Once the epitome of sports and casino betting on the East Coast, Atlantic City is now struggling to remain relevant amid a quick and major shift in legal gambling dynamics. While many have expected them to fold for quite some time, they aren't prepared to go down without a fight. The question is: Will their latest attempt to salvage their operations be successful, or is the Las Vegas of the East a relic of the past?
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It wasn't long ago that legal sports betting in Atlantic City qualified as incredibly unique. Aside from legal betting in Las Vegas, there weren't many other places in the United States with casinos. There were even fewer places that green lit online sports betting. Atlantic City earned its moniker, "Vegas of the East," for a good reason.
And yet, nowadays, online sports betting in the United States is almost the standard. So many states, including Atlantic City's and New Jersey's neighboring New York, have already legalized online sports betting or are in the process of doing so. It has made Atlantic City's Vegas-like atmosphere less essential—and business is suffering accordingly. Some even think it's on the verge of extinction.
However, if the latest reports are to be believed, Atlantic City will attempt to rekindle its sports and casino betting in 2022.
Why Casino and Online Betting is Down in Atlantic City
It isn't particularly hard to explain the accelerated decline of Atlantic City: They now have more competition. This holds especially true when it comes to legal online sports betting in the United States.
Atlantic City, remember, was never necessarily treasured for their online presence. Their on-site casinos and strip-like setup, replete with boardwalk and beachfront views, were the primary draw. It was a getaway, one that was more local for East Coasters and slightly more affordable than a trip to Las Vegas overall.
But the coronavirus pandemic torpedoed tourism just about everywhere. Atlantic City was no exception, and they are still feeling the ill-effects of a global issue that has yet to end. In-person gambling is currently down at seven of their nine casinos, and none of their on-site betting operations are turning a profit anywhere near what they were prior to the pandemic.
To make matters worse, interest in Atlantic City was already on the downswing beforehand. It was a slow, gradual downturn, but it was trending in the wrong direction nevertheless. The recession sparked by the 2008 housing market crash hit Atlantic City hard, and they never fully recovered.
Online Betting Can't Save Atlantic City
In fairness to Atlantic City, in-person gambling is essentially down across the board. Vegas and other casinos are feeling the squeeze of a nation and world in quasi-quarantine that more frequently opts to conduct business and leisure activities virtually.
This has led most to wonder why Atlantic City just can't look to online betting to supplement their losses. And to some extent, they are doing just that. They have revamped their online-betting presence in recent years.
But Atlantic City's upside in this market sector is limited. In addition to dealing with many more states that offer online betting, they have extra bills to foot. The physical casinos don't get to keep all of the profit. They have to pay third-party technology platforms who operate their online presence, not to mention digital sportsbooks who accept and process the bets.
Consider any of the sites included in our reviews of the best online sportsbooks. They all have an inherent advantage because they don't have physical locations to pay for and upkeep.
It is therefore paramount for Atlantic City to regain the foot traffic they used to have. We're not just talking about their casinos and in-person sportsbooks, either. Getting tourists to stay at their hotels and utilize their dining, entertainment and lodging options is imperative to keeping Atlantic City afloat, as well.
Can Atlantic City Salvage Their Casinos?
Optimists will point out that Atlantic City has been on decline for a while yet never folded. It also helps that they have the local government on their side. Officials recently deferred huge tax payouts the casinos would have owed to Atlantic City counties and schools, which will save the operators millions of dollars. This, for lack of better phrasing, tax cut has compelled the companies behind the casinos to reinvest in their properties.
Resorts Casino is renovating their rooftop pool to include a retractable roof so that it can be used year-round. They're also investing $5 million in new slots and table games. Ocean Casino Resorts is about to start a $75 million project to finish the 10-plus floors in the hotel that were never completed. Caesars Casino is set to begin renovations on a new theater and resident show concept that should open by 2023. Bally's is planning to do a 750-room renovation while also updating the hotel lobby, bar and indoor-outdoor entertainment venue.
Steps such as these are a big deal—especially the ones that turn outdoor pools and venues into ones with indoor options. Cold weather for roughly half the year has always hurt Atlantic City's bottom line. Year-round usage of pools and outdoor theatres would go a long way, as will updating hotel rooms and gambling setups.
Will it be enough to recapture the attention and business of tourists? It's tough to say. Atlantic City won't reap the full benefits of all these plans until sometime in 2023, and this is all happening as New York unveils its own legal sports gambling presence, which is expected to eat up 20 percent or more of Atlantic City's/New Jersey's own online betting business.
Still, give Atlantic City this: They aren't disappearing without a fight. And there is hope they might not disappear at all.
Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can decide which one to use if you're not able to take advantage of in-person betting: