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Atlantic City Casinos Take Aim at Affluent Night Owls with Openings of
 New York-style Nightclubs - Bottle Service, Dancers, 6AM Closings

By Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 6, 2007 - ATLANTIC CITY -- The battle for the youth market in this casino town is heating up as gambling halls open flashy nightclubs to lure in younger customers.

The latest to enter the mix is Providence, described by its owner as "a New York-style nightclub with a little Las Vegas feel to it," at the Tropicana. It will compete against mur.mur at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, and Trump Taj Mahal's Casbah Nightclub.

While all three are open until the wee hours on weekends, offer VIP lounges, bottle service and feature hip DJs and attractive dancers, each is trying to distinguish itself. Each is aiming to increase its market share as Atlantic City morphs into an overnight destination relying on non-gambling revenue as surrounding slots competition intensifies.

The casinos' food and beverage revenue, which includes those sales and cover charges in the nightclubs, rose in 2006 to $672.1 million from $643.5 million in 2005, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

Providence owner and operator Bobby Pereira, 45, said he would promote the Atlantic City venue -- which cost $2.8 million to build -- at his three New York nightclubs: Providence on 57th Street, Branch on 54th Street, and Strata on 21st and Broadway.

"The opportunity to cross-market is there," he said.

Providence in Atlantic City, which debuted last Friday, features eight female dancers atop eight mini-stages. One of them is a "window dancer" designed to entice passersby. Two DJs worked from elevated, iron-gated booths, one on each side of the room.

Providence leases space from the Tropicana and does not share revenue with the casino.

Tropicana launched a marketing campaign in April with billboards along the Atlantic City Expressway featuring young attractive adults in a variety of settings at the Quarter, its retail, dining and entertainment complex. The billboards were meant to demonstrate what Tropicana chief operating officer Fred Buro described as "uninhibited fun."

Pereira said Providence, aimed at adults ages 28 to 38, would complement the Quarter's current mix. It joins Cuba Libre, a restaurant-dance club that has done well with the Latin market, and a high-energy bar lounge, called 32 Degrees.

"High-end, sophisticated people are coming to this market and to these clubs," said Jeffrey Vasser, executive director of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, the resort's chief marketing arm. "They are Atlantic City's future."

Vasser said that Atlantic City, which drew 34.5 million visitors last year, had become increasingly popular for bachelor and bachelorette parties in recent years and that the growing nightclub scene would likely add to that.

"We're having a blast," said Christina Sico, 28, of Wayne, N.J., who is getting married later this month, as she danced with her five bridesmaids at her bachelorette party at Providence last weekend. "It's a very upscale crowd. It's really upbeat."

Nearby, Brad Rosenberg drank bottled beer in the Strata Room.

"It's very sleek," said the 33-year-old from Hoboken, N.J. "You either come here or the Borgata. This is better. It's a smaller venue, but it's fun."

Across town, Joe Lentini, 35, was visiting mur.mur for the first time and was equally impressed. The Borgata launched mur.mur one year ago to build on the success of its other nightclub, MIXX. The Borgata owns and operates the nightclubs and bars on its property.

"I like the music, and it's got a beautiful crowd," said Lentini, a restaurant-lounge owner from New York.

Borgata spokesman Michael Facenda said mur.mur, which is geared toward 25- to 40-year-olds, was regularly packed on Fridays and Saturdays and often had to turn people away. He said the nightclub was modeled after similar venues in New York, Miami and Las Vegas.

Both mur.mur and Providence designated Monday nights for casino and hospitality workers here, many of whom work all weekend and need their own night out.

"We are pleased with the popularity of the club and the business volumes we've experienced," Facenda said.

As it neared 2 a.m. at mur.mur, young women in skimpy outfits danced on stage near the DJ booth in the center of the dance floor. Artificial smoke billowed from the floor.

The Casbah at the Taj Mahal -- the first casino nightclub to open here -- had a $1 million makeover a year and a half ago to solidify its youth following.

"It was just time" for a renovation, said the Casbah's operator, who identifies himself only by his "professional" name, Tommy D. He said that since the Casbah opened in 2000, its revenue has increased every year.

The nightclub is the only one in Atlantic City with an outdoor deck that overlooks the Boardwalk and the ocean -- a big advantage in the summertime.

"I love the deck," said Lauren Babitt, 23, of Huntingdon Valley, Montgomery County, as she sat on one of the outdoor VIP lounges and massaged her sore feet.

"Manhattan's in the house!" the DJ announced to enthusiastic applause that night. Tommy D. said 60 percent of the Casbah's customers came from New York and North Jersey, 35 percent from Philadelphia, and the rest elsewhere.

"This is the only club I go to in Atlantic City," said Christina Moran, 21, of Norfolk, Va., as she worked the indoor dance floor. Around Moran, giant screens played music videos, and the Casbah dancers in navel-bearing outfits performed on elevated stages.

"The Casbah was the first, no matter who comes or who opens," Tommy D. said. "It's a brand." And it's a brand owned and operated by the Taj Mahal.

So is he intimidated by the upstarts?

"I consider them bringing more people to town," he said, "and that's good for everybody."

------

Clubbing Hours

Casbah at the

Taj Mahal: Friday and Saturdays 10:30 p.m.

to 6 a.m.

mur.mur at Borgata: Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays 11 p.m.

to 4 a.m.

Providence at Tropicana:

Mondays 10 p.m.

to 4 a.m., Thursdays

8 p.m. to 2 a.m., Fridays 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., Saturdays 10 p.m.

to 6 a.m.

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

-----

To see more of The Philadelphia Inquirer, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.philly.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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