|By Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia
InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 11, 2009--ATLANTIC CITY -- Despite what seemed like an endless stream of cars heading toward the Shore yesterday, the casinos here say their traffic is not what it was last summer.
Gambling revenue took a hit again last month. This seaside resort's 11 casinos pulled in $383 million in July, a 12.7 percent decline from a year ago, and just slightly better than June's nearly 14 percent drop.
Slots revenue declined 12.4 percent, and table-games revenue fell 13.4 percent.
"July was a continuation of what we've seen all year," said Dan Nita, Mid-Atlantic president for Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which owns Caesars, Bally's, Showboat, and Harrah's Resorts casinos. "The struggle, obviously, is the combination of day-trip business is not as robust as it once was, and folks that are here are spending less."
With the exception of Trump Taj Mahal, which was up 8.7 percent last month, the casinos all reported revenue declines.
"The numbers look better than some of the previous months this year," Andrew Zarnett of Deutsche Bank AG said of Atlantic City's continuing struggles. "But they're supposed to be, as Atlantic City experiences its greatest traffic during the summer."
In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, the eight casinos generated $179.2 million in gross slots revenue last month -- a nearly 18.5 percent increase over the previous year, when only seven casinos were open.
PhiladelphiaPark Casino & Racetrack, which is due to open its expanded facility in December, continued to lead among Pennsylvania's casinos. But PhillyPark and Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack -- the other suburban Philadelphia slots parlor -- showed declines (1.5 percent at PhillyPark and 1.7 percent in Chester) for the first time last month.
Some observers said that was bound to happen as more casinos opened and siphoned one another's customers.
The latest regional threat to Atlantic City is the Sands Casino & Resort in Bethlehem, Pa., which debuted in May with 3,000 slot machines.
"The real test will come this fall, as traffic lessens and Bethlehem gets more aggressive with its promotional spending," Zarnett said. "The longer-term future continues to be bleak, as the region adds more slot machines and those slot machines will compete with Atlantic City."
For the first seven months of the year, the 11 Atlantic City casinos made $2.3 billion, down 14.9 percent from the same period in 2008.
Among the trends he is seeing, Nita said, is visitors' making decisions later, which has shortened the booking window for hotel rooms.
Or they are not coming at all.
"Traffic is down, as well," he said. "Business counts are down. The numbers coming from the South Jersey Transportation Authority show that toll numbers are down."
Lucy Bisson, 62, of Lewiston, Maine, visited Atlantic City last month with her husband, sister, and cousin.
Bisson and company stayed at Trump Plaza for four days and nights, paying cash for their rooms. While in town, they gambled, did some sightseeing, dined, and shopped.
"They just have to stay on top of the new things and not let themselves get too stale," she said. "That's what makes A.C. different, and why we keep coming back."
Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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