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Atlantic City loses almost half its casino revenue in 8 years as competition leads to closings

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Atlantic City has lost nearly half its casino revenue over the past eight years as competition in nearby states cannibalized its market and drove four casinos out of business.

Figures released Wednesday by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement show the casinos took in $2.74 billion in 2014, or about what the industry brought in in 1988. That is down 48 per cent from a high of $5.2 billion in 2006. The decline would have been greater without the $122 million that Internet gambling provided last year.

The last time Atlantic City’s casino revenues were this low, the elder George Bush was president, singer Bobby McFerrin’s advice to the world was “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and gasoline cost from 72 to 98 cents a gallon.

Four of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos closed in 2014 — The Atlantic Club, Showboat, Revel and Trump Plaza — leaving 8,000 workers unemployed. There were 42,545 casino workers in Atlantic City at the end of 2006; there now are 24,817.

In 2014, Atlantic City’s casinos took in 4.5 per cent less than they did in 2013. But excluding casinos that closed last year, the surviving eight gambling halls saw their revenue increase by nearly 8 per cent, to $2.48 billion, and that is clearly what casino executives and state regulators are focusing on as they look for silver linings in the darkest time the industry has experienced since it began here in 1978.

“If we focus on the casinos that are still in operation, revenue was up 9.4 per cent for the month of December alone, and a healthy 7.8 per cent for the entire year,” said Matt Levinson, chairman of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. “The closure of four casinos last year was a traumatic contraction of the industry, but it clearly has left us with a casino industry that is better positioned for growth in the future.”

There were some bright spots in the year-end report, including the continued improvement of the Golden Nugget, whose revenue was up more than 48 per cent for the year to $185 million. The Tropicana saw its annual revenue rise by nearly 30 per cent to $297 million, and perennial market leader Borgata was up nearly 11 per cent for the year to $687 million, or more than twice what its nearest competitor brought in.

Resorts (6.6 per cent) and Harrah’s (2.5 per cent) also posted increases for the year.

The biggest loser was the Trump Taj Mahal, which was dogged by threats by its owners to close it down over the final four months of the year. It remained open when billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who is poised to take over ownership of Trump Entertainment resorts, pledged $20 million just before Christmas to keep the casino open throughout 2015.

For the year, the Taj Mahal took in $215 million, down nearly 17 per cent from a year earlier.

Wednesday’s report also included December’s monthly totals, which showed a decrease of 11.2 per cent from December 2013, when there were still 12 casinos operating. But the eight surviving casinos saw their revenue increase by 9.4 per cent in December 2014 compared with December 2013.

Just over two years ago, Atlantic City was the nation’s second largest gambling market after Nevada. It has since been passed by Pennsylvania.

The seaside resort continues to suffer from new casinos opening in surrounding states, including Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and Maryland, whose customers can now gamble much closer to home without driving or taking a bus to Atlantic City.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC