Atlantic City Casino Closes — For A Day — And Promises A New Era

A well-timed Valentine’s Day Sunday coupled with the Presidents Day federal holiday on the next day was the last major weekend for Atlantic City casinos until the March Madness of NCAA men’s basketball begins in earnest on March 19.

So the new owner at Bally’s — which opened in the waning days of the 1970s — elected last Tuesday night to to perform what it called “a 30-hour shutdown [for] a complete IT overhaul to modernize all electronic gaming devices and systems.”

The casino’s hotel remained open during that time, although patrons seeking refunds for not having direct access to a casino gaming floor were accommodated.

“We are excited to announce that Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino will be rolling out a new rewards program,” which was to begin last Thursday, Michael Monty, the casino’s assistant general manager, said in a statement.

The tech overhaul is just a small piece of a $90 million upgrade that the casino’s new owner — Twin River, until the Rhode Island-based company took over in November and rebranded its entire operations under the Bally’s brand — promised New Jersey regulators as part of its approval process.

The new owner, which paid a mere $25 million for the property, was blunt when necessary with those regulators during the approval process. Bally’s, the city’s top casino for a brief stretch decades ago, was seen not so long ago as the most likely of the city’s then 12 casinos to fold.

Instead, Caesars Entertainment shuttered its mildly profitable Showboat casino in 2014 — part of a purge that year that also produced closures at the $2.4 billion Revel, Atlantic Club, and Trump Plaza. Two years later, Trump Taj Mahal closed as well.

The industry consolidation benefited the seven surviving casinos, though they soon met new competition in the Hard Rock and Ocean casinos in mid-2018 that opened on the sites of Trump Taj Mahal and Revel properties, respectively.

Bally’s an afterthought no more

Even with the closing of Showboat, Caesars Entertainment executives focused more on the Caesars and Harrah’s casinos in Atlantic City than on an increasingly dated Bally’s.

Consumers noticed, as revenue figures at Bally’s have been the lowest in the city for nearly every month since 2016 — including last month.

Lloyd Levenson, the most prominent gaming law attorney in Atlantic City almost since the industry was born in 1978, told regulators in November that the times are about to change.

“Things won’t change overnight, but it will happen,” Levenson said of a Bally’s rejuvenation. “Twin River has the experience and the vision to again make Bally’s the place to ‘see and be seen.’”

Regulators no doubt also were encouraged that Twin River CEO George Papanier has Atlantic City experience dating back to the city’s early days as well.

“It’s an iconic brand, and it establishes us as a legitimate casino company from a customer standpoint,” Papanier said of both the casino purchase and his company’s rebranding.

Papanier acknowledged that Caesars Entertainment had “not done [Bally’s] any favors in recent years” in terms of upgrades. Renovations will include an overhaul of 80,000 square feet of outdated convention and meeting space.

“We don’t shy away from competition,” Papanier said. “We plan to bring [Bally’s], physically, to a level not seen in several years. … We aren’t going there [to Atlantic City] to be embarrassed.”

FanDuel is part of the new Bally’s

One of the most noticeable upgrades at Bally’s, coming in the next few weeks, will be a permanent FanDuel Sportsbook, the first in the city for the daily fantasy sports giant. FanDuel already has its brand on the book at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

The largest sportsbook in Atlantic City, known as “The Book,” is located in the Wild Wild West tower that was a part of the Bally’s footprint. But the sale of Bally’s to Twin River left the tower, and that sportsbook, to Caesars Entertainment’s adjoining Caesars casino.

The permanent FanDuel Sportsbook at Bally’s (a temporary version opened late last year) will compete with, among others, DFS rival DraftKings’ counterpart at Resorts Atlantic City.

The new FanDuel book is to cover 4,100 square feet with 34 self-service betting kiosks, five live wagering windows, and an 80-seat lounge with 30 reclining club chairs.

The casino also has partnerships with Esports Entertainment Group and Sporttrade Inc. for mobile sports betting skins and with PointsBet and theScore for iGaming.

Papanier has said that boxing and mixed martial arts cards — the sort of entertainment that once put Atlantic City on the map — could be part of the new attractions at Bally’s.

Other upgrades this year are to include renovations to nearly 1,000 hotel rooms, refurbished restaurant space, and improvements to the pool and spa areas.

“We want to make sure Bally’s is competitive again and return it to its former glory,” Marc Crisafulli, executive vice president of strategic development and government relations for Twin River, said in November.

The company formerly known as Twin River that now goes by Bally’s owns and manages casinos in Rhode Island, Mississippi, Delaware, Missouri, Colorado, and Louisiana as well as New Jersey — with plans to expand to Pennsylvania (near Penn State University), Nevada, Illinois, and Indiana.

Last week, Bally’s gained its first partnership with a major U.S. professional sports league when it partnered with the National Hockey League. Just last month, Bally’s acquired DFS brand Monkey Knife Fight as well.

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