Bally’s Atlantic City is a property Phil Juliano knows well.
Besides growing up in the resort town, he spent a portion of his career in the Atlantic City casino industry.
Pretty soon, Juliano will likely be spending more time at the Jersey Shore.
Twin River Worldwide Holdings is finalizing a deal to purchase Bally’s AC. Juliano is the senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Rhode Island-based company.
Play NJ spoke exclusively with Juliano and George Papanier, CEO of Twin River.
It’s no secret Twin River is preparing to take over an aging Bally’s property in serious need of capital improvements. And joining the hot NJ online casino and sports betting markets is on the list, too.
What makes Bally’s attractive?
Twin River didn’t decide to purchase Bally’s just because it was available for a bargain-basement price of $25 million.
The casino-hotel complex sits at the center of the world-famous Boardwalk, for one. Another key factor was gaining market access in New Jersey.
“We certainly are familiar with the AC market, as Phil and myself have spent … a portion of our careers there,” said Papanier. “We just felt that this is a property that’s consistent with the types of properties that we’re interested in, particularly as we entered into a diversification strategy about four years ago.”
But Papanier also noted that buying Bally’s gives Twin River access to a robust NJ online casino and sports betting market:
“It’s not only the property and its appeal at the center of the Boardwalk, [it] is the fact that we’ll be entering into another sports betting market as well as an iGaming market. We think we could do a lot of things to this property that’s going to bring it back to a level of prominence that it once had.”
Twin River expansions in AC and beyond
As long as everything goes according to plan with licensing, Twin River will be a brand-new player in the Atlantic City market.
At the same time, Twin River continues to expand its casino holdings throughout the US.
The company currently owns and manages seven casinos, including two in Rhode Island, one in Mississippi and one in Delaware. The other three casinos, as well as a horse racetrack that has 13 authorized off-track betting licenses, are in Colorado.
And earlier this year, in a separate deal with Eldorado Resorts, Twin River announced the purchases of Eldorado Resort Casino Shreveport and Mont Bleu Resort Casino & Spa.
Put it all together and the company is gaining access to the New Jersey, Nevada and Louisiana gaming markets. And once the deals are signed, sealed and delivered, the grand total will be seven markets.
Memories of Bally’s early days in Atlantic City
While Twin River owns properties nationwide, Bally’s is the one Juliano still remembers from its early days.
There was a time when it was the most successful casino in town.
“What I remember most about Bally’s, in the beginning,” said Juliano, “was they actually had to do an expansion before they had really gotten open and saw what was really transpiring, because the business was so robust.”
He won’t soon forget the atmosphere of Atlantic City and Bally’s back then. There was a constant bustle of construction, material expansion and growth.
“And then it became a big success machine in the marketplace. I remember it hit a profit mark of $165 million. And I think it kind of dwarfed the other places after Resorts’ initial opening, and then Resorts kind of fell into I think a third-place position, and Caesars was second and Bally’s was the leader.
“And it was a big, expansive place that appealed to a lot of different market segments. It had robust table games. It had a lot of slots … because it had the relationship with the manufacturer.”
Fast-forward to today, and the market is night-and-day different.
Bally’s is near the bottom, if not at the bottom, of any given month in revenue. It’s no longer the breadwinner of years past. Twin River hopes to change that.
Twin River and big plans for Bally’s AC
Even though Twin River is still waiting for the keys to be handed over, the to-do list is coming together. When things get done will be determined at a later date.
However, here are some of the areas of immediate focus Papanier said Twin River plans on addressing:
- Upgrading and refurbishing the rooms
- Introducing new restaurant brands
- Improving the casino gaming floor with product upgrades
- Addressing and emphasizing the pool and spa area
- Enhancing the convention and meeting space
Juliano added one more thing to the list: “rebuilding and building relationships with customers.”
“Customers that go to Bally’s now used to go to Bally’s before. … Yes, we’re part of a bigger company, but we’re a single entity in Atlantic City,” said Juliano.
“We’re not sharing you around with other properties. This is going to be your destination. When you come here, we’re going to, as I said, build a relationship, rebuild a relationship with you that’s going to be seeping in value and appreciation.”
