Courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau
They are the venerable old ladies of America’s gaming industry. Las Vegas, which began gaming quietly in the Nevada desert in the 1940s, and Atlantic City, N.J., which parlayed its history and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean into a gaming center in the late 1970s, draw millions of gamblers and tourists to their casinos, tables, slots, theaters, restaurants and hotels.
Las Vegas, with its multibillion-dollar investments in gaming and entertainment, has been humbled by the national recession, but there’s renewed hope.
“It’s bottoming out. It’s not great; but revenues aren’t declining like they were, or they’re just slightly down,” said Dave Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Alicia Malone, public relations manager at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said visitation is up. “That’s encouraging. Las Vegas continues to reinvent itself and is growing,” she said.
That reinvention includes new construction that operators hope will keep the Vegas experience fresh and exciting. “We saw a lot of change along the Strip this year. CityCenter is open and is a major focus. It’s changed the skyline of Las Vegas and is a must-see experience for new and repeat visitors,” said Malone.
CityCenter is a combination of hotels and residences, a village in the heart of the Strip. It includes the Aria Resort and Casino, Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Tower, Vdara Hotel and Spa, Harmon Hotel, Veer Tower Residential and the Crystals retail and entertainment district.
Malone also looks forward to the grand opening of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the 3,000-room, 50-story resort- casino located between CityCenter and Bellagio.
The CVA has focused on getting the word out about special offers that provide good value. “We’ve seen hotels significantly reduce room rates. There’s a lot of bundling, such as great hotel rates plus casino or food and beverage credits or discounted/complimentary show tickets,” said Malone.
The CVA encourages visitors to click on visitlasvegas.com. Hotels, resorts and casinos post special offers there, making it a one-stop resource for browsing hundreds of offers from the properties.
“I think the big positive news is that you still have 36 million people a year coming to Las Vegas,” said Schwartz. “The recession proves Las Vegas is durable.”
Across the country, who would have thought that an HBO series on gangsters, Prohibition and bootlegging in 1920s Atlantic City would be counted on to help revitalize the Boardwalk area. But Jeff Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, thinks “Boardwalk Empire” will garner good publicity.
“The show is going to do wonders for reinvigorating old Atlantic City traditions like the ocean, Boardwalk, saltwater taffy and the rolling chairs that are still the main means of transportation along the Boardwalk,” said Vasser.
Vasser believes that the current travel trend is for shorter trips closer to home. The Boardwalk and its 11 casinos are two hours from New York City, one hour from Philadelphia and three hours from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. “We’re great for an overnight or two. People may not be aware of that,” said Vasser.
Vasser said Atlantic City is a lot more than gaming. The quality of the stores along the Boardwalk has improved, and there is more than a million square feet of retail space with an outlet center with high-end stores in the center of town.
The CVA said the dining scene has improved, too, with more than 40 new restaurants opening in the last six years with premier names like Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck. There’s an Atlantic City restaurant week at the end of February and a wine festival at the end of June.
“We have also added more beach bars, which give our beach and Boardwalk new energy,” said Vasser.
Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall is gaining traction as a top stop for concerts. The city also stages hockey and basketball. “We’re expanding our sports offerings. All of that is how we market Atlantic City, especially to families,” said Vasser.
The CVA is promoting direct two-and-one-half-hour express train service from New York’s Penn Station to Atlantic City. The international airport has increased service from many cities around the country.
Despite creeping competition for gaming dollars from nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware, Atlantic City remains a viable entertainment destination.
“The No. 1 thing that differentiates us from every other gaming destination is our beach and the boardwalk that goes with it,” said Vasser. “It’s a great time to get values and see what Atlantic City has to offer.”
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