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The plights of America's top two gaming centers

Las Vegas and Atlantic City, during the recent travel crisis have become a modern tale of two cities -- although neither has seen the best of times.

Both cities saw business drop off sharply in the days immediately after the attacks in Washington and New York, which led to the unprecedented closure of all U.S. airports for two days and left much of the public reluctant to fly.

But as time has moved on, Atlantic City -- the New Jersey resort destination dependent on car traffic from New York and Philadelphia -- has recovered more quickly than Las Vegas, which depends on air arrivals for about half of its visitors.

"It's clear that drive-to markets are faring better than destination markets that rely heavily on air service,'' said Gary Thomspon, spokesman for Harrah's Entertainment Inc. which has casinos in both markets.

At Harrah's Las Vegas, hotel occupancy fell to 83.3 percent in the five days ended Sept. 15, and to 73.3 percent for the five days ended Sept. 22. By comparison, occupancy rates at the company's Atlantic City properties fell to 77.8 percent in the five days ended Sept. 15, then bounced back to 92.4 percent in the five days ended Sept. 22.

Park Place Entertainment Corp. the other major company with casinos in both markets, did not release comparative business trends for its properties based on location, said spokeswoman Debbie Munch.

However, she said that declining business forced Park Place to lay off about 1,500 people at its five Las Vegas casinos -- or about 8 percent of its work force in that market. By comparison, no one was laid off from the company's work force of 16,500 at its four New Jersey casinos.

Visitation and hotel occupancy are stronger than might be expected in Atlantic City, considering the violence that has affected that region recently,'' she said.

The numbers were also borne out on a regional basis, although comparisons were harder to make because of differences in data collection methods.

In Atlantic City, the two toll plazas that most ground traffic must past through to enter the city saw business drop 7 percent and 4 percent from Sept. 11 to Sept. 14 compared with the same time a year ago, according to published reports.

Those numbers bounced back and business was actually ahead at the two plazas by 5.5 percent and 4 percent, respectively, between Sept. 17 and Sept. 20.

In Las Vegas, meanwhile, average hotel occupancy -- a main barometer used to measure visitor volume -- dropped to 67 percent on the weekend after the attacks, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. It rebounded to 75 percent one weekend later, but was still well below the usual average of 94 percent for the same time of year.
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Tuesday, February 20, 2024
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