Glenn Straub’s poorly conceived plan for TEN Casino never stood a chance. But what about the 10th casino for Atlantic City? That’s another story altogether. If Bart Blatstein, owner of the Showboat Hotel, has his way, it could happen sooner than you may think.
Assuming Ocean Resort Casino can somehow stay afloat in the meantime, the number of Atlantic City casinos would be back up to double digits. And it could happen as soon as next year.
What has already recently happened in preparation for reintroducing a casino?
According to a Feb. 20, 2018, article in The Press of Atlantic City, earlier that month Blatstein applied to the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) for a statement of compliance.
Blatstein probably didn’t think it would take a year to get the answer he wanted. But this year on the day after St. Patrick’s Day, he had plenty of reason to smile.
That morning, at a special meeting of the Casino Control Commission, the three-member commission approved Blatstein’s application.
What else needs to happen?
Blatstein will still need to secure a full casino license. But the statement of compliance is an important preliminary requirement.
Another hurdle he faces is that an entirely new gaming facility would have to be constructed adjacent to the Showboat. The deed restriction that former owner Caesars Entertainment placed on reopening a casino inside Showboat itself is still in effect.
Therefore, for now, a separate building is the only feasible alternative.
However, before such construction can begin, both the State Division of Community Affairs and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority of Atlantic City (CDRA) must approve the project.
What swayed the commission to give Showboat the preliminary green light?
Blatstein told the commission that the 2014 deed restriction forbidding another casino to operate inside of Showboat wouldn’t pose a problem. That was because he would build the proposed casino on an adjoining 123,000-square-foot lot instead.
The lot, which is currently being used for sand volleyball, is not part of the Showboat property. Therefore, the deed restriction would not apply.
According to a March 19, 2019, article in The Press of Atlantic City, Commission Vice Chairwoman Alisa Cooper also asked Blatstein whether the Atlantic City market could handle 10 casinos.
Blatstein replied as follows:
“It is not about the number of casinos. It’s about variety.”
Blatstein’s plans for the new casino
Presumably, Blatstein’s remarks about the type of casino he envisions for Showboat also impressed the commission.
Blatstein told the commission that Atlantic City needed a new casino facility because “the older-style casinos are no longer in vogue.”
He indicated that the casino he had in mind would attract a younger demographic and emphasize sports and esports.
Blatstein did not divulge a specific timetable for opening the new casino. However, he told NJ gaming regulators that construction would probably take about 14 months.
Blatstein’s other irons in the fire
The Showboat isn’t the only property that Blatstein owns in Atlantic City, nor is the casino his only proposed project.
Blatstein’s other holdings include the Playground pier and Pier AC (formerly the Garden pier), along with several other properties in the area.
In addition, in November 2018, the CRDA approved Blatstein’s request to convert 264 of the Showboat’s hotel rooms into market-rate rental apartments. Blatstein initially planned to make these apartments available for occupancy by summer 2019.
However, in light of the latest plans for a casino, whether the plan for the apartments is still a go remains to be seen. Furthermore, the DGE intends to review the possible impact of the conversion of hotel rooms to residential apartments in connection with Showboat’s application for a casino license.
Showboat Atlantic City history
The Showboat still stands at its same 801 Boardwalk location as when it first opened in as a Mardi Gras-themed casino hotel in March 1987. In 1998, Caesars Entertainment (then Harrah’s Entertainment) purchased the property, and over its 16 years of ownership, made many enhancements.
However, on Aug. 31, 2014, Showboat became the second of four Atlantic City casino properties to close that year.
Caesars made the much-criticized business move to reduce its Atlantic City holdings from four casinos to three even though the Showboat had been operating at a profit.
No immediate buyer materialized. But Caesars further stipulated, as a condition for sale, that the new owner could not open another casino on the premises.
Meanwhile, the 1.4 million-square-foot property remained closed for nearly two years. Stockton University had purchased it for $18 million in December 2014.
However, legal restrictions that the university was unaware of before the purchase made carrying out its plans to use the site for a satellite campus impossible.
Finally, in January 2016, Blatstein, a Philadelphia-based developer, purchased the property from Stockton for $232 million. He agreed to Caesars’ terms not to open a casino.
Six months later, the Showboat reopened as a stand-alone hotel.
Without a casino, gourmet restaurant, or top entertainment, unless you have booked a room there, you would find little reason to go inside. If rooms at the nearby casino hotels are either unavailable or too expensive, staying at the Showboat might be a viable alternative.
However, its rooms are far from cheap.
If you stay at the Showboat, here are the amenities this hotel currently offers:
- There are 872 guest rooms and suites, which many overlook the ocean.
- Boardwalk and beach access
- Fitness center on premises
- Atlantic City Eatery: Serving casual American fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Bricker’s Burgers & More
- AC Deli
- 12 Bar: Located in the hotel’s main promenade.
- The Surf Bar: Drinks and light fare with a Boardwalk and ocean view.
- It’s within walking distance of Ocean Resort, Hard Rock and Resorts casinos.
Summary and conclusion
Back in April 2018, two months before Hard Rock and Ocean Resort casinos opened, I predicted that it was only a matter of time before Atlantic City would have three new casinos. The third one that I envisioned was, of course, Showboat.
The only thing I was wrong about was the expected date. Blatstein had already submitted an application for a gaming license to the DGE in February 2018. Even though actually applying for and being approved for a casino operator’s license was still down the road, I thought the process wouldn’t take long.
I also thought maybe there was some way the deed restriction could be canceled. That would save a lot of time over building a new casino from scratch on the adjacent lot.
However, up until this month, progress remained at a standstill. So, at this point, Blatstein’s projected 2020 opening date seems reasonable. Personally, I think Ocean Resort Casino made a big mistake rushing to open on the same day as Hard Rock.
Hopefully, Showboat will not make the same mistake, but instead, take the time it needs to do the job right.
Can Showboat succeed as Atlantic City’s 10th casino? Maybe.
One attribute that Blatstein shares with the former owner of Ocean Resort, Bruce Deifik, and it’s not a good one, is complete lack of casino experience. It certainly was a significant factor in the big financial predicament that Ocean Resort Casino is facing now.
It takes a lot more than deep pockets and ambitious plans to create and maintain the type of facility that can find a viable niche and operate successfully in this already crowded and highly competitive market.
I would have more confidence if, during Blatstein’s two years of running Showboat, he would have done more to put that place on the map the way the Claridge has done since that casino closed. Showboat still doesn’t offer a fine-dining establishment and hardly any entertainment.
On the other hand, with two relatively new casinos on either side, including the highly successful Hard Rock the closer of the two, Showboat’s desire for a casino as well certainly makes sense. It could get a lot of traffic from players at both of those casinos, and even Resorts and other Boardwalk casinos.
However, the bigger question is will Showboat have what it takes for customers to want to keep coming back? Hopefully, it will.
As more information about Showboat’s intention to become Atlantic City’s 10th casino becomes available, NJ Gambling Websites will continue to update you with all the latest news.