boardwalk Hall have become supreme destinations for volleyball, cheerleading, gymnastics, basketball, wrestling, karate and indoor auto racing competitions.

The convention center’s $9.1 million restroom renovation project is expected to be complete in September. The venue has 486,600 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibition space, including 45 breakout rooms. Historic Boardwalk Hall, famous for hosting the Miss America scholarship pageant, is currently undergoing $10 million in renovations to its lobby and atrium. It has a 141,000-square-foot arena with 14,770 seats and 23,100-square-foot Adrian Phillips Theater with 3,200 seats.

“We are trending at 122 percent of pace, which is a very positive indicator for our future business,” Wood says. “Our conversion sits around 37–39 percent, while our competition (Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Providence) is converting business at a 22 percent pace.”

A Little Bit Beachy and a Little Bit Rock ’n’ Roll

Although they shared the same opening day, Ocean Resort Casino and Hard Rock couldn’t be more different. One is all about ocean waves and the other is all about sound waves.

Most casinos are window-less to keep gamblers from being tempted to abandon tables and machines, or reference the time based on light and darkness. Not at Ocean Resort Casino, where the view through floor-to-ceiling panes of glass serves as a constant reminder of the beachfront setting. Previously known as Revel (and briefly as Ten), the newly reopened, monstrous property has 1,399 guest rooms and 160,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Even at Ocean, which is a member of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, visitors can find hints of rock ’n’ roll. Villain & Saint, one of the resort’s more than 15 dining options, is outfitted in the musical genre. Guests can also enjoy a show at 4,200-seat Ovation Hall. Music and beach become one at HQ2 Nightclub and Beachclub, where some of the world’s hottest DJs spin tracks to keep the party going. If peace and quiet is more your thing, book an appointment at 40,000-square-foot Exhale spa.

Topgolf Swing Suite

The world’s largest Topgolf Swing Suite debuted at Ocean last summer, as well. Each of the 11 simulator bays comes with a giant screen, golf clubs and interactive games, such as a Topgolf point-scoring game, zombie dodgeball and a baseball pitching game.

The Hard Rock property has been drumming up big business since raising the curtain on its 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. “There is certainly a curiosity building in the meetings market for this destination, and the Hard Rock brand offers credibility and an experience that is untouched,” says Shelley Williams, vice president of sales for the hotel. “Atlantic City has value, charm and nostalgia as a destination, and Hard Rock has turned up the volume in service, entertainment, amenities and attractiveness.”

Owned by Seminole Tribe of Florida, the 17-acre property was completely transformed from Trump Taj Mahal to its current musical and pop culture persona, at a cost of $500 million. Williams says meeting professionals have been particularly impressed with the hotel’s 31-treatment-room Rock Spa and Salon, as well as the private dining options, including seafood eatery Council Oak Fish and Japanese-style Kuro. There’s also live music daily in the lobby, jokes at Howie Mandel Comedy Club, concerts at Hard Rock Live at Ettes Arena and dancing at Daer Nightclub.

It’s all about that bass… and treble, at the spa. Vibrations run from head to toe as you lie on a pulsating massage table for a fully immersive massage experience. The Rhythm & Motion menu is a first-of-its-kind, music-centric spa offering.

Hang that “do not disturb” sign on the doorknob and jam out in private. Overnight guests of the 2,000-room hotel can select from three The Sound of Your Stay complimentary in-room amenity options. “Tracks” comes with a downloadable play list featuring recognizable acts and up-and-coming artists. Hone your guitar skills by selecting “Picks,” which allows you to borrow one of 20 Fenders to strum to your heart’s content. Give old-school vinyl records a spin on a turntable by choosing the “Wax” package.

The Community FoodBank of New Jersey hosted more than 1,000 donors for its Dancing Under the Atlantic City Stars fund-raiser at Hard Rock’s 29,000-square-foot Seminole Ballroom on Nov. 3.

“The events team was simply superb! says Renate Taylor, development officer for the organization’s Southern Branch. “Hard Rock banquet and production teams [guided] the planning process with their expertise and knowledge.

“The ‘day of’ event staff executed set-up and guest service with skilled precision, guaranteeing each donor enjoyed the outstanding Hard Rock guest experience. The culinary staff delighted guests with a fresh and exciting menu that ensured a fine-dining experience. I can state with 100 percent certainty that the Hard Rock family provided our donors and guests with an event they will remember for a lifetime.”

