NJ Gaming Industry
By Chester E. Sherman, Bureau of Labor Market Information
What began with tightening credit markets precipitated by losses associated with sub prime mortgages has morphed into a full-blown global economic crisis. What many saw as a temporary disruption that made raising money difficult for highly leveraged projects such as new hotel casinos, intensified and spread throughout the broader economy as the year of 2008 drew to a close. Needless to say, consumers have cutback sharply on discretionary spending in the face of falling home and stock market values, and growing employment insecurities. At a different point in time, the efforts of households to reduce debt, increase savings and otherwise live within their means might be welcomed -- at this moment, not as much.
With unemployment rising rapidly and the makings of a downward economic spiral at hand, federal officials have moved to support the nation’s banking system and housing markets, and passed legislation that is expected to stimulate the broader economy in 2009 and 2010. Under a best-case scenario, a deep national recession is avoided, credit conditions improve for the worthiest customers, housing prices stabilize and consumer confidence rises from historic lows. Now officially in recession since December 2007, the national economic downturn has had a significant impact on the Atlantic City’s gaming industry revenue. The industry posted its second consecutive year-to-year decline in casino winnings during 2008 – a -7.6 percent setback on top of 2007’s -5.7 percent decline. While increased competition from surrounding states and a partial smoking ban were cited for the drop in 2007, the worsening economy appeared to be an even greater factor in 2008.
As in most other parts of the country where casino-style gaming exists, the flow of new casino development or expansion projects through Atlantic City’s economic development pipeline has stopped -- with one notable exception. Some developers of planned casino projects have indicated they are waiting for credit market conditions to improve, but it is increasingly likely that somewhere on the other side of the current recession, Atlantic City’s progress towards becoming a destination resort will not pick up exactly where it left off. It also is possible that not all the city’s existing hotel casinos will survive the current downturn. The status of previously announced casino development and expansion projects for Atlantic City is briefly noted below.
Although work continues on the steel superstructure and exterior of Revel Entertainment’s new $2 billion hotel casino project, the company laid off 400 construction workers in January 2009 as it searches for financing to complete the Las Vegas-style hotel casino resort. As a result, the project’s scheduled completion by the summer of 2010 has been pushed back. The project is located just north of the Showboat hotel casino in the Southeast Inlet-area of the city.
Citing current economic conditions, MGM Mirage officials have indefinitely postponed plans for a $5 billion hotel casino resort next to the Borgata hotel casino in Atlantic City’s marina district. The project was expected to break ground in 2009. In January 2009, officials indicated that the company was looking to sell noncore assets to strengthen its finances and would consider selling the 72-acre parcel next to the Borgata, and a 14-acre tract next to Trump Marina.
Pinnacle Entertainment officials indicated in March 2009 that their plans for a $1.5 billion hotel casino resort on the former site of the Sands hotel casino are all but dead and will probably look to sell the oceanfront land. The company closed the Sands in November 2006 and imploded the casino hotel in October 2007.
Developers of the Atlantic Beach Resort & Casino, a $2 billion project planned for a site near Atlantic City’s Route 40 (Black Horse Pike) entryway have withdrawn their application for a coastal building permit and will put the project on hold for two years. The developers also have indicated they may downsize the project depending on future economic conditions.
The current economic situation has caused significant financial problems for some existing Atlantic City hotel casinos. In a mid-March filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Harrah’s Entertainment (operator of 53 casinos, four in Atlantic City) indicated that it may not generate enough cash flow to pay its debt in 2009 and may have to sell assets or restructure. Plans to sell the Tropicana hotel casino, whose owner was denied a casino gaming license in December 2007, have been complicated at least in part by the global credit crunch. The property continues to operate under a state-appointed conservator. Resorts Atlantic City, the city’s first hotel casino, has defaulted on its mortgage and is facing the possibility of filing for bankruptcy if it cannot reach a deal with its lenders. Trump Entertainment Resorts, operator of three Atlantic City hotel casinos, Trump Taj Mahal, Plaza and Marina, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2009 and is working to restructure its debt. The credit crisis also may be complicating the pending sale of the Trump Marina hotel casino to a buyer with plans to rebrand the property with a Margaritaville-theme.
Except for a small spike upward in 2003 due to the opening of the Borgata hotel casino, employment in Atlantic City’s gaming industry has trended downward so far in the new millennium. Factors that have contributed to the industry’s employment decline during this period include: the impact of takeovers, mergers and other management restructurings; competitive pressures brought about by the 2003 opening of the Borgata casino hotel and the more recent opening of slot parlors in neighboring states; and, labor-saving advances such as coin-less slot machines. The loss of 3,300 casino jobs during 2007 can be traced to the November 2006 closing of the Sands hotel casino, which eliminated 2,100 jobs, and significant layoffs at the Tropicana hotel casino, which changed ownership during the year. Although new gaming industry jobs were created during 2008 by major expansions of three hotel casinos (Borgata, Harrah’s and Trump Taj Mahal), there also were significant layoffs in the industry, particularly during the last several months of the year as the national economic downturn accelerated.
For more information on the Atlantic City Labor Area, please contact Chester Sherman, by e-mail at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-292-7281.
Atlantic City Gaming Industry Update: Winter 2009 (PDF version)