by Lisa A. Grimaldi | April 01, 2011

Atlantic City

In late January, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed bill S-11, which authorized the creation of the Atlantic City Tourism District. In a statement, Christie said, "The challenges faced today by the Atlantic City tourism and gaming industries have been a long time in the making, and significant steps are needed to stop the decline and set a new course of economic growth and job creation, and return Atlantic City to the ranks of the best destinations in the world. But, it can and must be done for the economic health of New Jersey as a whole."

The new tourism district will be administered by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which will establish land-use regulations, implement a tourism district master plan, promote public health and safety initiatives, advance commercial development, undertake redevelopment projects and institute infrastructure improvements. The CRDA also will enter into a public-private partnership with a new not-for-profit agency consisting of a majority of New Jersey casino licensees, through which the casinos will commit funds totaling $30 million annually for the development and implementation of a marketing program aimed at promoting the destination.

The measure also provides for the merger of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority into the CRDA. At press time, the merger had not taken place, and details of how the two bodies would operate had not been announced.

Also in January, Gov. Christie signed a measure allowing the development of two new 200-room casino hotels in Atlantic City. One of the new licenses is for a "staged casino," which means the developers may open a 200-room property on the condition they will expand it in five years. New Jersey law previously required casino hotels to have at least 500 rooms. According to press reports, Hard Rock International is interested in developing one of the new, smaller properties.

Last month, Gov. Christie vetoed a bill that would have allowed New Jersey residents to place bets through websites run by casino companies in Atlantic City, the only city in the state in which gambling is allowed.

Revel Entertainment Group announced in February that it had completed a $1.15 billion financing package which will enable the company to complete construction of Revel, a casino resort. The property, which will feature 1,100 guest rooms, a 150,000-square-foot casino and a 5,500-seat theater, is expected to open in June 2012.

AC future Gold Nugget propertyLandry's, the parent company of Nevada's Golden Nugget Las Vegas and Golden Nugget Laughlin, has agreed to purchase the Trump Marina Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City from Trump Entertainment Resorts for $38 million. The 728-room property will be rebranded under the Golden Nugget name and will undergo a head-to-toe renovation set for completion by the end of this year.

Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owns and operates the 2,032-room Trump Taj Mahal Casino Hotel, the 904-room Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, and, until its sale last month, the 728-room Trump Marina Hotel Casino, emerged from its third Chapter 11 reorganization last year.

Gomes Gaming Inc. purchased the Resorts Casino Hotel last December. The property offers 942 guest rooms in the 13-story Ocean Tower and 28-story Rendezvous Tower, along with approximately 100,000 square feet of gaming space and 45,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel recently hired a marketing director to target the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender market. Proposed changes include opening Atlantic City's first gay nightclub. The property is adjacent to the Boardwalk, close to the Central Pier and Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.

Four dining spots are slated to open this summer: Luke Palladino, featuring locally sourced cuisine; Dos Caminos, a Mexican eatery; and Bill's Bar & Burger, all at Harrah's Resort. Meanwhile, Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino is opening a new seafood restaurant, the Atlantic Grill.

The 804-room Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort unveiled four new restaurants last year: Simon Prime, a steak house by celebrity chef Kerry Simon; ONO Pan-Asian Bistro and Bar; Nick's Burger Bar, and The Coffee Shop. The gaming property also updated its Beach Bar, and the casino now features new slot machines. The resort offers more than 37,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including the 14,000-square-foot Cambridge Ballroom.

Seaview, a Dolce Resort, debuted a new look last month following a renovation of its 297 guest rooms. The Galloway Township property, which was purchased by Richard Stockton College last year, had been closed since January. The college plans to use part of the resort for student housing and intends to develop a hotel-management program.

AC skyview of The TropicanaThe 2,133-room Tropicana Atlantic City Casino & Resort, purchased by investor Carl Icahn last year, has been awarded an operating license by the Atlantic City Casino Control Commission. Three years ago, the commission stripped the casino of its license following a massive layoff that left the property understaffed. The resort has a variety of meeting spaces, including the 18,000-square-foot Royal Swan Ballroom and the 13,000-square-foot Grand Exhibition Center.

At the 1,756-room Bally's Atlantic City Hotel & Casino (owned by Caesars Entertainment Inc.), the Wild Wild West Casino completed a $1.5 million renovation last summer. The project transformed the faux frontier-town décor into a country-music themed setting, including the addition of a stage, a mechanical bull and a "beer pong" area. In addition, the property's 500-room Claridge Tower is getting a makeover to the tune of $20 million, which will include revamped guest rooms.

On the meetings front, Atlantic City saw an uptick in its convention and attendee bookings. According to projections by the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, the city will show an increase of 10 percent in conventions and trade shows, public shows and hotel bookings in 2011, over 2010 figures. Projected attendance for 2011 is 360,000, also a 10 percent increase over the previous year. Projected room nights for 2011 are 130,000, up 11 percent over 2010, and the city will see $150 million in attendee spending, an increase of 8 percent over last year.