Everybody is a Winner

Meeting space at Tropicana Atlantic City

The pre-existing hotels and casinos on and near the boardwalk are also benefiting from the two new properties because they are bringing increased traffic to Atlantic City. It’s motivated everyone to up their ante with renovations, improvements and expansions to stay competitive with all that’s shiny and new.

“The two new properties that opened this past summer continue to create a positive light for Atlantic City, with hopes to grow the market,” says Steve Callender, general manager of Tropicana Atlantic City. “On the heels of our $200 million property-wide renovation and our acquisition by our new parent company, Eldorado Resorts, we recently acquired and reopened the Chelsea Tower and introduced sports betting, which, combined, have yielded a healthy increase in visitation and revenue.”

Chelsea Tower debuted at Tropicana over Memorial Day weekend. It added 330 guest rooms, Chelsea Five Gastropub and Whiskey Five Bar. The 10,000-square-foot Sea Spa reopened in Chelsea Tower on Nov. 1. All 500 guest rooms in Havana Tower were renovated in 2016. Altogether, the hotel has 2,400 guest rooms and suites across its five towers.

More than 122,000 sq. ft. of meeting space is available at Tropicana. Planners looking for a challenging, put-your-minds-together team-building exercise can book one of four themed rooms at the hotel’s Escape AC rooms—poker, boardwalk, casino cage or backstage. Tropicana also boasts an Imax theater. Two of its restaurants underwent renovations in December. The redesign of Chinese restaurant Golden Dynasty includes four private dining rooms and Il Verdi’s face lift now showcases the Italian eatery’s expansive 450-bottle wine collection.

Caesars Atlantic City

Caesars Entertainment oversees a trio of properties—Caesars Atlantic City (1,144 guest rooms, 24,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 1,500-seat Circus Maximus theater), Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino (1,254 guest rooms and 80,000 sq. ft.) and Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City (3,590 guest rooms and 125,000 sq. ft.).

“The two new properties opening up in Atlantic City are a welcome addition to the destination,” says Steve van der Molen, vice president of catering and convention services for Caesars Entertainment in Atlantic City. “Their investment and commitment are long term, and it demonstrates a belief that there is robust demand for great hospitality and convention experiences.

“That is music to the ears for meeting organizers, and it means Atlantic City can and should gain a larger share of the meetings market. That is good for all of us.”

In November, Harrah’s announced a $56 million renovation to its Coastal Tower’s 507 guest rooms, expected to open in phases beginning early this year. Over the past four years, Caesars has invested $250 million into upgrading the Harrah’s property.

A few years ago, the $125 million Waterfront Conference Center was built, the largest hotel-conference center complex from Baltimore to Boston. Harrah’s features the only Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa in the area and a 90-foot glass-dome-enclosed pool. The tropical oasis is a chill hangout during the day and transforms into a nightclub after dark. The 172,000-square-foot pool deck can be rented for private events with up to 2,000 guests. Last year, a popular new Gordon Ramsay Steak opened there.

Inland, the gleaming Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and sister property The Water Club at Borgata stand tall, a bit removed from the boardwalk. In anticipation of the new product about to hit the market, the MGM-owned resort added the two-story, 18,000-square-foot Central Conference Center in May 2017, a year after $50 million was spent on more upgrades.

Borgata is home to 2,000 guest rooms and an additional 800 can be found at The Water Club. There’s a combined 106,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.

Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel at Steel Pier first lit up the AC boardwalk in December 2017. Standing 227 feet tall, the observation wheel has 40 temperature-controlled gondolas. Its 14,500 lights can be programed to match your company colors. Steel Pier’s event tents are available for private corporate functions 1,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. One fits 150 and the other 250. Guests can enjoy riding the amusement park’s rides, playing carnival-style games and noshing on funnel cake.

AC Scores Big with Sports Betting

Event at Margaritaville Cafe at Ocean Casino Resort

The recent legalization of sports gaming has changed the outlook of the world’s first boardwalk. Last May, the Supreme Court overturned 1992’s Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Individual states are given the power to set restrictions.

Three days after new Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill allowing licensed casinos to establish legal sports books, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa became the first Atlantic City casino to accept bets on sports entertainment when Hall-of-Fame basketball player Julius Erving bet on the Eagles.

Some 14 days later, new kid on the boardwalk Ocean Casino Resort offered sports gaming, helping to usher in a new era for Atlantic City. Actor Mark Wahlberg, whose family has a Wahlburgers restaurant inside the resort, placed the very first bet.

“Opening this summer was a special opportunity for us because of the enthusiasm for the revitalization of Atlantic City from the local and surrounding areas,” says Frank Leone, CEO of Ocean Resort Casino.

