Showboat owner eyes return of casino at Atlantic City site

Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein said Monday he's moving forward with plans to bring a casino back to the Showboat, which has been a non-gambling hotel for three years.

This June 8, 2016 photo shows the exterior of the Showboat hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. (Wayne Parry/AP Photo)

This June 8, 2016 photo shows the exterior of the Showboat hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. (Wayne Parry/AP Photo)

The third of four Atlantic City casinos that shut down in 2014 could soon offer gambling.

Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein said Monday he’s moving forward with plans to bring a casino back to the Showboat, which he has been running for three years as a non-gambling hotel.

That would give Atlantic City 10 casinos, nearing the total of 12 it had in 2014 when competition in nearby states helped lead to the shutdown of four casinos.

Two others that closed that year, Revel and the Trump Taj Mahal, reopened last year under new brands. Revel is now Ocean Resort and the Taj Mahal is now Hard Rock.

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The fourth casino, the Atlantic Club, remains shuttered and numerous deals to sell it have fallen through.

The new competition is raising the market’s overall casino revenue, even as it places more strain on existing casinos that had done better in recent years in a smaller market. Of the seven casinos that were operating before Hard Rock and Ocean Resort opened last June, six won less in 2018 than they had in 2017, the latest of several indications that concerns about whether Atlantic City was re-expanding to an unsustainable size are valid.

The state Casino Control Commission gave Blatstein preliminary approval Monday to pursue a casino license. He said he believes the market can handle another casino.

“There are 104 casinos in Las Vegas in the middle of nowhere,” Blatstein said. “We have nine casinos well within a short trip from one-third of the nation’s population. The market is looking for something different.”

Blatstein said he has a casino concept in mind but would not reveal it. A report from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement says Blatstein plans to convert the property’s bus depot into a family entertainment center and that he intends to offer a full range of slot machines, table games, sports betting and internet gambling.

A third-party management company would operate the casino, but no firm has yet been chosen, according to the state report.

Former owner Caesars Entertainment closed the Showboat in June 2014, deciding that while it was still profitable, it wasn’t profitable enough. Blatstein, who also owns the Playground pier complex across the Boardwalk from Caesars, bought the Showboat in 2016 and reopened it as a non-gambling hotel. He is moving forward with plans to convert 400 of its hotel rooms to 264 market-rate rental units.

Blatstein says he has found a way around a deed restriction that Caesars Entertainment imposed on the Showboat property upon closing it in 2014. That clause prevents the property from being used as a casino for 10 years, a restriction that has another five years to go.

But Blatstein says he plans to break ground next year on a building planned for the land he owns next to the Showboat that would house a casino. That land is not covered by the deed restriction and could easily be connected to the Showboat building.

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