Atlantic City casinos drive stake through 2009

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Atlantic City has closed the books on 2009, a year casino operators will not fondly recall.

The 11 casinos reported a 9.8 percent decline in December gaming revenues compared to December 2008 and a 13.2 percent decline for the year as a whole, according to figures released Monday by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

It was the third straight year of declines, following a 7.6 percent dip in 2008 and a 5.7 percent drop in 2007.

Since peaking at $5.2 billion in 2006, gaming revenues on the boardwalk have plummeted 25 percent. Last year's $3.9 billion total was the first time they've fallen below $4 billion since 1997.

"Casinos continued to suffer in 2009," commission Chairwoman Linda Kassekert acknowledged in a statement. "The weak national economy, growing competition across our borders and the partial ban on smoking in casinos combined to depress gaming revenues."

In December, slot-machine winnings fell 12.5 percent to $179 million while the table-games win fell 4.3 percent to $93.1 million. For the year, the slots win was down 13.1 percent to $2.72 billion while revenue from table games was down $13.5 percent to $1.22 billion.

December's declines reflected the effects of the Dec. 19 snowstorm that whacked the Northeast, essentially wiping out an entire weekend's business at the casinos, Dan Heneghan, a commission spokesman, said.

Connecticut's tribally owned casinos are expected to release their December slot win later this week.

Over the first 11 months of 2009, Mohegan Sun's win totaled nearly $707 million, 9.4 percent less than the $780 million it took in during the same 11 months in 2008. At Foxwoods Resort Casino, including MGM Grand at Foxwoods, the win fell 6.3 percent from $683 million in the first 11 months of 2008 to $640 million in the same 11 months last year.

Atlantic City casinos have increasingly felt the heat of competition from slots parlors in Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, a circumstance that will only get more intense. Legislatures in Pennsylvania and Delaware have recently voted to allow the introduction of table games.

Nevertheless, Kassekert expressed confidence that Atlantic City's casinos will rebound.

"Atlantic City has a lot to offer visitors in addition to gambling," she said. "When the economy improves and people have more money to spend on entertainment, Atlantic City will draw more and more people interested in visiting our shops, enjoying a concert, dining in our fine restaurants and relaxing on our beach."

By the numbers

Atlantic City casinos' annual gaming revenues have plummeted since reaching a high of $5.2 billion in 2006.

Yearly totals since then:

• 2007: $4.92 billion

• 2008: $4.55 billion

• 2009: $3.93 billion

Source: New Jersey Casino Control Commission

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