Upping the ante
The recently opened Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa lends a new sophistication to Atlantic City.
Patrons play the coinless slot machines in the Borgata casino. Winnings are tabulated on vouchers. (Sun photo by Glenn Fawcett / August 30, 2003)
It is 1 p.m., and I'm not sure if it's more disturbing that MOM is ready for bed, or that this trio of Draculas has been up all night. Welcome to Atlantic City!
It is 1 p.m., and I'm not sure if it's more disturbing that MOM is ready for bed, or that this trio of Draculas has been up all night. Welcome to Atlantic City.
Officially touted as "America's favorite playground," Atlantic City (or "A.C." as residents call it) is equally famous for being America's favorite freak show. It is the day-tripper's delight because no one is intimidated by the place and everyone feels loved just the way they are.
If you have a dollar and a delusion, A.C. welcomes you with open arms.
Or, are those open claws? Tremendous changes are under way here, yet most involve ways to rake still more cash from your wallet.
As the 25th anniversary of casinos arriving here is being celebrated this year, Atlantic City has finally wised up to how money is minted by Las Vegas, its high-living cousin out West. According to a recent study by the Rutgers University School of Business, while both cities net just over $4 billion in annual "gaming revenues" -- no one here calls it gambling -- Las Vegas (where an average stay is three days), tops that off with an additional $2 billion in hotel bills, restaurant meals and show tickets. With the typical visit to Atlantic City lasting half as long, its nongambling income languishes by comparison.
To foster increased hospitality -- and increased expenditures by guests -- casino hotels throughout Atlantic City are sprucing up and exploiting their seaside locales.
Tropicana is nearing completion of a $225 million expansion project to add more rooms, a spa and an entertainment complex. Resorts (the first Atlantic City casino, opened in 1978) and Showboat are also building massive new towers. This summer, outdoor bars opened in front of Trump, Hilton and Caesar's, where you can now get a drink on the beach -- believe it not, a first for this town. With live music every evening, and celebrity drop-ins like Bruce Willis, it's a happening scene at sunset. Rest assured, you can still buy funnel cake and saltwater taffy. Three-wheeled gondolas still roll on the boardwalk, and (despite lackluster support from the business community) the Miss America Pageant will return next week.
Yet, more change is inevitable, because the stakes have been raised by the just-opened Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City's first new casino in 13 years and, by far, the swankiest. Sheathed in curving planes of golden glass, it shimmers on the city's far horizon, looking like a tall pile of coins at the rainbow's end.
Some like it haute
"Would you like a Borgata Card?" the pretty receptionist asks when I check in. Behind her head is a silent waterfall, upon which plays a psychedelic light show: orange to red to purple to green. "It keeps track of your winnings," she explains of the card. "The more you spend, the more you can earn to buy drinks and stuff."
Confused by the circularity of this sales pitch -- in a casino, "spending" means losing, right? -- I step onto the wrong elevator, which rockets upward. A video monitor installed in the elevator's cabin is showing Moulin Rouge, with Nicole Kidman purring her way through Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend. A good tune for this joint, I think, as Borgata, with its flattering lighting, marble floors, rich drapes and carpeting is cleverly designed to confuse affection with acquisition.
Once in my hotel room -- which is opulently, if neutrally, decorated in white, cream and beige -- I look out the window. Nearby is Harrah's, which has just added a new tower, and Trump Marina, which recently opened its Eden Lounge, an enormous bar with jumbo-size furniture, wrought-iron trees and bartenders who toss bottles about a la Tom Cruise in the film Cocktail.
Borgata is located in a part of Atlantic City once known as the Marina, but now grandiloquently dubbed Renaissance Point.
Presumably, this new name is meant to imply that the boardwalk hotels, a mile or so away, are medieval in their comforts. Donald Trump, for one, welcomes the competition. In a recent interview, he is quoted as saying, "the crowd is getting younger, so hotels need to change to meet demand. ... The Borgata is a good thing for Atlantic City."
With 43 floors and just over 2,000 rooms, Borgata is Atlantic City's largest hotel -- it's also the tallest building in New Jersey. Circulating through its vast casino are cocktail waitresses dressed in sleek minidresses designed by Zac Posen, fashion's couturier du jour. The women are referred to as "Borgata Babes."
I'd heard that the casino boasted $1,000-a-pop slot machines, so I asked one of the "Babes" to take me there. In a half-hour of standing outside a roped-off area where two scowling guys were at play, I didn't see them -- or anyone else, for that matter -- win. Or so I thought.
Only later did I learn that Borgata is Atlantic City's first coinless casino. Winnings are noted on a bar-coded voucher, redeemable at the cashier's office.