For years, there has been talk of an
Atlantic City reinvention, an attempt to rid the southern New
Jersey city by the sea of its reputation as a haven for
day-trippers by emulating the panache of Las Vegas 3,000 miles to
west. Build more elaborate and diversified resorts that will
attract the kind of clientele that will make the city cool. And in
time, the Atlantic City boardwalk would rival the Las Vegas Strip.
The 2003 opening of
the Borgata, co-owned by Boyd Gaming and MGM Mirage, started the
transformation, and it is hoped that the MGM Grand Atlantic City
will continue it.
MGM Mirage expects
to start construction on this mini-metropolis next year and open
the resort in 2010. Spread over 60 acres, the $5 billion resort
will have three towers with more than 3,000 rooms, making it the
city's largest casino hotel. It will have New Jersey's largest
casino floor, with 5,000 slot machines, 200 table games and a poker
The resort also
will have 500,000 square feet of retail space, a 1,500-seat
theater, restaurants, nightclubs, a spa and a convention
But is it too
ambitious a plan? Gaming revenue in Atlantic City has slumped for
the first time in three decades. Casinos in other Northeast states
are siphoning gamblers. The political climate remains sticky;
casinos shut down for three days last year because of a budget
impasse, draining millions from state coffers. Some wonder whether
Atlantic City can remake itself in Las Vegas' image, or if it
should even try.
president of Encompass the World Travel, a travel agency in
Cleveland, said no one should expect an overnight makeover. Even
with $10 billion worth of deluxe resorts on tap in the next five
years, Coyle doubts Atlantic City will lure luxury travelers who
frequent Vegas. For starters, he said, Atlantic City's airport is
is great, but the infrastructure around the boardwalk isn't where
it needs to be," said Coyle. "We have clients who stay in Vegas for
six nights and never even gamble. Once you've gambled in Atlantic
City, then what?
are the ones who are going to sell this, so [we need to see] that
there is something more than sitting in a casino all day. Maybe
it's too early for the project, or everyone's hoping that the
things that need to happen will happen in the interim."
director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of
Nevada, Las Vegas, sees the glass half full. Reared in Atlantic
City, he's familiar with its battles with blight and repeated
attempts at rejuvenation.
"Borgata proved the
market is there, that people are willing to pay more for quality,"
he said. "It has to happen; the city has to innovate. It can't be
Laughlin East or Primm East. It has to be Las Vegas
spokesman Gordon Absher disagrees. He thinks Atlantic City is its
own marketable brand. "Atlantic City can stand on its own," he
Absher said the
Borgata's rising revenue proves Atlantic City customers are
receptive to a world-class, destination experience and that the MGM
Grand Atlantic City is the right project at the right
In a note to
investors, Bear Stearns gaming analyst Joe Greff expressed
confidence in MGM Mirage's ability to execute in an underserved
"We have long
believed Atlantic City is a market in need of hotel rooms and
capital investment to assist in the transformation to a destination
resort or less of a day-tripper market," Greff said. "We believe
this development should be a positive for the neighboring
Absher said MGM
Mirage intends to apply for state approval to build along the coast
in late 2007 or early 2008. The other main order of business is
securing approval from New Jersey gaming regulators, who are
currently reviewing MGM Mirage's Macau joint venture with Pansy Ho,
daughter of casino mogul and alleged organized crime affiliate
Mississippi have green-lighted the partnership. If New Jersey
regulators disapprove, MGM Mirage could be forced to shelve the
Macau project or dump its Atlantic City properties.
contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].