Atlantic City Credit Rating Upgraded, But Remains Below Investment Grade

Posted on: November 4, 2018, 08:00h. 

Last updated on: November 2, 2018, 12:05h.

Atlantic City’s long-term issuer credit rating is being upgraded by Moody’s Investors Services from Caa3 to B2. While that’s good news for the region, the new classification is a mark that still ranks below “investment grade.”

Atlantic City credit rating Moody's
On pace for its third consecutive year of gross gaming revenue growth, and the introduction of two new casinos, and Moody’s is upgrading the credit rating for Atlantic City. (Image: Hard Rock Atlantic City)

Moody’s defines B2 as “being speculative and a high credit risk.” But that’s better than Caa3, which is described as “poor quality and very high credit risk.”

The financial services firm says the reason for its upgrade is due to a strengthening gaming industry that saw two new casino resorts open this summer. Moody’s adds that the city’s recent tax dispute settlements, as well as the continued “strong oversight by the State of New Jersey,” were the driving rationale behind the credit modification.

The outlook remains positive,” Moody’s declared. The upgrade “reflects the material progress made by city in collaboration with the state, most notably the tax appeal settlements and budgetary improvements.”

Atlantic City remains under state control. Governor Phil Murphy (D) had campaigned on the promise of handing back its governance, but said in September of his decision to retain control, “I don’t want to see this great and historical city on the mat again.”

Future Factors

In its ratings release, Moody’s pointed to a host of factors that could lead to either another upgrade during its next review, or a downgrade.

Factors that could lead to an upgrade include:

Improved liquidity

Further reductions in expenditures

Diversification of the economic base

Material improvement in tax base and resident wealth and income

Improvement in the State of New Jersey’s rating

On the contrary, if the gaming industry fails to support the nine casinos and one or more closes over the next year, Moody’s could downgrade its Atlantic City credit rating. Other issues that could reverse this week’s upgrade is if the town fails to develop and adopt more fiscally sound budget plans, further strains its finances, defaults on debt obligations, or withdrawals from the state’s oversight.

Moody’s says should New Jersey itself see a downgrade, that too would likely result in a downgrade for Atlantic City.

Critical Months Ahead

Atlantic City is coming off its best summer in years, as the June openings of Hard Rock and Ocean Resort generated excitement the beachfront town hasn’t seen in a decade.

Total gross gaming revenue (GGR) from land-based casinos, online, and sports betting through September is at $2.148 billion, which is a 5.4 percent increase on 2017. While the two new Boardwalk casinos are growing gaming revenues, they’re also poaching from existing properties.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement reports that six of the seven casinos in business prior to Hard Rock and Ocean Resort have all won less money through three quarters of 2018 than they did in 2017.

Through September, GGR is down at Borgata, Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s, Resorts, and Tropicana. Only Golden Nugget has posted a gain.