Hey Gamblers, Time To Bring A Sack Lunch, The Freebies Are Dying Up.

Casino revenues declined last year for the first time in Atlantic City, and the river of free lunches seems to be drying up, says the Associated Press.

Since the first casino opened here 30 years ago, tour buses depositing herds of senior citizens out for the afternoon at the gambling house doorstep has been a big part of Atlantic City casino culture. It’s now one the industry is trying to move away from — gently — so as not to antagonize loyal patrons as it seeks more affluent bettors.

The amount of comps handed out in Atlantic City declined last year by 2.4 percent. Six casinos actually spent more on giveaways last year, while five spent less. Two of those, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, and the Tropicana Casino and Resort, were significantly down.

Charles Lafferty, a retiree from Prospect Park, Pa., says he can feel it.

“You can definitely tell it’s slowing down,” he said as he spoke with friends in the lobby of the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort. “One woman we come down with used to get hundreds of dollars at a time. Now she says it’s a lot less.”

It’s important to keep people like Lafferty happy: He lives eight minutes from a racetrack slots parlor in Pennsylvania but comes to Atlantic City because they make him feel like a big deal.

“They give you free drinks here, and we get to stay overnight for free sometimes,” he said. “We like that.”

Atlantic City’s casinos are suffering from the economic slowdown and the fact that the gambling industry’s most profitable consumers are more interested in Las Vegas:

But Nick Danna, a senior equity analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach, said turning off the freebie spigot will be hard to do.

“It’s a difficult culture to break,” he said. “The expectation is still there; the customers are used to it.

“There are certain customers that Atlantic City really shouldn’t attract anymore because they’re just not profitable,” he said. “Then there are other customers they’d like to comp less, but it’s very difficult because they (the customers) are used to it.”

Danna said the real opportunity for Atlantic City is in customers who currently look down on the resort, still viewing it as the domain of elderly people who clamber off buses with buffet coupons in hand. These folks tend to favor Las Vegas.

Slowdown Hurting Gambler’s Casino Comps [AP]
(Photo:saitowitz)

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  1. 44 in a Row says:

    It’s not so much that the profitable customers are more interested in Las Vegas, it’s that they’re interested in more than just slot machines and table games. For years, Atlantic City resorts were casinos and nothing more; they made great money at that (the 12 or so casinos in Atlantic City take in about the same net revenue from gaming as do the 20+ in Vegas), but there was nothing beyond gaming. Vegas resorts, on the other hand, make well under 50% of their income from gaming. The rest comes from the restaurants, the shows, the shops, the clubs, and all the other non-gaming attractions that the big Vegas megaresorts have. The “freebies” this article is talking about appeal mostly to people who want to sit at a slot machine for hours on end; there’s money in that, but not as much as there is in people like young professionals from New York and New Jersey, who’ll gamble a little but also drop $100+ on dinner, then go to a club and buy drinks all night. So Atlantic City is trying to move from attracting the former to attracting the latter.

  2. savvy9999 says:

    My quite elderly mother is in a club of ladies who do the bus-tour-to-AC trip on a biweekly basis.

    Some of the richer ninnies spend a lot of money on the trip, some frugal ones don’t spend a dime and actually make money on the deal. Everyone has a good time, gets a free lunch. Or at least they used to…

    I’m going to forward this to my mom, see what she and the rest of the bluehairs have to say.

    Thanks Consumerist!

  3. forgottenpassword says:

    oh man that’s pretty sad! Not only do they want you to come & lose money, they want to not offer anything else (like a free buffet meal or drinks)?

    Talk about adding insult to injury! lol

    Btw… I stay away from casinos. I know better.

    The only way I’d go to a casino would be to play penny or nickel slots just for the fun. Not to get rich.

  4. freshyill says:

    Anybody who knows anything knows that this is happening because Atlantic City absolutely relies on buses of old people being shipped in from surrounding states. Oh, and guess which state that surrounds 75% of New Jersey just got a shitload of slots parlors? That’s right, Pennsylvania. And they’re getting more.

    Atlantic city is obsolete. Sorry! Too bad you put all your eggs in one basket!

  5. John Whorfin says:

    Does anyone know what the crime rate in AC is compared to LV?

  6. freshyill says:

    @freshyill: I should also mention that Pennsylvania is chock full of old people, and they hate their money, so the quicker they can hand it over to the one-armed bandits, the better.

  7. unklegwar says:

    WTF is “Dying Up”?

    For a site that’s so uptight about “reading the fine print”, you’d think you’d take time to proofread your own postings.

