The writer and philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
That saying doesn’t seem to have permeated Atlantic City. How else can one explain the current effort by developer Bart Blatstein to open a 10th casino in a market that seems unable to support nine?
As the owner of Showboat Hotel and several other parcels of land in Atlantic City, Blatstein is a major player in the market. And the only thing lacking from his AC resume is gambling.
Blatstein took the first step toward changing that when the New Jersey Casino Control Commission granted him a “certificate of compliance” during a March 18 hearing.
The certificate allows Blatstein to apply for a full casino license.
What can Showboat bring to a crowded Atlantic City?
Blatstein’s Atlantic City projects tend to revolve around attracting a younger demographic. He appears to be taking the same approach with his proposed casino.
“The old-style casinos are no longer in vogue,” Blatstein told the CCC. “This gives me an opportunity to do something for today and tomorrow.”
Details are scant, but NJ sports betting will definitely be on the menu at Blatstein’s casino. During the CCC meeting, Blatstein intimated that the current sports betting offerings aren’t conducive to attracting the younger generation.
“There hasn’t been this meld yet of sports bar [and] sportsbook where it’s like, ‘Oh, my god,’” he told the CCC. “So that’s what I’ll focus on.”
Blatstein will need to thread several needles
Blatstein’s plan faces a key hurdle.
When Caesars Entertainment shuttered and later sold Showboat (to Stockton University, which subsequently sold the property to Blatstein) the company shrewdly placed a deed restriction on it.
The deed restriction prevents future owners from reopening the property as a casino or offering casino gambling on the premises for 10 years. It expires in 2024.
Blatstein’s workaround for the deed restriction is to develop a parcel of land he owns next to the Showboat Hotel as a casino. The casino and Showboat Hotel would then form a complex.
And technically, no casino gambling would take place on the premises of the old Showboat.
With the market already saturated, and at least one casino facing an uncertain future, it’s unlikely the Division of Gaming Enforcement will be overly receptive to Blatstein’s idea.
DGE Director David Rebuck has stated in the past that the hardest thing he’s ever had to do was close a casino. And a new casino at Showboat would almost guarantee that would happen.
That makes it unlikely Blatstein will win the DGE over with his technicality argument.
The “I can make it work where others have failed” attitude
Everyone thinks they have the secret sauce to expand the market or do things differently than their predecessors.
But at the end of the day, it’s still a casino, and the market factors that torpedoed past casinos still exist.
By way of an analogy: My hometown had a pizza parlor on Main Street that was about as unsuccessful as a business could be. It was far from the only pizza place in town and suffered from a mediocre product, a lack of parking, and a poor overall location.
At least a dozen different owners came and went over a 20-year period. For whatever reason, the next owner always reopened it as a pizza parlor. They felt they could make it work where others had failed. Each and every one of them failed.
That same mentality, “I can make it work,” is how the Atlantic City casino market jumped from seven to nine casinos last year. After right-sizing, the market is once again saturated, and casino(s) are or could be in jeopardy.
A 10th casino would either fail or guarantee the demise of one (and possibly more) of the existing casinos in the market.
Oh, and that pizza parlor? It’s been a thriving Brazilian restaurant for eight years now.
There might be a lesson for Blatstein and other prospective Atlantic City casino operators in that story.