Making the News

Press of Atlantic City

Originally Published:Thursday, November 6, 2008

"It is a very high tax, so they won't be able to do a lot of marketing beyond the local area to create a regional destination," said Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group.
In contrast, Atlantic City casinos pay 9.25 percent in state taxes on their gross gaming revenue. Pollock explained that there is a "clear inverse relationship" between high tax rates and capital investment, meaning that Maryland's gaming operators could not possibly duplicate the type of full-fledged casinos in Atlantic City.

"Long term, one of the reasons we remain optimistic about Atlantic City's potential is that operators in this market have the potential to grow revenue in what we term the feeder markets - whether they are Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York or Maryland," Pollock said.

Maryland voters approve slot machines, giving Atlantic City more competition

By Donald Wittkowski
Press of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY - Thousands of new slot machines are heading to Maryland. Could Atlantic City's casino customers be far behind?

Maryland voters Tuesday approved a constitutional amendment for slot gambling, further crowding the Northeast casino market and giving Atlantic City another competitor just a three-hour drive away.

Initially, there were fears that the introduction of so many slot machines nearby would be another blow to Atlantic City's gaming industry, already wounded by the weak economy and competition from Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware.

But analysts predict Maryland's slot parlors will pose little threat to Atlantic City's bigger, more extravagant resort casino hotels. They said Atlantic City has made itself a more attractive destination by adding upscale retail shops, restaurants and nightclubs to supplement the gaming action.

"We don't build in a huge impact for Atlantic City. I think it's neutral. We don't see it as being a very serious impact," Cory H. Morowitz, chairman of Morowitz Gaming Advisors, said of competition from Maryland.

Maryland voters approved as many as 15,000 slot machines for five locations - in Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties, the city of Baltimore and on state property in Rocky Gap State Park in the western part of the state.

Joseph A. Corbo Jr., president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group representing Atlantic City's gaming industry, declined to comment on the Maryland casinos.

The slot parlors need local zoning approvals, a potential roadblock that could slow their grand opening for at least a couple of years. Gaming companies still must be selected to run the operations. Also to Atlantic City's benefit, Maryland's 67 percent tax on gaming revenue likely will limit the investment that companies make in the casinos and all but ensures the five locations will serve only a local market, analysts noted.

"It is a very high tax, so they won't be able to do a lot of marketing beyond the local area to create a regional destination," said Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group.

In contrast, Atlantic City casinos pay 9.25 percent in state taxes on their gross gaming revenue. Pollock explained that there is a "clear inverse relationship" between high tax rates and capital investment, meaning that Maryland's gaming operators could not possibly duplicate the type of full-fledged casinos in Atlantic City.

Once the only casino destination on the East Coast, Atlantic City has seen its market share decline as gambling has spread to neighboring states since the 1990s. Slot parlors in Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania have siphoned away gamblers from key feeder markets. Connecticut's two Indian-owned casinos are formidable competitors.

New York officials have agreed to add another slot parlor at the Aqueduct racetrack. In Pennsylvania, seven of 14 slot parlors that have been authorized are in operation, with two to come in Philadelphia. Political wrangling and community debate have stalled the opening of the Philadelphia casinos, giving Atlantic City a reprieve.

Atlantic City is heading for its second straight year of declining casino revenues, with the sluggish economy and competition from surrounding states to blame. Responding to pressure from the gaming industry, City Council agreed to lift the casino smoking ban for at least a year, beginning Nov. 16, to prevent even more customers from deserting the resort.

Gambling proponents in Maryland have been pushing slot parlors as a way to save the state's ailing horseracing tracks by combining their operations. Maryland will have about half the number of Atlantic City's 35,000 slot machines when it fully ramps up.

Despite the extra competition, analysts believe Atlantic City may actually benefit from Maryland's slot operations in the long run by having even more customers introduced to casino gambling.

"Long term, one of the reasons we remain optimistic about Atlantic City's potential is that operators in this market have the potential to grow revenue in what we term the feeder markets - whether they are Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York or Maryland," Pollock said.

E-mail Donald Wittkowski:

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