  8. 44 in a Row says:

    Also, this might be exacerbated by the economic slowdown, but it’s a trend that started a while ago. When the Borgata opened in 2002, it was the first casino in AC that didn’t subsidize bus trips. The Borgata, instead, makes boatloads of money on non-gaming attractions, just like the Vegas resorts do. There’s much more money in people who didn’t come in on a bus.

  9. MeOhMy says:

    Some of the casinos are trying to make the place more Vegas-style – the Borgata, the newish Quarter at the Tropicana, etc. At the moment, though, Drew Carey’s observation that losing money in Vegas is like getting conned by a beautiful call girl while losing money in AC is like getting mugged by a crackhead.

  10. backbroken says:

    Slots parlors and table games are becoming legal in more communities every day. Not hard to figure out that Grandma would rather play slots 15 minutes from home than take a 4 hour bus trip.

    Still, I feel bad that the casinos will have to learn to get by on a 75% ROI rather than the typical 110%.

  11. EmmK says:

    @unklegwar:

    I think “dying up” is what happens when one relies on a spell-checking program rather than proofreading copy with one’s own eyes. AKA: rushing to publish.

  12. mac-phisto says:

    people still gamble in AC?

    the senior’s buses up here go to mohegan & foxwoods. $20 buys you a comp ticket for the buffet & a $10 gaming voucher (plus the ride to & from). talk about a deal. too bad i’m not old enough to partake.

    AC has been stingy with their comps for a long time. now that the borgata is in town & penna has slots, they need to work a little harder to earn their dough – & their answer is to cutback on free shit? sounds like an excellent plan.

  13. ClayS says:

    Atlantic City is at a huge disadvantage to Vegas because they lack an airport.

    Also Las Vegas has a reputation for unimpeachable confidentiality (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas).

  14. backbroken says:

    @freshyill: All of its eggs in one basket?? What about the thriving sex, meth, and crack industry?

  15. Falconfire says:

    @freshyill: Actually no as someone else here pointed out, AC no longer relys on the “old people” as your putting it, since the Borgata has brought in a whole new wave of younger players who are more into table and dining, and a lot less into the old mainstay of slots.

    If you look into any recent development in the city, its all upper scale malls, theaters, and casinos that are off the strip and in some cases dont even have any bus ports.

    Its a transitional period right now, which they knew was going to happen. Give it another year or two while AC finishes development on the 4-5 new properties it has coming up, and you will see profits go back up.

  16. Falconfire says:

    @ClayS: Um AC has a international airport…

  17. 44 in a Row says:

    AC has an airport only in the most literal sense. It’s served by two airlines: Spirit Air, and a Delta regional carrier. And I think the Delta flights are ending.

  18. mac-phisto says:

    @ClayS: AC has an airport (ACY) –> [www2.sjta.com] . it’s not as big as lv, but they’re working on expansion. they’ve been trying to get a high-speed tram from the airport to the convention center for years, but that project hasn’t gone anywhere.

  19. cde says:

    If AC has an initernational airport, but noone flys to it, does it still have crappy tsa service?

  20. cmdrsass says:

    I wonder, is it possible to sign over your social security check directly to the casino and avoid the mindless hours of arm wrestling the slots?

  21. Juggernaut says:

    AC casinos are investing millions to keep slots out of every part of NJ, so they can keep their “homegrown” seniors coming back. They just agreed to put 90,000,000 into horse-racing purses over three years (a renewal of a previous agreement) to block slots at Monmouth Park, Meadowlands, etc. Believe me they’re still relying on “old people”

  22. ClayS says:

    @mac-phisto:

    I stand corrected then, thanks.

  23. Juggernaut says:

    @cde: Crappy to the nth degree… I had an issue with a boarding pass, they called me from the gate back to the counter twice and both times the same TSA guy had me take off my shoes… there were maybe twenty people in the entire airport and I was never more than 100 feet from the guy… what a douche!

  24. laserjobs says:

    Vegas is the place to go but even Vegas is feeling a significant economic downturn. The amount of freebees is going up, the buffet prices are going down and the table limits are down and the odds up.

  25. jamesdenver says:

    I like playing poker as much as anyone else – but when I’m old I certainly hope I’m one of those cool seniors that goes on long bike tours, skydiving, and managing community gardens instead of withering away in front of a slot machine…

  26. bohemian says:

    Argh. If I ever consider taking a bus to Atlantic City to play slots my next trip is going to be in search of a suicide booth.

  27. nursetim says:

    Kind of sounds like when some web sites tried to go to a subscription model, especially newspapers. They ran into the same thing; people were used to sites being free, and refused to start paying for it. AC is going to find it is a losing battle to get people to change their mentality after so many years.

