ACPoor old Atlantic City: it lost the race to be the first U.S. gambling Mecca to offer legal online gambling; it’s still recovering from the ravages of last year’s Hurricane Sandy; and its revenue stream has been more of a trickle, by casino standards anyway, in recent years. Now the Atlantic City Alliance, a group created as part of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 2011 Atlantic City reforms package, is tasked with turning this dying dinosaur into a reborn swan, and they certainly have their work cut out for them.

Armed with a $30 million marketing budget, all funded by casino profits, the Alliance must find a way to get more bodies into the casinos, despite massive land-casino competition from neighboring states like Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. Once in, they need to motivate those bodies to spend, spend, spend; but not necessarily just on slot machines and craps tables. Nope, the new vision positions AC as a “resort destination,” where people go to see top-tier entertainers, shop for luxury goods, and loll by the pool while watching hot chicks in bikinis and buying booze by the bottle at about a 1,000 percent markup, just like in their paradigm, Las Vegas.

Obstacles to Overcome

Of course, that last one will be a bit more limited than its Vegas counterpart (which has seen huge success with creating daytime “clubs” poolside), given the East Coast’s more tumultuous and shorter poolside summer weather season.  But there is some evidence that the luxury retail aspect could work in AC’s favor, as 2012 showed a slight increase in luxury sales tax collections. Overall, non-gaming revenues for the seaside gambling Mecca grew almost 3 percent last year; in contrast, actual gaming revenues have plummeted for 54 out of the past 56 months, according to figures from the city’s Division of Gaming Enforcement.  April 2013 alone showed a 12.1 percent drop in gaming revenues from the same time last year, with just $228.5 million for all 12 of Atlantic City’s casinos; a mere drop in the bucket, by casino industry standards.

Las Vegas of the East?

No question, AC is going after what’s worked in Las Vegas for quite awhile now; the question is, will it also work for the New Jersey destination? After all, Atlantic City has never been quite able to muster the élan or sexiness of the Las Vegas experience, and lord knows they’ve tried.

“We have to do what Vegas did in the ’90s, and that’s reinvent ourselves as a resort destination,” said Caesars Atlantic City’s general manager Kevin Ortzman, who also runs Bally’s Atlantic City and the Showboat. “We need to highlight our nightlife, our restaurants, the beach and the boardwalk. We’re more than just gaming.”

Last year’s subtle advertising campaign slogan was “Do AC,” and it showcased entirely non-gaming moments.

Perhaps this year’s should just be “We Try Harder.”