Five years after a Philadelphia developer bought an Atlantic City shopping and entertainment pier from Caesars Entertainment, he’s selling it back to them so he can concentrate on his plan to return gambling to the former Showboat casino.
Bart Blatstein told The Associated Press on Tuesday he has sold the Playground pier complex to a subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment. He did not divulge the sale price.
A Caesars spokeswoman confirmed the deal, saying the company will consider plans for it over the next few months.
“Caesars remains committed to Atlantic City, and the future development of our brand through job growth and capital investment,” the La Vegas-based company said in a statement. “We are also dedicated to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to position the city as a leading gaming and entertainment destination here on the East Coast.”
The sale reverses the transaction the two parties made in 2015. Blatstein plans to focus on returning casino gambling to the Showboat, the former casino he owns and operates as a non-gambling hotel.
“It’s all good,” he said. “I’m very happy because I’m completely focused on the Showboat. Now there’s no distraction from what I’m going to do at Showboat. More than ever, I am extremely bullish on Atlantic City.”
Blatstein would not discuss his plans for the Showboat in detail, saying he would have an announcement in the not-too-distant future of a “very significant development” there.
Last March, he said he was moving forward with a plan to return casino gambling to the Showboat, which was one of four Atlantic City casinos to shut down in 2014. The state Casino Control Commission gave Blatstein preliminary approval to pursue a casino license, and he said at the time he believes the market can handle another casino.
He said on Tuesday “nothing has changed” regarding his plans for the Showboat.
Should he succeed in restoring gambling there, the Showboat would become Atlantic City’s 10th casino. Two others that also closed in 2014 — the Trump Taj Mahal and Revel — reopened in 2018 under new brands, the Taj Mahal as Hard Rock and Revel as the Ocean Casino Resort.
The fourth casino, the Atlantic Club, was sold last year to a New York firm that plans to reopen it as a non-gambling hotel.
Re-expanding the Atlantic City casino market to 10 properties would continue a trend of added gambling revenue and employment. But is also is likely to further dilute the already-lower earnings of the city’s casinos.
Blatstein bought the complex, which at the time was called The Pier Shops at Caesars, for $2.7 million from Caesars Entertainment, and reopened it as The Playground in June 2015. He said he invested $52 million in its renovation in the hope of reinvigorating some of the most prime but underutilized real estate on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. Caesars retained ownership of the pier itself.
That dream was only partially met, at best. Blatstein added nightlife options and some retail outlets, but passenger traffic has since fallen. Anchors including an Apple store, Tommy Bahama and Gucci have departed.
Parts of the proposal that never came to fruition included an elevated pool high above the ocean.
The absence of affordable, easily accessible parking was one of many factors that sunk The Pier Shops, and also held back The Playground. Patrons had to make their way through a parking garage, a skywalk and a smoky casino floor in order to access the facility in its previous incarnation. While still accessible from Caesars casino, The Playground offered valet parking nearby and free surface parking with a shuttle, which some potential customers found off-putting.
Caesars Entertainment is going through turmoil of its own. The company is being acquired by Eldorado Gaming, a transaction that is working its way through a thicket of regulators in numerous states as well as with the Federal Trade Commission.