Atlantic City Casino Turns 45

Updated: 6 Casino

John Brennan provides a history lesson from the shores of Atlantic City.

Atlantic City Casino Turns 45

Racheal Grazias // Shutterstock

John Brennan US Gambling News Editor

John is our gambling industry expert for New Jersey bringing the breaking news in all things NJ online gaming

It might be difficult for anyone under the age of 50 to believe, but Nevada enjoyed nearly a half-century-long national monopoly on casino gambling - just as the state had a virtual lock on legal sports betting, too, until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of New Jersey changed all that in 2018.

New Jersey lawmakers intended to change that casino scenario with a state-wide referendum that was on the ballot way back in 1974. State residents overwhelmingly rejected that ballot question, however, as there were considerable "not in my backyard" concerns that approval could mean a casino too close to home.

Of the state's 21 counties, the only ones where a majority of voters approved the measure were Hudson County in North Jersey and Atlantic County, home of Atlantic City.

Backers of bringing casinos to the state took note, and in 1976 another ballot question offered voters a chance to approve casinos - with the stipulation that all of them would have to be located in Atlantic City.

That proved to be just what the voters wanted, and the approval led to a process that resulted in Resorts Casino opening in Atlantic City in 1978 as the first legal establishment in the U.S. outside of Nevada.

Last weekend, Resorts executives celebrated the 45th anniversary of that landmark opening with plenty of pomp and circumstance.

Cheers To Turning 45

Actor Kelsey Grammer, star of the TV shows "Cheers" and "Fraser," was given a key to the city by Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. as part of the festivities on Friday.

Thousands of area residents gathered on the Boardwalk, where 5,000 beach balls dropped down from above simultaneously at 5 p.m. in the shadow of Resorts’ 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar from the Margaritaville theme.

A sand sculpture exhibit and numerous band performances added to the atmosphere – as did a new popup site in the casino, Lounge 78, which will provide a 1970s vibe.

Resorts’ adventure in Atlantic City hasn’t always been a smooth one. Even with more than $100 million in upgrades spent a decade ago, Resorts was widely perceived as one of the likeliest candidates for closure once it became apparent that 12 casinos within the city limits were at least a few too many.

But while five casinos indeed shuttered from 2014-16, Resorts managed to survive. Mohegan Sun took over management of the property in 2012 and guided it through those turbulent times.

Hard Rock and Ocean casinos opened in 2018 in place of Trump Taj Mahal and Revel, and the city’s casino industry now appears stabilized at nine properties.

While Resorts has a prime, 21-acre location on the north end of the city’s fabled Boardwalk, it still has been a challenge to try to keep up with its rivals. The casino’s capacity of 942 guest rooms is the second-smallest figure in the city, and four of the city’s other eight casinos have more than twice as many rooms.

That limited hotel capacity has contributed to Resorts’ managing a city-low $35.3 million in net revenue in the first quarter of 2023, according to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. As for gross operating profit in that span, only Resorts wound up with a (tiny) net negative margin.

The average occupied room rate at Resorts of $114.36 was the second-lowest in the city – and was barely half that collected by the five-year-old Ocean casino just down the Boardwalk.

But none of those numbers seemed to matter to celebrants over the Memorial Day holiday weekend - and it appears that Resorts will soldier on at least through its 50th anniversary in 2028.

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