For a couple of years I was an adjunct at Rutgers business school. I worked on a course where teams of MBA students provided management consulting services for actual companies. For one project, one of my teams interviewed a pizza parlor owner about the key characteristics of his restaurant that attracted business. He said: good food, extensive menu, fast service, friendly staff, tablecloths on the tables. These enabled him to get customers from as far as 7-8 miles away from his store.
How close was the nearest competitor? …15 miles away.
All of the attributes he named may have been important to get any customers to his restaurant, but it’s hard not to think that distance is key to defining his market area. That’s true of any generic bricks-and-mortar business.
…which brings us to Atlantic City.
That beach resort has had its annual gambling revenue cut in half since competing casinos began to open in neighboring Pennsylvania in late 2006. Additions in Maryland and Delaware haven’t helped, either. The issue is the same as with pizza. Absent some incredible attraction (think: Las Vegas), the average gambler will typically choose the closest casino to patronize.
The response of government in New Jersey to the competitive threat has been quite odd, in my view. It hasn’t been to build up the city as a resort destination or to improve transportation access. The main thing I’ve seen has been the attempt several years ago to help yet another casino, the Revel, to open, adding new slot machines and table games to a market already awash in overcapacity.
Potential good news is that, after the closing of four casinos (Atlantic Club, Revel, Showboat and Trump Plaza) in 2014, the market appears to have stabilized. Even online gambling is perking up, having brought in $16+ million in April (although this is still a far cry from the $80 million average monthly take the state had been touting when online was legalized).
The other side of the coin is that Trenton is again “helping” Atlantic City by opening the door to building two new casinos in northern New Jersey. Local voters will vote on proposals later this year. Maybe the idea is to stabilize the state’s gambling tax revenue at any cost. But nothing seems to me more likely to snuff out a nascent recovery in AC than this.