Yes, New Jersey, there is a Santa Claus: Atlantic City’s long uninterrupted streak of gambling revenue declines finally came to an end in December. Revenue at AC’s 11 casinos rose 4% in the final month of 2011, coming in at $246.5m (or, as they refer to such sums in Macau, petty cash). Slots revenue was up 8.3%, although table games remained in the dumps, falling 4.3%. December’s positive figure marks the first time since Aug. 2008 that AC’s revenue has moved upward, but the uptick couldn’t prevent 2011 from being the fifth straight year of revenue decline. Overall revenue for the year amounted to $3.3b (about what Macau brings in on a monthly basis), down 7% from 2010 and off 39% from the peak year of 2006.
Still, casino execs are determined to look on the bright side of death. Trump Entertainment CEO Robert Griffin told the Associated Press that he and his cohorts “will look back at December 2011 as the beginning of the rebirth of Atlantic City. These results … clearly show that the future of Atlantic City is a bright one.” Tropicana president Tony Rodio was sounding more like positive thinking guru Tony Robbins in his read of the situation: “We’ve been seeing this trend for a while now, the declines getting smaller, things getting a little bit better. We’ll have a lot of positive months sprinkled into 2012.” May 2012 could potentially be one of those months, as that’s when the new $2.4b Revel casino is scheduled to open its doors. That will bring AC’s casino total to an even dozen, and hopefully bring plenty of looky-loos who can be convinced to stay long enough to gamble.
AC has enacted a number of schemes over the past year to entice and retain visitors, including relaxed drinking rules, poolside gambling and even kiddie arcades. The arcades – currently in action at the Taj Mahal, Bally’s, Harrah’s and Golden Nugget, plus a new one at the Tropicana that just opened in December – are packed with all manner of kid-friendly games, from Chuck E. Cheese-style electronic games that dispense tickets redeemable for prizes, to skee-ball, shuffleboard and miniature golf courses. The aim is to provide a safe haven for kids (and at least one parent) while their dad or mom has adult fun on the casino floor. Frankly, we suggest affixing adhesive tape to the slots chairs, because AC can’t afford to slip back into negative territory.