Wheel of Fortune Spins Again for Atlantic City : Gambling: The seaside city is drawing renewed interest from some big casino operators.
After several years of fading glory as a major East Coast gambling center, Atlantic City is drawing revived interest from some of the biggest names in the casino industry.
Relaxed regulations, revived gambling receipts and diminishing prospects for nearby rivals have all prompted operators to take a new look at Atlantic City, the second-largest U.S. gambling venue after Las Vegas.
“The revival of interest is real,” said Eugene Christiansen, a gambling consultant at Christiansen Cummings Associates in New York.
Atlantic City Mayor James Whalen said, “I think you are going to see significant investment.”
This month, Steve Wynn, the showy chairman of Mirage Resorts who fled Atlantic City in 1987 and vowed never to return, applied for a New Jersey casino license.
Financier Ron Perelman applied for a license in December. There have been press reports he may be seeking to buy Bally Entertainment Corp., which operates casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas.
In addition, New Jersey casino authorities in September cleared financier Marvin Davis to operate a casino, and ITT Corp. has proposed buying Caesar’s World, which operates casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas.
Although the interest is a marked contrast from recent years when excitement over riverboat gambling, Indian casinos and other new locations left Atlantic City nearly forgotten, none of it has yet led to a new project or acquisition.
Mirage officials say they have no specific plans yet. But spokesman Alan Feldman said if the company did pursue a project, it would be on a grander scale than any of the 12 existing Atlantic City casinos.
Feldman said it was possible a new Mirage project here would resemble Mirage’s new Treasure Island resort-casino--a hallmark of Las Vegas’ attempt to widen its appeal beyond gambling.
“If we can become a catalyst for a new phase of gaming (in Atlantic City), I think we’d be delighted to do so,” he said.
Whalen agreed Atlantic City needs to broaden its attractions, but said gambling is essential to luring a critical mass of visitors.
“An additional casino in and of itself, that isn’t the answer for us,” Whalen said. “A mega-resort type casino, a la the Las Vegas style, that’s something that’s very exciting.”
Feldman said a greater willingness by New Jersey to encourage and accommodate the casino industry was the main reason for Mirage’s renewed interest. Wynn and other casino operators had criticized New Jersey regulators in the past as being hostile to the industry.
“The political climate seems to have changed dramatically in terms of the state’s and government’s view of gaming,” Feldman said.
The New Jersey legislature last month eased expensive paperwork requirements and allowed further expansion of casino floors, after permitting 24-hour gambling, horse-race simulcasting and new games in earlier sessions. In December, the legislature also ended a ceiling of three on the number of casinos one owner could operate in the city.