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Atlantic City Casinos Adding Resort-style Entertainment Options
as Lure of Gambling Continues to Fade

By Donald Wittkowski, The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 27, 2012--Some of the surfers were a bit wobbly as they stood up on their boards and rode the waves.

"Awesome big-wave surfers you are!" instructor Alison Hess exhorted. "Shift your weight side to side. Good. Everyone's nice and stable."

This surfing scene didn't unfold off the coast of Waikiki or Australia. Atlantic City's coast is more like it, but not quite.

Actually, it was indoors -- at Revel.

Atlantic City casinos are increasingly trying to entertain their customers in different ways as the allure of slot machines and table games continues to fade. Casinos are offering surfing workouts, hula lessons, cooking classes, a trapeze school, wine tastings, a shrimp fest and many other amusements in their quest to become adult playgrounds.

"It's all about appealing to as diverse a group of customer as possible. With more options available for slots and table games players, we need to appeal to new customers," said Tony Rodio, president and chief executive officer of Tropicana Casino and Resort.

The sluggish economy and competition from casinos in surrounding states have forced Atlantic City casinos to fine-tune their marketing strategies, creating even more things for customers to do than just gamble.

Tropicana did its part by helping to stage a high-wire performance Aug. 9 by stuntmaster Nik Wallenda. Wallenda's tightrope walk 100 feet above the beach attracted an estimated 150,000 people. Wallenda and his daredevil family are also performing in Tropicana's showroom through Sept. 22.

Surf's up!

Revel, the $2.4 billion megaresort that opened in April, has been taking advantage of its beachfront to keep its guests happy. Surfing classes, hula lessons, volleyball and barbecues are among the outdoor activities it offers.

The casino features surfing-inspired workouts in its gym. Guests hop on surfboards attached to springy platforms that mimic the movement of waves. Hand pulleys are used to simulate a real surfer's paddling motion.

"When we chase big waves, we paddle on our knees so we don't get water in our face," said Hess, who oversees the surfing workout class for Exhale Spa, a Revel fitness contractor.

But there was only dry ground beneath these surfers. No need to worry about shark-infested waters if someone stumbles off their board.

As Hess instructed the class, surfing scenes were projected onto a video wall to set the beach vibe. The 1960s surfing anthem "Wipe Out" hummed over the loudspeaker, along with reggae music.

"It's like floating on the ocean," Hess told the class.

After the exercising was over, hotel guests Suzanne Zampino, 50, and her daughter, Jill, 22, both of Media, Pa., said they had come to the casino specifically for the surfing class. They were joined by their friend Lynda Ross, of West Chester, Pa., who was celebrating her 40th birthday with a brisk workout.

"This makes Revel seem more like a resort," Jill Zampino said. "It's like you're on vacation. You leave happy. It's not like you've lost all of your money playing in the casino."

Dinner is served

At Harrah's Resort, the casino has been turning its guests into would-be gourmet chefs.

Above all else, the Viking Cooking School is supposed to be fun. Guests don't have to worry about Gordon Ramsay of "Hell's Kitchen" screaming in their faces, although they do mingle with celebrity chefs.

"How often can you get so close to chefs like Buddy Valastro and Tyler Florence?" Harrah's spokeswoman Katie Dougherty said of some of the celebrity chefs who appear at the cooking school.

Harrah's advertises the classes as a "playground for cooks." Classes are held in a gleaming kitchen featuring high-end Viking appliances, cookware, tables, granite countertops and an array of utensils. There's also a dining room where the cooking students sit down afterward to savor the dishes they prepared.

On a recent night, Harrah's head chef Elaine Seagrave and chef instructor Amanda Nahas guided would-be cooks through the basics during a "Steak & Bake" class. Students were given their own menu, a cutting board, utensils, seasonings and a classic white chef's apron. They were allowed to keep the aprons.

Harrah's says more than 77,000 students, from novices to experienced cooks, attend the classes every year. John Smith, Harrah's general manager, said the cooking school helps keep things fresh for Atlantic City casino customers.

"You're not going to find these things at Parx or at Aqueduct," Smith said, referring to rival casinos in Pennsylvania and New York. "These are unique things for Atlantic City. All of these things help us to evolve as we position ourselves to offer attractions that no one else can."

Robert Wozciechowski, 56, and his wife, Rose, 56, have been Harrah's customers for about 15 years. The Wozciechowskis, of Pittsburgh, acknowledged the casino experience could quickly grow stale without different amusements.

"It's another form of entertainment for us," Robert Wozciechowski said of the cooking school. "Instead of sitting at a slot machine or a table game, this is another venue to keep us busy."

Flying on the trapeze

While Tropicana may have Nik Wallenda, the self-proclaimed "King of the High Wire," Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort is teaching its customers the fine art of another aerial stunt, the trapeze.

Under the instruction of expert trainers from the I.FLY Trapeze School, first-timers can learn knee hangs, back-flip dismounts and other gravity-defying moves. In addition to the trapeze school, the Taj Mahal also features free trampoline shows on the Boardwalk on Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Sept. 2.

"We need to bring unique attractions that aren't found in other gaming markets, giving reasons for people to visit Atlantic City in a totally different way," said Kathleen McSweeney, senior vice president of marketing for Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., the Taj's parent company.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:



(c)2012 The Press of Atlantic City (Pleasantville, N.J.)

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