est we forget, 2006 was the record-setting year for casino revenue — before the sagging economy and extra competition from slot parlors in neighboring states sent the gaming industry into a three-year slump.
Some casino executives say the holiday should be exceptionally strong, while others think it will be more like a replay of the recession-restrained revelry of last year. “New Year’s Eve is great. We’re thrilled with New Year’s Eve,” said Don Marrandino, president of the four casinos — Harrah’s Resort, Bally’s, Caesars and Showboat — operated by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. “The hotels are sold out as we speak. The VIP parties will be well-attended.”
Mark Giannantonio, president of Tropicana Casino and Resort, said the festive holiday atmosphere should transcend the gloomy economy. He noted that Tropicana’s hotel rooms and special events are sold out. “Based on the current response that we are receiving for our retail and special events, I don’t feel that the recession has interfered with our 2010 New Year’s Eve celebrations,” Giannantonio said.
Kathleen McSweeney, senior vice president of marketing for Resorts Atlantic City, ranked New Year’s Eve as among the top three holidays on the casino calendar, along with the Fourth of July and Presidents Day. “Based on the response of customers after the invitations went out, we are nearly 100 % booked,” McSweeney said of Resorts.
Virtually all of the 17,000 casino hotel rooms in town are expected to be occupied for the holiday. Most of the casinos reported they are booked solid or have precious few rooms available. “For New Year’s Eve, it’s pretty close to a sellout and throughout the weekend it’s pretty close,” said Noel Stevenson, a spokeswoman for Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
Borgata’s holiday entertainment lineup includes a Saturday night concert by pop superstar Mariah Carey, who will come to Atlantic City after a New Year’s Eve performance at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Typically on New Year’s Eve, casinos bring in top entertainers and throw big parties featuring extravagant meals and high-end Champagne, all to reward their best customers for their business throughout the year.
However, the three casinos operated by Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. will be limiting the number of VIP parties and toning down the meals to reflect the tough times, CEO Mark Juliano said. “People will come, but they are decidedly more cautious,” Juliano said. “I don’t expect the problems we had all year to be any different on New Year’s Eve. Customer spending is down.”
Declining business pushed Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza and Trump Marina into bankruptcy last February. New owners could take the keys in 2010, depending on how a bankruptcy fight turns out. Corporate bondholders backed by Donald Trump are vying for control against a partnership between billionaire investor Carl C. Icahn and Texas banker Andy Beal.
Icahn is already looking to expand his Atlantic City gaming empire after agreeing to buy Tropicana for us$ 200 million in a bankruptcy auction this year. Icahn heads a group of lenders that will take over Tropicana as soon as the sale closes, probably in January.
Financially troubled Resorts has already come under new ownership, taken over by lenders this month after defaulting on its us$ 360 million mortgage and threatened with foreclosure. Despite the troubles at Resorts and at other casinos, the party will go on this New Year’s Eve. “Just talking about it to people in the city, I think everybody feels good,” McSweeney said. “Everybody knows it’s been a tough economy for the year. Now it’s time for people to relax and enjoy themselves.”