“The groundswell of interest that developed as a result of the opening and the introduction of sports betting in New Jersey generated a tremendous amount of curiosity and interest from visitors,” he says.

Others have followed suit and it’s been a game-changer for the once-struggling beach city by offering a new revenue stream. Since its inception on June 14 and through November, sports wagering grossed $73.2 million in the Garden State, according to the State of New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement. “Sports betting is an added amenity for Atlantic City,” says Jim Wood, CEO and president of Meet AC. “We currently have eight sports books.”

Tropicana announced its partnership with William Hill Race & Sports Book on Oct. 26. The boardwalk’s first-ever casino, Resorts Casino Hotel, also jumped on the bandwagon.

“The introduction of sports betting in New Jersey is a wonderful additional to our gaming product at Resorts,” says Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of the property. “With the opening of our state-of-the-art DraftKings Sportsbook at Resorts, we are now in a great position to attract new group business, as well as offer intriguing new options for our repeat groups in 2019 and 2020.”

Owned by Mohegan Sun, Resorts has 942 guest rooms and 64,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Capriccio Italian Restaurant, located inside the hotel, was voted best casino restaurant in the United States by USA Today’s 10Best.com Readers’ Choice Awards in 2018.

On Tap

Cocktail preparation at Little Water Distillery

Salty ocean water isn’t the only liquid flowing in Atlantic City: The brewery and distillery scene has hit the sandy shoreline like a tsunami. Biergarten Atlantic City, a new addition to the boardwalk, includes an outdoor garden that features oversized games such as Connect Four, making it a fun group hangout. Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall, named after the Monopoly board game, is now open in the Orange Loop. It offers craft beers on draft and more than 100 in bottles and cans, as well as cocktails and food.

Little Water Distillery is AC’s first and only distillery to produce whiskey, rum and vodka. Group tours and tastings are available.

“The addition of the two new properties, Ocean and Hard Rock, along with the other great openings around the city this summer—MADE (Atlantic City chocolate bar), Hayday Coffee and Bourre—have all contributed to renewed interest in the many offerings in and around Atlantic City,” says Mark Ganter, CEO for Little Water Distillery. “We are thrilled to welcome our new neighbors this spring—Seed Beer Project and Westecunk Axe Throwing—which will be joining us in the Little Water District to add additional points of interest in the north end of Atlantic City.”

Before setting up “chop” in their permanent facility, Westecunk Axe Throwing ran a mobile unit primed for corporate and team-building events.


What About the Other States?

Even though the United States has made a ton of progress on legalized sports betting, the majority of states still do not take bets. That means that residents in nearby states either need to wait or make a trip across the border to place their wagers.

Here are quick notes on the 35 states that currently do not allow sports betting on the progress that they have made or haven’t made:

Alabama has had several hearings to determine whether or not the state legislature can come to an agreement that the governor will sign off on. A 2019 bill fell well short. A 2020 bill could be coming later in the year now that a team has been assigned to study the financial and societal impacts.

Alaska has made no progress on sports betting and probably never will.

Arizona is under some pressure given the state’s borders with New Mexico, which takes retail bets, and Nevada, which has taken bets for over 70 years. Arizona does have casinos, including some on tribal lands. A bill that failed in 2019 has been followed up by a bill that appears likely to fail in 2020, but the state is moving forward little by little.

There is a chance that legislation is offered on the November ballot for an expansion of gaming. The focal point of the bill is tribal casinos, but a provision is also in there for legalized sports betting. If the signature requirements are met by the June deadline, the bill would appear on the ballot in November.

Connecticut is another state receiving a little bit of pressure from adjacent states, but lawmakers have yet to come to an agreement. Connecticut would have both retail and mobile betting if a bill was to be signed.

The only hope in Florida is that the Seminole Tribe makes a move. To this point, there has been some token interest, but nothing of great substantive value. If there comes a day when the Seminole Tribe does put forth a big effort, there would be a good chance that it would pass.

Georgia looks to be a state that will allow legalized sports betting sooner rather than later. There have been hearings and proposals over the last several months and the public sentiment is that there would be support for anything that was put on the ballot or on the governor’s desk.

There has been next to no progress in Hawaii and probably will not be much anytime soon.

The state of Idaho has not really explored sports betting with a small population and likely minimal interest.

The state of Kansas is likely to follow suit with Iowa and Illinois in the not too distant future. The Kansas Senate agreed to a bill in February 2020, but it still has to make it through the House and the other channels. The bill would allow for both retail and online betting. This one should come through sooner rather than later.

