ATLANTIC CITY BLACKJACK REPORT
by ALENE PAONE & FRANK SCOBLETE
Alene Paone is the CEO of Paone Press, which sells gaming books and tapes at discount prices. She also writes for www.scoblete.com. Her husband, Frank Scoblete, is the #1 best-selling gaming author in America and the author of Best Blackjack. Frank’s books and tapes have sold over a million copies. For a free brochure call: 1-800-944-0406 or write: Paone Press, Box 610, Lynbrook, NY 11563. His websites are www.goldentouchcraps.com and www.scoblete.com.
For information about Frank Scoblete’s Gamblers’ Jamboree at Isleta Casino Resort in Albuquerque, New Mexico on December 6 call 1-505-244-8191. If you want information emailed to you write: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Down and Dirty in Atlantic City
Borgata started a war. Harrah’s has decided to compete by making extraordinary offers to many of their Total Rewards customers, including double cash back. Not a day, it seems, goes by without us getting great offers of free rooms, shows, and food comps in the mail from Harrah’s. The aggressive campaign angered the brain trust at Tropicana, specifically Paul Rubeli, Chairman of Aztar, which is the holding company for Tropicana, who came out swinging by verbally attacking Harrah’s for creating a condition for a price war. Dave Jonas, the Vice President in charge of Atlantic City operations for Harrah’s shot back by essentially telling Rubeli to go fly a kite.
Of course, Tropicana has a bigger problem than just Harrah’s aggressive marketing – it is going to be sued for hundreds of millions for the deaths of at least four people in the partially completed parking garage, which collapsed on October 30.
But Borgata has done more than just put Harrah’s and Tropicana in the ring. The Trump properties have taken the biggest beating of all Atlantic City casinos with the opening of Borgata.
According to the Atlantic City Press on October 30, "Cash flow declined 36 percent at Trump Plaza, 30 percent at Trump Marina and 26 percent at Trump Taj Mahal, parent company Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts reported Thursday. Cash flow is earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, a key industry measure of profitability and ability to service debt.
"By comparison, cash flow results at the seven other casinos reporting this month ranged from a decline of 16 percent at Resorts to a gain of 2 percent at Showboat. Trump Hotels' overall third-quarter cash flow declined 28 percent, to $73.4 million, on net revenue of $309 million, down 10 percent. The company reported a net loss of $12.4 million, or 43 cents per share, compared to a net profit of $9.6 million, or 44 cents per share, a year earlier.
"Chief Operating Officer Mark Brown blamed much of the overall decline on business lost to Borgata."
Borgata impacted Park Place Entertainment, soon to be Caesars Entertainment, as Caesars AC just fired 80 table-game dealers. Borgata has captured over 15 percent of the table game market in AC with its aggressive ad campaigns and high visibility. The games are excellent for AC so there is a reason why players prefer to go to Borgata for their table game play, especially for blackjack, where every shoe is six-decks with generous cuts on most shifts and very little heat.
So what does all this teach us? First, Borgata has not added to the total number of people coming to Atlantic City in any spectacular way. Instead, it has merely siphoned off a substantial number of the other casinos’ players. The AC pie, while expanding somewhat, has not grown enough to make Borgata’s impact a positive one for the other casinos.
Is this good for the players? You bet! If the usually complacent AC casinos start feeling the heat, they will turn up the comps, turn down the paranoia in the pits, and give us, the blackjack public, greater reasons for playing their properties than just the old refrain, "It’s the only game in town."
We look to 2004 as a time when blackjack may make a serious comeback in terms of quality in the AC market.
Here are out ratings for December 2003.
***** = Excellent
**** = Very Good
*** = Good
** = Fair
* = Poor.
