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Casinos Bet on Taking Gamblers Outdoors

Atlantic City resorts are turning to beach bars, yoga and pilates classes, outdoor concerts and massages.

September 05, 2004|John Curran | Associated Press Writer

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Inside Resorts Atlantic City, the roulette wheels were spinning and the slot machines were ringing. Just outside, on a broad, sandy beach, all was quiet. The only sounds came from the rhythmic lapping of waves or the occasional cry of a gull.

It was 7:30 a.m., time for yoga.

His back to the Atlantic Ocean, his bare feet in the cool sand, instructor Kris Waldron faced his class of 10 eager students and began talking them through a series of positions.

"Just relax your feet in the sand," he said. "Get 'em in nice and tight like this. Now, deep breaths. Inhale, and look up at the sky. Now, exhale. Inhale, one, two, three, four, five. Now exhale, one, two, three, four, five."

Once warmed up, it was on to other exercises. There were sun salutations and eagle poses, stretching and meditation.

"People have been doing yoga on the beach for a long time," he said. "But this is the first casino to offer it on the beach."

The free class, held three times a week for employees and guests of Resorts, is part of a larger trend in Atlantic City, where casinos are thinking outside the box -- in more ways than one -- to appeal to gamblers.

For years, the prevailing strategy was to keep guests indoors, avoiding any off-premises activity that would take them away from the casino floor. But stiff new competition, together with the city's repeal of a long-standing ban on booze on the beach, has changed that.

Outdoor activities have become a decent bet for casinos hoping to hold on to old customers and woo new ones with beach bars, outdoor rock concerts and tableside food service.

"We're putting our best natural resource out there," said Bill McNulty, vice president of food and beverages for Bally's Atlantic City. "This isn't rocket science. It's common resort practice."

The beach bars began springing up in 2002, after the city dropped its ban. Today, the bars are nightlife fixtures.

Four casinos -- the Atlantic City Hilton, Bally's Atlantic City, Trump Plaza and Caesars Atlantic City -- have them, all offering live entertainment, food, drinks and other amenities.

At Bally's, flaming tiki torches and transplanted palm trees ring the 200-person capacity Bikini Beach Bar, where servers wear bikinis with sarongs over them. There's even a "Bikini hot line" to call that gives information on water temperature, tides and the tanning index.

By day, the open-air bar serves lunch and cocktails, and offers rentals of cabanas, beach umbrellas, beach chairs and lounge chairs. By night, it becomes a party place, drawing younger gamblers and nightlife seekers who may not even set foot in the casino.

"It creates a youthful atmosphere for Atlantic City," said Josie Weber, 30, of Watchung, N.J., who recently sat sipping a fruity tequila concoction. "The way they've done it here, it's beautiful and it has great ambience."

Casinos aren't worried about losing business by customers leaving the building.

Adding outdoor activities improves the overall appeal of the casino and Atlantic City, potentially enriching the visits of gamblers and the amount of money they spend, McNulty said.

"Maybe they'll return more often. Maybe it'll become more of a vacation destination. Maybe we can bring people to Atlantic City who wouldn't have come because all you could do was sleep, eat and gamble. Now, you have this additional amenity," he said.

On the Resorts beach, aside from yoga, there are classes in pilates and tai chi, as well as cabana massages, tableside food and beverage service and rentals of boogie boards.

Down the Boardwalk at the Tropicana Casino and Resort, plans are underway for a fifth beach bar.

For casinos, using the beach is only natural. It's one thing that Atlantic City can offer gamblers that Las Vegas can't.

But this year, there's more beach to work with and more casino-sponsored activities on them than ever. A $24-million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shore-protection project, completed just before the summer started, dramatically widened beaches in Atlantic City and neighboring Ventnor.

Even casinos without beaches are getting into the act.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which opened in July 2003 away from the Boardwalk in the marina district, drew an estimated 10,000 people to its "Fantasy Island," a recent two-day rock festival. Despite ticket prices of $95 and $150, thousands turned out to ride camels, play on one of four fake beaches constructed on a back lot, have their pictures taken with scantily clad models, and listen to rockers Fountains of Wayne, Velvet Revolver and John Mayer.

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