Casino Firms Roll the Dice Again on Atlantic City
Placing their bets on a slowly rebounding local economy — and the prospects for legalized sports gambling in the state of New Jersey soon — investors are planning to re-open two shuttered casinos in Atlantic City this summer.
Hard Rock International and an affiliate of Integrated Properties in Denver, both major players in the U.S. commercial real estate market – which includes South Jersey retail space, are moving forward with plans to open new casinos along the famed Boardwalk after acquiring the closed properties at rock-bottom pricing. The openings are not without risk as they will compete for gaming revenue that still is nowhere near what it was 10 years ago at the city’s peak.
This report on trends in the U.S. and South Jersey commercial properties market is being made through South Jersey commercial real estate broker Wolf Commercial Real Estate, a South Jersey commercial real estate brokerage firm.
Competition for gaming dollars already is heating up. Casinos in Atlantic City have been dropping their hotel room prices to those you might see along a lonely stretch of an interstate highway (rooms from $44 a night), which is about 30 percent lower than previously offered lows. Guests also are being enticed with increased spa and dining credits, free drinks while gambling and up to $400 in online poker deposits.
Despite the increased competition, including some coming from the national and South Jersey commercial real estate market, owners of existing casinos in Atlantic City said they hope the addition of new attractions helps bring in more traffic.
“We view the openings as a net positive for Atlantic City,” said John Payne, president and chief operating officer of VICI Properties, which owns the real estate under two other Atlantic City casinos. “As real estate owners, we view what’s occurring in the market through a different lens than operators. We expect our assets to benefit from the increased traffic. Altogether, these openings help further build out and bring more positive attention to Atlantic City.”
More gambling and more visitors – many with connections to national and South Jersey commercial real estate properties – mean enhanced property values for real estate owners, Payne said.
“Our two Atlantic City properties — Caesars Atlantic City and Bally’s Atlantic City — are located on the Boardwalk in proximity to The Hard Rock,” Payne said. “We expect The Hard Rock will be very proactive about driving new business to the Boardwalk area, and its unique focus on entertainment will be a key differentiator in the marketplace.”
The unknown for Caesars and the other casino operators is what happens with New Jersey’s bid to legalize sports betting. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last December in a case brought by the state of New Jersey arguing for the right to allow sports betting in the state. The Supreme Court has yet to issue a ruling in this case that has major implications for several firms dealing in U.S. and South Jersey commercial real estate listings.
“We think [sports betting] will benefit our casinos in New Jersey,” Eric Hession, chief financial officer of Caesars, said. “We know for example that here in Las Vegas, some of our top days are the Super Bowl and NCAA [Final Four] weekend and some other sporting event days. People will want to go to Atlantic City on weekends to watch football and bet in our sports books, which will become potentially larger components of the property.”
The first new casino scheduled to open will be the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opening June 28. The property was taken over out of bankruptcy by affiliates of Carl Icahn’s Icahn Enterprises. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which owns the Hard Rock chain, bought the property a year ago for $300 million.
Last month, Icahn cashed in his other Atlantic City casino, after agreeing to sell its majority-owned subsidiary, Tropicana Entertainment Inc. and its seven casinos, for a total price of $1.85 billion. That deal amounts to a sale price of $370,520 per hotel room Tropicana owns. Icahn paid what amounted to $106,270 per room for the 1,882-room Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City when he gained control of it in 2009.
The other hotel-casino property slated to open in Atlantic City this year is the 1,399-room Ocean Resort Casino at 500 Boardwalk. Denver-based AC Ocean Walk acquired the former Revel Casino for $200 million this past January. The property once carried a $3 billion valuation. Hyatt Hotels Corp. is partnering with AC Ocean Walk, an affiliate of Integrated Properties, in the venture.
At 60 stories, it is the tallest structure in Atlantic City and stands out in the U.S. commercial real estate market – including South Jersey retail space. The expansive 6.4 million-square-foot resort is to feature a 138,000-square-foot casino, 160,000 square feet of indoor meeting and convention space, another 90,000 square feet of flexible outdoor special event space, five swimming pools and a 32,000-square-foot fitness center.
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