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Even With the 3 day Government Shut Down in July, Atlantic City's
 12 Casinos Had the Second-highest Gross-Revenue Month Ever

By Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Aug. 11, 2006 - ATLANTIC CITY -- The state-government shutdown that closed the city's 12 casinos for three days last month cost the industry here about $51 million in gambling revenue.

Total revenue was down 4.8 percent for July, from the same month last year, according to figures released yesterday by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

But even with the industry shut down for three days, Atlantic City's gambling halls still had the second-highest gross-revenue total for a single month. The $480.53 million was topped only by the $504.77 million the casinos earned in July 2005.

Joseph A. Corbo Jr., president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said his group was proposing legislation in Trenton to prevent another shutdown.

"It took the industry several days to ramp back up to typical summer business levels," Corbo said yesterday at a voter-registration rally at Boardwalk Hall for casino workers.

The casino industry employs about 45,000, making it one of the biggest employers in South Jersey.

The casinos were closed from July 5 to 7 as the result of a state budget impasse between Gov. Corzine and Democrats in the Legislature. Corzine wanted to raise New Jersey's income tax to close a $4.5 billion budget gap, while Democratic lawmakers opposed an increase.

The impasse kept the state's "nonessential" workers off the job. So the 109 state workers who inspect gambling operations went home, and the casino floors went dark.

The casinos did not resume operations until early on the morning of July 8, when a state budget agreement was reached.

The casinos had revenue of $480.53 million, or $17.16 million a day, in 28 days last month. Over 31 days, had the casinos taken in the same amount per day during the closure, they would have generated $532.02 million, a difference of $51.49 million.

And that did not take into account lost non-gambling revenue, such as those of the restaurant and retail businesses within the casinos that stayed open during the shutdown but had significantly less traffic than usual, Corbo said.

He said the shutdown also cost furloughed casino employees about $9 million in wages and tips, which will never be recouped.

Pam Popielarski, president and general manager of the Tropicana Casino & Resort, said the Tropicana lost about $5 million in revenue over the three-day closure.

Tropicana took in $41.3 million for July, down 11 percent from $46.4 million the previous year.

"It did affect us. It took a while to catch up," said Popielarski, who was at the rally alongside several other casino executives.

Mark Juliano, chief operating officer for Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., said Trump's three Atlantic City casinos were having "a very good month" before the shutdown.

After the shutdown, things were not so good, he said. "It had a bigger impact than anticipated," he said. July net revenue for the Trump casinos fell 6 percent from July 2005 because of the closure. All three had revenue decreases for the month: Trump Taj Mahal was down 1.4 percent; Trump Marina, 8 percent; and Trump Plaza, 12 percent.

The newly expanded Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa was the top-grossing casino, at $73.3 million, a 9.7 percent increase over July 2005.

The results of an online survey by the national market-research-firm Harris Interactive released Tuesday found that 13 percent of gamblers who had made specific plans to head to Atlantic City on the dates of the shutdown went to Connecticut casinos instead, 3 percent went to a casino in Delaware, and 3 percent went to Las Vegas.

The online survey, conducted between July 7 and 10, questioned 1,386 U.S. adults 21 and older. About half -- 49 percent -- simply stayed at home.

Casino operators in other states confirmed this week that they absorbed some of Atlantic City's lost business.

A spokesman for Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., said the casino experienced a nearly 33 percent increase in people coming by bus from the metropolitan New York area, and a double-digit increase in foot traffic and restaurant business.

"We added bus runs out of the New York metro area, and the existing runs from that region were arriving fuller than usual," said the spokesman, Bruce MacDonald.

Foxwoods' in-state rival, Mohegan Sun Casino, enjoyed similar increases, said its chief operating officer, Jeff E. Hartmann.

Smaller casinos also benefited.

"We had a couple of people calling us about bringing buses over that typically went to Atlantic City, and I said, 'Bring them on,' " said Terry Nyquist, marketing and sales manager at Midway Slots, one of three racinos, or racetracks with slots machines, in Delaware. "Some gamblers like variety. We try real hard not to turn anyone away."

Atlantic City casino operators said one of their key concerns was the shutdown's lasting effect. "We won't know whether customers who took advantage of going to other places will stay there or not," Juliano said. "They could have pretty well thought, 'You know, this is convenient.' "

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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