In other jurisdictions, Twin River has seen similar success. Juliano is sure that the company can do it in Atlantic City, too, a market he said “appreciates value very much.”
NJ sports betting + NJ online casinos = big opportunities
Way back in the early years, sports betting was just a pipe dream. Atlantic City casinos now have skin in the game. Juliano and Papanier are well aware of the fast-paced growth of legal sports betting.
By gaining a New Jersey license, Twin River will kick open the NJ sports betting door. Plus, there is a robust online casino market. Each license holder is permitted to have up to three mobile sportsbook skins and five online casino apps in NJ.
And with Caesars maintaining ownership of the massive Book at Bally’s, a new retail sportsbook is in the plans, too. As such, Papanier said it will immediately apply for a sportsbook and online gambling license.
“As you know, in order to have local sports betting, you’re going to need to construct a retail sportsbook,” said Papanier. “We currently operate sportsbooks at all our other existing properties, so it’s something we’re very familiar with.
“As soon as we’re licensed and close on this transaction, we think that we can bring an exciting sports betting brand to AC.”
As far as a location for the future retail operation goes, the Twin River team said there are a couple of high-exposure spaces off of the Boardwalk under consideration. And, Papanier noted, “We think either one of them could create a pretty nice impression.”
Juliano and Papanier did not go into specifics of their sports betting plans.
Caesars is holding down the fort … for now
All of these plans, of course, are currently in limbo. The future of the property was discussed during this month’s Casino Control Commission hearing pertaining to the Eldorado-Caesars merger.
And for now, Caesars is responsible for taking care of Bally’s. Unlike its Atlantic City sister properties (Caesars, Harrah’s and Tropicana), there are no property-specific upgrades on the table, at least not from Caesars.
Play NJ caught up with Steve Callender, Northeast regional president for Caesars Entertainment, to discuss Caesars’ plans for AC. For now, he said, Caesars is keeping an eye on Bally’s.
“My instructions are we run it like we own it until we don’t own it anymore,” said Callender. “It’s not just overseeing, it’s lending support and advice. When a deal gets done, then I’ll stop worrying about it. Until then, it’s part of our [responsibilities].”
Going forward, Twin River will be inheriting the Bally’s property minus the Wild Wild West Casino. The new owners are getting the Dennis Tower, which is closest to the Western-themed gaming space.
Will Bally’s get a new name?
Bally’s has been part of the AC skyline since Dec. 29, 1979. Only two other casinos have been around longer: Resorts (May 26, 1978) and Caesars (June 26, 1979).
But there is a realistic possibility that the Bally’s name could end up on the same list as Revel, Trump, Sands and Hilton as just another piece of Atlantic City’s past.
Nothing is set in stone at this point. Twin River, however, has experience dropping recognized names in the gaming industry in favor of something new.
“For example, in Kansas City, we had an Isle of Capri. It’s now Casino KC. Well, everybody’s kind of loving it. It kind of rolls off your tongue,” said Juliano. “But the challenge is we’ve got to get awareness up so that everybody’s not confused anymore about that Isle of Capri is no longer there and the Casino KC exists where Isle of Capri was.
“We’re very familiar with that challenge. Same thing down in Vicksburg. We are now Casino Vicksburg [and] it used to be Lady Luck. We can step up to those challenges, I think, regardless of what happens. But let’s stay tuned, because it depends on just exactly how we end up as to what the magnitude of that challenge will be.”
Bally’s, Atlantic City and the future
Of course, there is the other big test: making Bally’s competitive again.
When the Division of Gaming Enforcement releases its monthly report, Bally’s regularly ranks toward the bottom in land-based casino revenue. In February, the last full month AC casinos operated prior to the shutdown, Bally’s reported a casino win of just $12 million.
Resorts took the eighth spot with $14.5 million.
And there is no telling what kind of impact the 25% limited capacity will have on July’s numbers.
For now, the next step for Twin River is getting a casino license. The detailed plans for Bally’s AC will soon follow.
As Juliano said, stay tuned.