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Sun, Jun 03, 2007 - Page 12 News List

Casinos to win back Atlantic City's glory

CAAFP , ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY

The old-fashioned resort of Atlantic City, New Jersey, is angling for a cosmopolitan crowd with an array of shiny new casinos, hoping to match its world-famous gambling rival, Las Vegas.

In its late 1970s heyday, the city became the US' second most popular gambling destination, and is now its fourth-biggest tourist attraction with 35 million visitors each year -- nearly as many as Vegas.

But while Las Vegas flourished in the desert of Nevada, attracting an international crowd, port-side Atlantic City has earned a reputation more as a down-market resort for the elderly.

In contrast to Las Vegas' monumental casinos and luxury shops, Atlantic City's promenade is dominated by fast-food restaurants, massage parlors and US$0.99 stores.

French filmmaker Louis Malle portrayed the city as a chaotic, drug dealer-ridden metropolis in his 1980 film named after it.

Now it is moving to dust off that image.

In 2003, a major hotel-casino, Borgata, opened its doors, offering not only gambling but swish restaurants, a spa, nightclubs and a vast concert hall.

With its poker, blackjack and other table games, the Borgata targets a younger clientele than those who patronize the traditional ranks of slot machines and has generated an annual turnover of US$800 million.

Other temptations include the hotel's scantily clad hostesses known as the "Borgatas Babes," and a stellar line-up of visiting musicians including the Rolling Stones, Sting and Norah Jones.

The city has taken an upward turn, winning US$2.5 billion of new investment over the past two years. And three more new mega-casinos are due to open there shortly.

Casinos in the city raked in US$5.3 billion last year, behind Las Vegas' US$6.7 billion, figures from the American Gaming Association show. This was more than double the gambling revenues of the nearest competitors, Chicago and Connecticut.

Some observers say Atlantic City has a way to go before it can rival Las Vegas, however.

About 90 percent of Atlantic City's revenues come from gambling, whereas for Las Vegas the figure is just 50 percent, reflecting more diverse sources of earning, said Michael Pollock, publisher of the specialist gambling journal the Gaming Industry Observer.

In Las Vegas, "the rest comes from shopping, dining or other sources of entertainment. [Atlantic City] wants to move into that direction," he added.

"AC is trying to be a regional destination, but it will never be Las Vegas," Pollock said.

One visitor to Atlantic City, a man from Texas playing slot machines and dressed in a cowboy hat, appeared disappointed by his trip there.

"Everything is much bigger in Vegas," he said.

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