  28. freshyill says:

    @Falconfire: And look at how much good that’s doing the casinos. The town is built on casinos, and will die die by them. They’re hurting because Pennsylvania has stolen all of the slots players.

  29. 44 in a Row says:

    AC is going to find it is a losing battle to get people to change their mentality after so many years.

    That’s why, I think, they’re not so much trying to change the mentality of their existing customers, but to find new ones. They need to attract the younger and more affluent crowd from the New York Metro area that otherwise flies to Las Vegas. The Borgata is a good start, and there are a bunch of other projects (like the MGM Grand Atlantic City, Pinnacle’s replacement for the Sands, and the Morgan Stanley/Revel project by the Showboat) that will hopefully continue the trend.

  30. Falconfire says:

    @freshyill: They had one bad year in DECADES. Your a idiot if you think that = they are dying. Prior to this they had a record PROFIT.

    They are not losing money contrary to how everyone is spinning it, they made LESS money then they did last year. They still turned a profit.

  31. KarmaChameleon says:

    @mac-phisto: For old people from NYC, AC is a closer drive than Foxwoods or Mohegan. My mom worked at one of the local VA hospitals and I used to volunteer whenever they’d organize casino trips for the patients. We only did Foxwoods once because it was so freaking far away…it felt like we were on the bus forever.
    The other problem with Foxwoods and Mohegan is that you’re limited to one casino, two at the most (if you want to deal with the drive to the other place). Most people like to have a variety of places to go to. As a kid my family took lots of trips to AC and grandma always bitched that the slots at the Showboat were cheap as fuck, however, their buffets kicked ass. I don’t think we ever actually paid to eat there, either, they used to comp out the ass.

    That actually brings me to my other point, which is that I think they ought to do more to attract families as well as the yuppie crowd. One of the things that sucked about AC as a kid was that there really wasn’t much to do for the under 21 set, except the boardwalk and that shitty arcade in the Taj Mahal. Vegas OTOH has a shit ton of things for kids to do while their parents are gambling away their college funds. AC really needs to diversify in order to be relevant again.

  32. Blueskylaw says:

    “It’s a difficult culture to break,” he said. “The expectation is still there; the customers are used to it”

    Kind of like not buying a Subway sandwich without a buy one get one free coupon.

  33. Starfury says:

    My wife went to Reno with friends last weekend and lost $200 gambling. She said it was very empty in all the casinos there.

    If I was given $200 to gamble with I’d put the money in my pocket and just keep it. I’ve got toys to buy.

  34. floyderdc says:

    I just got back from AC. I did not grow up on the East Coast so it
    was my first time there. What a shit hole. I love casinos, I love
    Vegas, but this place was so ghetto. The boardwalk was full of bums I
    felt like I was going to be mugged on the street.

  35. ChuckECheese says:

    @cmdrsass: I recommend direct depositing one’s social security check into your favorite casino’s bank account.

  36. ChuckECheese says:

    @KarmaChameleon: Vegas already tried the family thing. It didn’t go over well. Now they’re back to, well, the non-family stuff. Maybe AC should go after the “new-old,” you know, people who don’t think they’re old yet, but they are.

    If you want the most hilarious and scary time gambling, check out Pahrump Nevada. It’s about 40 miles east of Death Valley and 80 miles NW of LV. It’s…indescribable.

  37. mac-phisto says:

    @KarmaChameleon: they were working on a high-speed ferry from nyc to foxwoods/mohegan, but i don’t know if it’s in yet. any word? it is a long drive, but where would you rather be – the dingy jersey shore, where you’re more likely to win a hypodermic needle in your foot than three cherries or the wilds of connecticut on the beautifully preserved mashantucket pequot indian reservation where it literally rains $100 bills?

    ok, that last part may be stretching things a wee bit…

  38. alfundo says:

    @freshyill:

    PA isn’t stealing ACs gamblers, PA is merely giving them a good reason to stay in their own state.

  39. alfundo says:

    @Falconfire:

    Their “one” bad year has come at the same time there is legal gambling in PA. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

    No one is spinning that they’re losing money but that definitely has to do with the belt tightening.

  40. KarmaChameleon says:

    @ChuckECheese: The Vegas casinos don’t necessarily have family things anymore but at least there’s stuff like Fremont St. Experience. AC has a lot of potential but it’s just too gross. I went to church in East New York growing up so I am not exactly sheltered but even I’m scared for my life in AC.