BALLY’S PARK PLACE: No change from last report. A reader wrote to tell us not to forget the $5 games on the 6th floor of this casino. Yes, we have been overlooking these games because the only time we go to the 6th floor is to eat at the gourmet restaurants. Okay, they have $5 games most times in this gaming parlor near the poker room. These are 8-deck games, with about 75 percent penetration. Penetration has diminished somewhat to 1.7 decks cut off on the six-deck games in the high-roller pit and these games are always $100 to $200 minimums. The rest of the casino is the standard AC eight-deck games with penetration that varies but is consistently around the 75 percent mark. Some tables have been changed to Let It Ride and Three Card Poker. You can resplit for a total of three hands, but aces can only be split once. Multiple Action and Spanish 21 are also available for minimums of $10. ***
BORGATA: Hs become the place to play blackjack in Atlantic City. Penetration is 80 percent, often more. Standard AC rules which means that for basic strategy players it’s a good game. Plenty of $5 and $10 games, especially midweek and you can even get rooms midweek since the hotel has 2,002 rooms raring to be rented! They are aggressively marketing for the winter months so this is a place to seriously consider when the cold weather hits. * * * *
CAESARS: Table game action has slowed down and that is very noticeable in the blackjack pits. Six-deck games in high roller room have 75 percent penetration, as do the eight-deckers on the main casino floor. We’ve seen more $5 and $10 games of late. Multiple Action and Spanish 21 available at $10 and up! ***
CLARIDGE: No change from last report. The high-roller action was six-deck games with $50 minimums most days, higher on weekends (you might even find some $25 tables at really slow times) but penetration about 70 percent when we visited. You can resplit pairs up to four hands in high-roller room (but no more resplitting of aces). The rest of the casino, all eight-deckers, doesn’t allow any resplitting. Multiple Action and Spanish 21 available for $10 and up. To stay here, you have to make the trek to Bally’s Park Place to register, which is not the best thing for the senior citizen crowd that really likes this place. **
HARRAH’S: They are making a concerted effort to keep their players in the face of Borgata’s onslaught. Very friendly dealers and pit personnel. Penetration now ranges close to 75-80 percent. This place is improving gradually over time. Resplitting allowed except aces. No midshoe entry. Play here and at Showboat and your play counts all across the nation. For those of you who like to go to Vegas you can get some good comps for AC action in the desert! A room that would be discounted for $80 in AC would be free in Vegas based on the same play – this is not official but based on our calculations of the offers we’ve received. *** ½ *
HILTON: No change from last report. Excellent penetration -- in the neighborhood of 80-85 percent -- from the six-deckers in the high roller room to the eight deckers on the regular floor. Resplitting allowed except aces. Pits have been quick to jump on suspected counters, so be wary, but lately reports say the pits seem more laid back. Maybe it’s taking 40 years for casino guys not to sweat the action? Better late than never. We saw no $5 tables; only a couple of $10; the rest are $15 and up. The Multiple Action and Spanish 21 also have okay penetration for $10. ****
RESORTS: No change from last report. Now in its 25th year of operation, Resorts looks better today than it did when it opened and it’s undergoing major renovations. Resorts has cut back on the penetration on both six and eight-deck games, to about 75 percent. Most of the $5 games have become $10 games, even midweek, but this is still a bargain by AC standards. Resplitting is allowed at all tables. Casino also offers multiple-action blackjack and Spanish 21 at $10 minimums. Pits are friendly. ***
SANDS: The penetration is at 75 to 80 percent on its 6-deck games and 75 percent on its 8-deckers, just lagging behind Borgata and Hilton. However, with the new high roller room of 6-deck games and with eight 6-deck tables just outside the high roller room, those 16 tables are seeing some action. You can also resplit up to three times. Haven’t received any reports of the Sands former paranoia. *** ½*
SHOWBOAT: Heavy marketing has made this place thrive, even in the face of Borgata’s stiff competition. Six-deck games in the high roller room have standard penetration of about 75 percent. Resplitting now allowed up to three hands. Eight-deck games have 80 percent penetration. Can now occasionally find $25 games in high roller room. They announce them with a big sign during slow times. You can get great deals in other venues by using your card since it’s part of the Harrah’s Total Rewards program. ***
TROPICANA: No change from last report. Slot city. Slot heaven. Slot madness. Ignore this place – and stay away from the parking garages. *
TRUMP MARINA: No change from last issue. The joint is losing money. This place has a big youth clientele -- and youth is fickle -- because of all the rock bands that play here. So if you like the high energy of often-dimwitted young folks loudly having a good time, this is the place for you. Six-deck games in high roller room and eight-deck games on the main floor have penetration of 75 percent mark, but you won’t find any dealers going much deeper. Games are mostly $15/$25 and up, especially on weekends. **1/2*
TRUMP PLAZA: Heading downhill fast. Six-deck blackjack games in high limit area are about 75 percent penetration with $100 minimums. Sometimes when it’s slow, they will honor a request for $50 minimum. The eight-deck games have penetration ranging from 70 percent to 75 percent on all, depending on the dealer. No midshoe entry on eight-deck games outside high-roller pit but you can find $25 (a few) to $50 minimums on these. Allows resplits, except aces. Most eight-deck tables are $10 and higher. ** ½ *
TRUMP TAJ MAHAL: No change from last report. Has now been officially eclipsed by Borgata as the big kahuna casino in AC. Decent game with 75-80 percent penetration, dealer dependent. Multiple Action, Double Exposure and Spanish 21 are still available at $10/$15 minimums and up. ***
WILD, WILD WEST: No change from last report. Penetration has deteriorated in the last couple of months to about 75 percent on all games. Only one $5 table in the afternoon we scouted. Still a good place to play, atmosphere wise. ** ½ *
THE BEST BLACKJACK IN ATLANTIC CITY: Borgata and Hilton.
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