Atlantic City Bleeds

Discussion in 'Economics' started by ByLoSellHi, Dec 31, 2008.



    Atlantic City Bleeds as Would-Be Gamblers Pay Bills

    By Terrence Dopp

    Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) --
    It’s 3:45 a.m. in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Jimmy Panagiotou just walked away from the poker table after 5 1/2 hours, about $200 lighter.

    The 43-year-old professional gambler, wearing a World Series of Poker baseball cap and leather jacket, is on a cigarette-and- coffee break outside Caesar’s casino, pondering his next move. Looking around, he takes his loss in stride as he notes the eerie quiet of the largest gambling district in the U.S. after Las Vegas. Only diehards remain.

    “It’s not like it used to be,” Panagiotou said. “All of the casinos are struggling. People are not going to find money to gamble when they need to find it just to live.”

    After 28 years of growth, Atlantic City’s gambling proceeds are down for the second time in a row. In the first 11 months of 2008, revenue from casino games fell 6.7 percent to $4.2 billion, regulators reported Dec. 10. Last year’s 5.7 percent decline was the first ever, as the number of visitors slipped to 33.3 million from 34.5 million.

    The slowdown comes as Governor Jon Corzine has warned that the state faces a revenue shortfall of $1.2 billion for the year ending June 30 and $5 billion in fiscal 2010. Through November, the state collected $338 million in Atlantic City tax revenue, down from $364 million and $384 million, respectively, in the first 11 months of 2007 and 2006. Casino employment fell to 39,137 in November from more than 42,000 as recently as August and a peak of 51,560 in July 1997.

    Vital for State

    James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, said the casino industry is vital for the economy of southern New Jersey and for the tax revenue it generates.

    “It’s possible Atlantic City is past its peak,” said Hughes, who predicted the situation may worsen next year. “It could never go back to its past glory. It’s a much tougher game now.”

    Last year, the seaside resort’s gambling houses struggled with smoking restrictions and slot-machine competition from neighboring states. This year, rising unemployment and near- record home foreclosure rates deterred even more gamblers. Casino construction has been shelved. Bonds of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., which owns three Atlantic City casinos, trade at as little as 12.25 cents on the dollar on concern the company can’t make interest payments. A grace period for Trump to make a late coupon payment or reach agreement with bondholders to restructure its debt expires tomorrow.

    Shelved Projects

    Driving into the city, the roadside provides reminders of the financial maelstrom: Billboards boast of $10 table games all day at casinos where $20 to $25 minimums were once the norm. Three signs pitch a $2.5 billion Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. casino-hotel project, which the Las Vegas-based company put on hold earlier this year.

    Another planned $5 billion Atlantic City resort was canceled in October by MGM Mirage, the Las Vegas-based casino company majority-owned by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. MGM co-owns Atlantic City’s most profitable hotel casino last year, the Borgata. Casino winnings there dropped 2.9 percent last month to $57 million.

    Trump, founded by Donald Trump, posted a fourth straight quarterly loss in November as its casinos attracted fewer gamblers and it wrote down the value of its Taj Mahal property. Its 8.5 percent notes due 2015 have tumbled from 77 cents on the dollar a year ago, according to Trace, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s bond-pricing service. Moody’s Investors Service cut its rating on that debt to Ca, its second-lowest non- investment grade, from Caa2, after Trump said it would forgo an interest payment to conserve cash.

    Dedicated Revenue

    New Jersey dedicates the 8 percent casino tax to programs for senior and disabled residents. The tax drop comes as the economic slide increases demand for other state services, including Medicaid and unemployment benefits, Corzine told reporters Dec. 22.

    “What it does is essentially free up dollars that the state would have to have spent to do these things,” Hughes said.

    Corzine, a first-term Democrat and former chairman of investment bank Goldman, Sachs & Co., said the state will assist the casinos, in part by working with them on advertising campaigns.

    “It’s an important revenue source,” Corzine said. “We are going to try and be supportive of their needs. But we can’t change the consumers’ patterns.”

    Lost Luster

    On a Wednesday night in early December, vacant storefronts and going-out-of-business signs stand out among souvenir stands, taffy stores and storefront massage outlets on the boardwalk. By 1:30 a.m., restaurants and bars are closed along Pacific Avenue, the main strip behind Atlantic City’s beachfront casinos. Vagrants and streetwalkers offer the only signs of life.

    Atlantic City was a decaying resort area until New Jersey legalized casino gambling in 1976 and limited it to the one location. The first casino, Resorts International, opened in 1978. By 1988, 12 were running and annual visitors had increased to 33 million, according to the city’s master plan.

    The city’s tax base surged to almost $7 billion last year, from $316 million in 1978. Casinos, hotels and restaurants employ about 85 percent of the city’s workforce.

    “When it comes to the economy here, we’re a one-trick pony,” said Bob McDevitt, president of UniteHere Local 54, which represents 14,000 cocktail waitresses, housekeepers, bartenders and other Atlantic City casino workers. McDevitt said 450 members have lost their jobs in recent months.

    “This is not the same as 450 layoffs in New York City,” McDevitt said. “You’re talking about a community of 40,000 people.”

    Fewer Games

    The number of table games has dropped by about half from two years ago, said gambler Nick Kakkalis, 44, lighting a cigarette in a smoking section at the Hilton at about 1:30 a.m. Fewer college kids come out for kicks and steady gamblers don’t come as often, he said.

    “There are definitely less people here, probably 25 percent less,” Kakkalis said.

    Some of the woes aren’t unique to Atlantic City. At the Las Vegas Strip, part of the largest U.S. gambling destination, casino revenue fell 26 percent to $475 million in October, the 10th straight decline, while Atlantic City’s gambling proceeds fell 9.9 percent to $346 million.

    The U.S. gaming industry will “remain under significant pressure in 2009, with a recovery unlikely until 2010,” Michael Paladino, a Fitch Ratings analyst in New York, said in a Dec. 16 report.

    Consumer Confidence

    Discretionary spending will be hurt if capital markets remain weak and unemployment rises, hurting consumer confidence, Paladino said.

    Bonnie Hornberger, who shuttles tourists between casinos in one of Atlantic City’s trademark rickshaw-like “pushchairs,” said she is hopeful that the gambling destination will endure.

    “People’s preferences of how they spend their time will never change,” Hornberger said, as she and a friend wagered $5 on video poker at the Tropicana at 4 a.m. after they got off work. “Adults want a playground.”
  2. Div_Arb


    Casinos are for suckers.
  3. Some would say the same about equity markets. :eek:


  4. ... :) :p :D
  5. Atlantic City was always a disgusting dump.