    @mac-phisto: They were still working on that ferry when I moved from NYC a couple years ago (I’m in the Phoenix area now–long story), but I’m not sure if it’s there yet. Hell I remember when various folks were talking about putting casinos on Governor’s Island and Donald Trump pitched a fit and it was never talked about again. The AC casino lobby has too much pull, IMO. Honestly, building up the Foxwoods/Mohegan area a little would probably be a better use of time and money. AC is just way too ghetto and always will be, the corrupt nature of local politics will ensure that nothing ever gets done to clean that place up.

  41. Clare says:

    @44 in a Row: I think the Pinnacle project went belly-up. I followed the ups and downs of the Sands for years because I interned there one summer in college. That was a fun job…I had an office with an ocean view, free lunch, and I made more money than I knew what to do with.

  42. Falconfire says:

    @alfundo: actually from all the stories I have read, it is in fact a coincidence. While PA did have a effect, the fact that AC casinos spent MORE money this year than last with a bunch of new projects starting up, has a lot more to do with the falling profits than PA which according to everything I have read, has at most had a 1-2% effect on ACs profits.

    The fact is all PA and NY gambling has done is made more gamblers, not cut into the AC crowd. The people playing NY and PA would never have taken the trip to AC to begin with.

  43. 44 in a Row says:

    Pinnacle is sort-of on hold. There were rumors that they were going to pull out, but last I heard they were still planning on going forward with it, albeit with a bit of a delay. The fact is, if a casino can get their non-gaming offerings up to speed and compete effectively with the Borgata, then there’s a ton of money to be made, even with competition from the Pennsylvania slot market. For too long, the New York Metro gaming market wasn’t stratified like Las Vegas was, where there were pure-gaming joints (like the Downtown casinos) and the flashy resorts; it was just Atlantic City, and just gaming. If Pinnacle doesn’t build, someone else will.

  44. kc2gvx says:

    I visit AC every other week (I live within an hour), and still have a good time. I also visit Las Vegas three times a year. Las Vegas has better machines, and you can smoke still in the casino. While the casinos aren’t going to close, they will still survive. The smoking ban has been hurting them, since PA still allows smoking on the casino floor. As for the crime, I don’t see much of the problems people always cry about. I have walked the streets and boardwalk alone many nights, and never had anything other than bums shake a bucket of change, or hookers ask me for a good time. I still feel safe there, and get tons of comps from them. However, I have noticed the machines are paying less, it appears they have tightened the payouts a little.

  45. Smackdown says:

    When Vegas is the “classy” alternative, you know there’s a problem.

  46. BloggyMcBlogBlog says:

    I heard that AC wants to legalize professional sports betting to increase their revenues.

  47. uricmu says:

    @44 in a Row: Unlike Vegas, AC is within easy drive from Philly, NY, DC and their airports from baltimore. It’s not really an airport issue.

    The problem with AC is that outside the resorts, it’s dead and dangerous and not really walkable. Nothing compares to the crowds and life at the strip in Vegas. That attracts people more than anything, I think.

  48. uberbucket says:

    @unklegwar: @EmmK: 9 out of 10 grammar nazis approve.

    I’d rather go to Reno than AC any day.

  49. nardo218 says:

    @uricmu: Has traffic and parking gotten as bad in AC as the other shore towns? In Ocean City, they need a damn shuttle from the north of the island to the boardwalk. When I was a kid, you drove around for twenty minutes and walked three blocks. Now, you just turn around and go home.

  50. ???/??? says:

    Woah! AC going downhill? Obviously you haven’t bee there lately.

    With the new Forum shops and numerous new shopping installments, coupled with the Borgata, AC is quickly playing catchup to LVs counterpart.

    As far as airports, it’s really only an 1 1/2 drive from Philly Int. and even then, they have their own airport!

    The thing AC really lacks in is shows and a centralized location. LV is nice because of the strip, step off of the strip and your knee deep in scum.

    The boardwalk however is a nice touch for the kids, as is the beach! However, they really need to add more rides and make the area more “kid friendly daytime with adults night out”

    Simply put, they need more to do outside of gambling. They’re doing a great job so far adding the new shops and stores, how about taking more advantage of the beaches?

  51. mac-phisto says:

    @nardo218: traffic’s pretty bad coming over the bridge, but there’s plenty of parking (in the casino garages at least). street parking…well, that’s another story.

    personally, for the jersey shore, i like seaside heights. it’s a tourist trap, but the clam shack that’s right on the boardwalk is pretty damn good. mmm…clams.

  52. Falconfire says:

    @mac-phisto: These days I think Seaside is the nicest, and they are going through a real transformation toward making it very family friendly. Jenkinsons in Point Pleasant used to be good, but its small, and starting to move toward how sleezy Seaside was in the 80′s thanks to Seasides huge police presence now. And Wildwood I found to just plain suck these days.