It may not be fair to compare any gaming city in the world to Las Vegas let alone Atlantic City. They don’t have the lights, shows, mega-resorts or attractions that bring tourists to Sin City. However, after three trips to Atlantic City, I realized that this gaming destination could be MUCH better but suffers from a community that seems to care very little or understand that their success relies on gamblers, vacationers and tourists. Over the past five years I’ve taken tree trips to Atlantic City (2009, 2010 and 2013) and it seems with each visit either my expectations increase OR every person including casino dealers, restaurant servers, hotel staff and retail shop owners have stopped caring.
While I cannot draw an exact connection between service and revenue, I did find some interesting data on gaming revenues. According to the UNLV Center for Gaming Research (http://gaming.unlv.edu/reports.html ), the Las Vegas Strip is slowly recovering from their recession while Atlantic City continues to decline. From 2006 to 2011, Atlantic City has shown a decrease in its gaming revenue of 37% while, during the same period of time, the Las Vegas Strip has show a decrease of only %10. The Las Vegas Strip is now surpassing their totals from 2006 as Atlantic City continues to decline. Without a full analysis of number of tourists, the socio-economic class of gamblers, the impact of new casinos on the east coast (Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, etc…), the continued development and improvements in Las Vegas as compared to Atlantic City these statistics may lack some context. But, as I live only an hour away from Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, two relatively small casinos continue to expand, grow and succeed and Atlantic City fails. The differences between Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods and Atlantic City are minimal. In fact, Atlantic City has advantages that other gaming destinations don’t have. Atlantic City was the primary destination for gaming in the northeast for decades, marquee names, ocean views and history. But it is Connecticut and Pennsylvania casinos that are expanding their entertainment, dining and shopping options and are becoming known as a great weekend destination for anything from anniversary celebrations, bachelor parties or just a relaxing getaway. Every new venture in Atlantic City seems to fails miserably (Read this.)
This article is less of an exercise in bashing Atlantic City and more of an ode to Las Vegas and the success of other casino destinations. The reason Atlantic City is failing has as much to do with their service and treatment of their guests as it does with their failure to invest in itself. My experiences in Atlantic City speak volumes to their failures as a tourist destination. While Macau (which seems to have become the premier gaming destination in the world) and Las Vegas are the “major league” of gaming destinations, Atlantic City is worse than the “minor leagues.” Connecticut, Mississippi and Pennsylvania casinos can be considered the Triple A affiliates of Las Vegas and Macau. But, Atlantic City is sometimes like a dying Division III football program (think the Mud Dogs from Adam Sandler’s “Waterboy”) or even worse, dare I say, the WBNA.
I will spare anyone who is actually reading this of a day-by-day account of each one of my trips but I’d like to share some terrible moments that just DON’T happen in a quality tourist destination and will also offer a few positive experiences I have had.
Hotel Horror- While staying at The Tropicana with a large group, we had a simple request of moving two of our guest rooms to a different floor from the other guests. After 45 minutes of being rerouted to various hotel staff members because we “came on a bus,” our request was finally granted with the words, “this better be the last change…” I don’t think Circus Circus would even treat their guests in this manner.
While I was walking to my room, I noticed a room service tray in the hallway. I didn’t think much of it later that night as I figured whoever was staying next door to me must have ordered room service again. However, the next morning, when the odor was more noticeable, I reported it to the front desk to which they responded that they didn’t have room service after 6pm on Sunday so it wouldn’t be taken care of until Wednesday.
Cha Ching- I lost. I gambled even more than I normally do and everywhere I played, I lost. I know of a few people that did ok on the slots but no Vegas-esque stories. Tables are fine. Variety of limits with the same type of odds. If anything, the casinos aren’t terrible. The casino at Caesars is very nice but, overall, most are equivalent to TI or Bally’s.
Can I Get a Drink?- I’m a fan of good drink service in casinos as I’m sure many people are. It is something that makes a difference to me. While playing in the high rollers room and losing a good deal of money for over an hour, only once did someone ask if we wanted a drink. I was shocked. On the penny and quarter machines, the drink service was fast and continual but served in skimpy little plastic cups with a pretty raunchy attitude.
The Boardwalk- Atlantic City has the great opportunity to build a beautiful strip for tourists to walk down. But, rather than nice shops, restaurants and some type of attractions along the boardwalk, it is littered with crappy souvenir shops, shady massage parlors and unappealing food stands. With a view of the ocean and a seaside appeal, this area could be a major attraction.
Attitudes Suck- I’ve already mentioned the hotel staff above but from servers who don’t understand how to cater to a tourist when their order is wrong or the retail shop staff being curt or the dealers looking bored and unengaged, it just seems that everyone HATES what they do. I’m sure that the buffet servers at the Seasons Buffet in Mohegan Sun, cab drivers on the strip or every black jack dealer on a $5 table at crappy casinos don’t love their jobs but most people employed in gaming destinations, especially Vegas, realize that their jobs revolve around the tourism industry. This is the major reason why I believe Atlantic City suffers. (Shout-out to the Starbucks staff at the outlets who were, by far, the nicest people in AC.)
Where Shows Go to Die- I saw Steve Wyreck in Vegas. It was the worst Vegas decision I ever made. His show was a featured house show in Atlantic City. This seems to be the overall theme of Atlantic City. I’m going to be easy on Atlantic City here as I haven’t seen any of their shows but with Legends, Beetlemania and an I Love Lucy; Live on Stage show, being the only consistently running house shows I doubt any of these shows compares to any Cirque show, Peep Show or even George Wallace.
Pay to Park- Self explanatory.
Some Good Stuff- I’ve stayed in The Tropicana twice because the rooms are actually not bad, the rates are great and they have a nice selection of games, restaurants and the location is convenient. The comps are great and I like enough about it to stay there…when it is free or close to it. My stay at the Taj Mahal was mediocre. They were nowhere near as awful as my stay at the Imperial Palace but they weren’t as good as any of my stays in Vegas including TI.
Some of the restaurants are incredibly good. I had an amazing dining experience at Michael Mina’s Seablue in The Borgotta.
The Tanger Outlets, which are across the street from the strip of casinos, is a nice shopping complex with a variety of stores.
Philadelphia is only 3o minutes away.
Caesar’s Palace is very nice. The casino feels like a Vegas casino. The shops feel like a mini version of the Forum Shops and if you head to the third floor of the shops, you can sit in beach chairs and relax in a comfortable environment with a drink or coffee with an amazing view of the ocean.
The comps pay well. After spending two nights at The Tropicana and playing as I would in Vegas, I earned over $50 in express comps, free meals and offers to return with two free nights, meals and free slot play. I can’t speak to the rewards at the other casinos.
Las Vegas was built in a dessert. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods stand in the middle of rural Connecticut. Macau is barely 15 years old as a gaming destination. Atlantic City is wasting away its potential. This once vibrant and attractive destination continues to deteriorate. It can’t be that the northeast is short on gamblers or people looking for a fun place to spend a weekend as Pennsylvania and Connecticut are doing very well. As someone who enjoys the casino atmosphere, I wonder if Atlantic City will ever take a look at what Las Vegas or its nearby competitors have done the last ten years and invest in itself.