Buoyed by internet gaming and sports betting, casino operators in Atlantic City, N.J., broadly speaking, are enjoying a solid 2019 on the gross gaming revenue (GGR) front. But the good times won’t last forever amid saturation in what was once the gambling hub of the East Coast and increasing regional competition.
A study conducted for the state of New Jersey by professors at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy confirms concerns held by some operators that Atlantic City is oversaturated and cannot sustain its current level of nine gaming properties.
Recent data indicates that October GGR on the Boardwalk ticked modestly higher, with seven of the nine casinos there posting increases on a year-over-year basis. But the Rutgers researchers say revenue increases are mostly attributable to the additions of the Hard Rock and Ocean Resorts, which recently celebrated their first anniversaries.
The second quarter of 2019 marks a full year of operation for the two new casinos,” according to the Rutgers study. “In that time, Atlantic City’s gaming revenues have grown by about $280 million –roughly the average revenue of one casino in the city over the four quarters ending in the second quarter of 2019.”
What that means is that the Hard Rock and Ocean Resort are cannabilizing established rivals, and that slight GGR increases on the Boardwalk aren’t necessarily indicative of new gambling dollars flowing into the city.
The Rutgers study was commissioned by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) Atlantic City Working Group and was delivered at a time when some state policymakers are mulling a cap on Boardwalk gaming licenses, an idea that has bipartisan support.
Some Garden State politicians recently balked at the idea of allowing the Showboat, currently a non-gaming hotel, to have a casino, citing market saturation concerns. The politicians acknowledge that while Atlantic City GGR is trending higher, operators’ profitability there is declining. Faltering profitability crimps cash flow, hampering companies’ ability to reinvest in venues and keep them current for guests and gamblers.
The competitive issues Atlantic City operators face aren’t limited to the Garden State. Neighboring New York has gaming properties and Pennsylvania has become a thriving gambling Mid-Atlantic gambling center in its own right.
The Rutgers study used statistical analysis to model for the potential GGR impacts on Atlantic City if a new 2,000-slot machine venue were to be opened in that market, Delaware, New York, or Philadelphia, indicating declines would likely happen due to increased competition.
In the four quarters prior to the debuts of the Hard Rock and Ocean Resort, the average GGR for a roughly 2,000-slot Atlantic City venue was $336 million. But that figured dipped to $283.6 million after the new properties came online, said the Rutgers researchers.
Additionally, total revenue per slot machine slid to $146,000 from $169,000. These are relevant concerns because Cordish Companies’ Live! Hotel and Casino is expected to open in Philadelphia sometime next year with about 2,000 gaming machines.
Boardwalk GGR has crept higher over the past year, but figures remain well off the highs seen in 2006.
“Gross gaming revenue in Atlantic City declined by over 50% from its 2006 peak of over $5.2 billion to just over $2.5 billion in 2018,” said the Rutgers research team.”This effect further diminishes any growth-inducing capacity of new casinos in Atlantic City.”
Although it’s hard to refute that the market has too many players, momentum for closing a Boardwalk casino appears scant. Earlier this year, there was speculation that Bally’s could be vulnerable to being shuttered after Eldorado Resorts announced a $17.3 billion takeover offer for Caesars, because the combined company would own four of the nine Atlantic City casinos.
Since then, analysts have opined that Eldorado would likely sell Bally’s only if New Jersey regulators force the company to do so to allay over-concentration concerns. A new $11 million sportsbook recently opened at the property, and with sports betting soaring in the Garden State, Eldorado may not want to part with Bally’s unless it has to.