It is rather curious that one of the most notable horse racing states would not have sports betting, but Kentucky does not have its own casino. Therefore, the racing industry would have to share gambling dollars with sports betting, which has met a little bit of opposition. A bill has been discussed in the Senate with the blessing of the governor, but there has not been a decision to this point.

Louisiana has an interesting setup in that parishes are able to vote individually on matters. That could be a potential hurdle with regards to sports betting and its availability to all of the citizens of Louisiana. Nevertheless, the state Senate did pass a bill to legalize retail sports betting that has yet to make it through the House or the other channels.

It doesn’t seem like a huge priority in the state of Maine, but legislation got stopped in the “red zone”, as it were, as the House of Representatives stopped a bill that appeared to have a little bit of momentum.

Maryland looks like a state that could potentially have sports betting by the upcoming college basketball season. SB 4 made it through the state Senate in early March and the House of Delegates will now deliberate to see if it goes to a public vote in November. At that point, it would be a favorite to pass. It would include both retail and online betting.

Another ‘M’ state looks like it will have sports betting in 2020, joining Maryland and Michigan. The Massachusetts governor is in favor and most of the discussions now are just about the semantics of the bill. Massachusetts is a favorite to have betting by the end of 2020 and maybe even by the start of the season for the New England Patriots.

Minnesota has yet to pass any sort of sports betting legislation, but not from a lack of effort. Eventually all sides will get on the same page, but this looks more like a 2021 type of thing.

Missouri probably needs to move on sports betting sometime in the near future. Kansas City and St. Louis are two cities close enough to bordering states that the Show Me State is losing money to Illinois and Iowa. It does seem like Missouri will not make it over the goal line in 2020, but 2021 looks like a real possibility.

Interestingly, Nebraska has been discussing legislation regarding “games of skill”, like sports betting and poker, so there is a good chance that we see a major expansion of gaming in the Cornhusker state when all of this goes through. Furthermore, the legal age in the most recent bill was just 19, so that differs greatly from the 21 in every other state in the nation. If that stays, it will be very, very interesting to see the support.

North Dakota doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of incentive to get sports betting through the legislature, but there have been attempts. They just haven’t gone very far. This is likely to take a while, if it happens at all.

Ohio may not get there by 2020, but 2021 is a pretty good bet. The chief disagreement between the state Senate and the state House is whether or not sports betting will fall under the purview of the Ohio Lottery Commission or the Ohio Gaming Commission. The Senate and the governor prefer the Gaming Commission. Eventually, that should win out, though the lottery has its hands in the racinos across the state. Either way, Ohio is losing way too much gaming money to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Indiana again, which was the case up until 2009 when the state finally approved its first casinos.

Oklahoma hasn’t moved a whole lot. The gaming centers in the state are predominantly on tribal lands and those tribes have not shown a great interest to this point.

South Carolina does not have any casinos, but sports betting isn’t as long of a shot as one might think. It will still take a long period of time to come to fruition, but there is a chance that it someday happens, which is more than we probably could have said the day that PASPA was overturned.

Unlike their neighbors to the north, it looks like the South Dakota legislature is starting to move forward. A sports betting bill has navigated the Senate and has been sent to the House. If it passes the house, it will be presented to voters in the general election in November. If it makes it through that, South Dakota will be on the list for 2021.

Nope. Not gonna happen, at least not anytime soon. Legislation hasn’t even gotten off the ground yet.

While there are no locks in betting, it is as close to a lock as you can get that Utah will not have sports betting.

Vermont is moving pretty slowly, much like the syrup that leaks out of the trees. It could happen in the Green Mountain State eventually, but don’t hold your breath on it happening anytime soon.

Washington is moving ever so slowly, but it could be possible soon. Of course, Washington could follow suit with Oregon, in that there will be some betting on tribal lands, but the lottery will ultimately oversee everything. If it happens, it seems like it will be pretty limited and restrictive.

Wisconsin faces an uphill battle. Like Michigan and several other states, there are a lot of tribal casinos. In order to get betting through, tribal support is necessary. There are also holdups with the state constitution. Wisconsin won’t go live anytime soon.

There are a handful of casinos in Wyoming that are spread all over the state. A bill was discussed in February 2020 that would bring online-only betting to Wyoming on pro sports. College wagering was not part of the proposal, but pro sports were and so was a legal betting age of 18. We’ll see if that gets any steam and maybe some success in Colorado would push Wyoming in the right direction.

Stay tuned right here at ATS as we continue to update you on everything going on in the United States with regards to sports betting.


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