Hurricane Sandy's economic toll still felt by Atlantic City casinos
The 12 casinos that call Atlantic City home suffered surprisingly little physical damage from Hurricane Sandy, the late-October “superstorm” that impacted coastal regions from the Carolinas to Massachusetts, and was particularly destructive to oceanfront areas in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
“Damage to the casino properties was nothing major; you had minor things and debris,” Tony Rodio, CEO of the Tropicana Resort Hotel and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Atlantic City, all things considered, fared fairly well when put in context of the communities that were really hit that are north and south of us.”
“We had no real damage at all; I don’t know how we didn’t, but we didn’t,” Don Marrandino, eastern division president of Caesars Entertainment, which owns four Atlantic City casinos, told the Associated Press.
Indeed, most Atlantic City casinos reopened roughly five days after the storm, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie lifted a state of emergency and evacuation order that had been in place from October 28 to November 2.
“The speed with which our partners were able to prepare to reopen their doors is a testament to the resilience of our state, and our nation in the face of a disaster of this scale,” Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, said in a prepared statement.
Far more damaging than the actual inclement weather to the Atlantic City casino marketplace is the ongoing loss of business as the region slowly recovers from the storm. Monetary figures released by The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement showed the city’s casinos generated a combined $209.4 million in revenue for October 2012, a 20 percent decline compared to the $261.4 million produced during the same time period last year.
“I actually thought it would be worse when you consider the magnitude of the closure,” Rodio said. “We’ll have to watch November and December to see how long it takes for us to get back to normal.”
Part of the reason for the drastic slowdown in business is the mistaken believe that the Boardwalk that fronts the casino was totally destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. In fact, only a small previously closed section of the Boardwalk was washed away by the strong tidal surge generated by the storm, according to local reports. Still, new research data from a national poll conducted by New Jersey-based Russell Research shows that 41 percent of the American public believes the Atlantic City Boardwalk is destroyed.
To combat this misperception, The Atlantic City Alliance started a ad campaign to correct the record continues with a full-page print advertisement in the New York Times featuring the Boardwalk with supplemental digital and email advertising reaching one million people.
More problematic for the New Jersey casinos is the regional impact of Hurricane Sandy, and how soon residents in hard hit locales are willing to once again visit Atlantic City.
“I think we have to be concerned about what the impact is going to be the next 30 to 60 days, what it will take for the to recover from the storm,” Steve Norton, a gaming industry analyst who heads the consulting firm Norton Gaming LLC, told the Philadelphia Daily News. “[Sandy] will definitely have an impact beyond the days the casinos were actually closed.”