|By Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia
InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 26, 2007 - ATLANTIC CITY -- Tammy Nelson was in a rush to get into her bathing suit yesterday.
But the avid slots player wasn't heading to the Boardwalk to frolic on the beach. Instead, she had her sights set on the Pool -- a 172,000-square-foot entertainment complex with an oblong, Olympic-size indoor pool amid a tropical setting -- at Harrah's casino here.
"It looks great," said Nelson, 40, who had just arrived from Lafayette, Ind., for the long Memorial Day weekend. "There's already a line to get in."
Caesars has the Pier. Showboat has the House of Blues. Tropicana has the Quarter. Now, Harrah's can boast having the largest indoor pool in town, aptly called the Pool.
In the continuing game of one-upmanship in Atlantic City, where casinos must compete with each other, and now with slots parlors in Pennsylvania, Harrah's opened the Pool yesterday, just in time for this resort's peak season. The 11 casinos here make about 50 percent of their annual revenue from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend.
The Pool, part of a $550 million expansion by Harrah's, features a walkup bar under a 90-foot-high glass dome. Bamboo plants, ficus trees, and five kinds of palm trees that were imported from Florida, California and Arizona adorn the four-acre complex.
"It really turned out beautifully," said Gary Loveman, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Harrah's Entertainment Inc. of Las Vegas, the parent company of Harrah's casino here, who attended yesterday's ceremony. Members of Harrah's casino management and the Pool's bikini-clad servers waded into the four-foot-deep pool and cut a long red-satin ribbon.
The adults-only pool is open only to hotel guests at the casino, or customers renting one of the Pool's 12 cabanas or six hot tubs.
The dome is UV-protected, so to get a tan, one has to go outdoors to an adjacent, 10,000-square-foot sundeck. The Pool will be open 365 days a year.
"It's a nice addition to the marketplace," said Jeff Vasser, executive director of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, the city's chief marketing arm. "It's another tool in our tool kit as a destination."
New slots competition from Pennsylvania has started to cut into Atlantic City's $5.2 billion industry, so the resort is relying on new nongambling attractions like the Pool to broaden its customer base.
"This is an essential weapon in Atlantic City's arsenal," said Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, which tracks the gambling industry. "This is precisely the type of attraction that will set Atlantic City apart from Pennsylvania and other states.
"It will make people stay longer and come more frequently," he said, "and spend more when they get here."
To accommodate those anticipated overnight guests in the coming years, Harrah's, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and the Trump Taj Mahal will unveil new hotel towers next year.
The Pool is linked to the Waterfront, a new retail mall with soft pink-and-blue lighting and sleekly designed storefronts. An Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa with 23 treatment rooms also opens today next to the Pool.
Nelson, who was on her third visit to Atlantic City, said she signed up for a massage and pedicure today at the spa -- compliments of Harrah's. She earned the "comp," or complimentary freebie, by accumulating enough points on her Harrah's player card.
"It's changed a lot, and for the better," she said of Atlantic City, as she combed through the racks at Studio, a high-end women's clothing store at the Waterfront.
Jay Snowden, senior vice president and general manager of Showboat House of Blues, said the partial smoking ban that took effect April 15 in the casinos here, plus new slot machines in Pennsylvania, were why Atlantic City keeps rolling out new mega-projects each year.
Showboat's own youth magnet -- the $70 million House of Blues music hall and nightclub -- debuted two summers ago and has had positive results.
"Our fastest-growing age segment is among 21-to-45-year-olds," Snowden said. "We are very pleased with that. That was certainly the target market of the House of Blues project."
The city's evolution started with the Borgata's entry into the market in July 2003. The vertical, golden-hued $1.1 billion mega-casino redefined the market by bringing a touch of Las Vegas to Atlantic City.
The Quarter, a $285 million mega-complex of retailing, dining and entertainment, debuted at the Tropicana in late 2004 and is modeled after the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. That followed with the Pier last June next to Caesars, a similar mega-complex.
Vasser said he expected Atlantic City this season to top last year's 34.5 million visitors because of new nongambling attractions of recent years.
"There are many more young people coming here, and Atlantic City is now considered hip and cool," he said. "Five years ago, we couldn't have said that."
Next up: The Borgata's $400 million Water Club -- not to be confused with the Waterfront. The Water Club is the latter half of a $600 million expansion that began last summer at the Borgata. It will feature an 800-room hotel, six heated pools, loft residences, a spa, retail stores, and other attractions.
But there will be nowhere to gamble at the Water Club, which is on schedule for an early 2008 opening.
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Atlantic City Looks Beyond Gambling
Major developments in Atlantic City featuring shopping, dining and entertainment:
August 2004 -- The Walk, a $49 million retail project featuring eight blocks of outlet stores, opened in the heart of downtown and linked the Boardwalk to the new Convention Center. It is in the midst of a $155 million expansion to add five blocks by the summer.
November 2004 -- The $285 million retail, entertainment and dining mega-complex called the Quarter opened at the Tropicana.
July 2005 -- The $70 million House of Blues music hall and nightclub opened at Showboat.
June 2006 -- The Pier at Caesars, a $200 million retail, dining and entertainment complex attached to Caesars casino, opened on the Boardwalk.
May 25, 2007 -- The Pool, part of a $550 million expansion by Harrah's casino, opened.
- Suzette Parmley
Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley
at 215-854-2594 or email@example.com.
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