Making the News

Toronto Star

Originally Published:Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"Increasingly, we're becoming a society that has grown up with solitary gaming experiences on their computers, TV sets or personal game consoles. And I think people are going to casinos and discovering the community atmosphere on the gaming tables. They're finding out that, hey, it's fun to be around real people," said Joe Weinert, vice-president of Spectrum Gaming Group.

Atlantic City thinking young
Hip gamesters transform casinos

By JOHN CURRAN
Toronto Star

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.—LL Cool J was playing the House of Blues. Rapper Jay-Z's new nightclub was rocking. Fredericka Jones, 42, out on the town with her girlfriends, was determined to hit both, and then try her luck at a casino.

She used to make the one-hour trip from her Philadelphia home once every couple of years. Now, she goes several times a year. And she has noticed some changes.

"The crowd is getting younger," she said. Rejuvenated by an edgy new casino, trendy clubs and beach bars and a vibrant music scene, Atlantic City is evolving into a nightlife hotspot for people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who once saw the city as one big neon-lit retirement home. And the new kids in town are changing the way the casinos do business.

"We've seen a huge increase in the 20- to 40-year-old crowd," said Audrey Oswell, president of Resorts Atlantic City casino. "Some of it has to do with the development of a non-gaming infrastructure. There's more recreational activities outside of gaming, and it keeps people entertained for a longer period of time.''

Long a destination for silver-haired slot players, Atlantic City's customer base began to shift after the opening of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in mid-2003. The casino, which stressed sexiness and fun more than gambling in its advertising, hoped to lure what casino president Robert Boughner calls "the Atlantic City rejecters," people who lived within easy driving distance but weren't making the trip. Many of them, Borgata's market research showed, were under 55.

"We determined that everyone who wanted to play 25 cent slots on a Tuesday afternoon in February was already coming," Boughner said. "We didn't say, 'Let's go after the younger market.' We said, 'Let's take (market) share from our competitors and let's grow the market.'"

Borgata did so with racy "Borgata Babes" cocktail servers, high-end restaurants and contemporary headliners playing the showrooms, instead of the aging crooners and nostalgia acts for which Atlantic City was known.

The moves paid off, turning Borgata into Atlantic City's most profitable casino.

The casino bucked another trend by betting that blackjack, roulette and craps tables, which many Atlantic City casinos were ditching in favour of more profitable slot machines, could bring in business.

Rivals have followed suit, replacing slots with table games aimed at cashing in on both a poker boom and on younger gamblers' tendencies to favour games with human interaction.

"Tables are hot, there's no doubt about it," said casino-industry consultant Joe Weinert. "A lot of that is fuelled by poker's popularity and its popularity on TV, which is showing Americans that table games in general are fun.

"Increasingly, we're becoming a society that has grown up with solitary gaming experiences on their computers, TV sets or personal game consoles. And I think people are going to casinos and discovering the community atmosphere on the gaming tables. They're finding out that, hey, it's fun to be around real people," said Weinert, vice-president of Spectrum Gaming Group.

In the 2 1/2 years since Borgata's opening, the Tropicana Casino and Resort has seen a 20 per cent increase in table-game play among under-50 gamblers.

Resorts has experienced a similar shift.

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