State Approves Massive Bally’s Makeover

Will a $100 million upgrade put Bally's in the ring with Atlantic City's splashier properties?
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The renovation of Bally’s Atlantic City hotel rooms is slated to begin on Sept. 17, a company official testified at a recent public hearing of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

But amid numerous other details offered about the now $100 million in promised upgrades, Bally’s executives at the all-day hearing also had to respond to some good old-fashioned blunt observations by commission leaders.

Take Vice Chair Alisa Cooper, who noted: “This is a building that’s over 40 years old. I don’t say that with any disrespect. It was opened in 1979. I know over the years improvements have been made, updates, et cetera.

“But it’s still 40  years old. It’s a big building. My concern is, moving forward, do you have sufficient resources to — if you run a little short on the capital expenditures that — you know, it’s not, ‘Okay, we’re only going to carpet this section or we’re going to paint this?’ Is there money there … if you run a little short … in regard to the Atlantic City property?”

Cooper received that reassurance from half a dozen company executives — including from general manager Nick Polcino, who was a Bally’s craps dealer when the property opened in the last full year of the Carter administration.

“The property was depressed,” Polcino conceded. “A lot of folks didn’t want to come here because it was dirty. You know, the little things that you can do. And it was old. And … we’ve seen improvement each time we’ve invested our capital.”

When will Bally’s be spending?

The $100 million in spending for upgrades — up from the initial $90 million Bally’s promised last year — includes 85% of the expenditures taking place over the next three years, including $35 million in hotel room improvements.

The spending will be in approximately equal amounts over the next three years, with an immediate focus on the Bally’s Tower, with the construction of 16 new penthouse suites. Porcelain tile floors, new finishings, 50-inch TVs, new bed frames, lighting, plumbing, and desks are promised for many of the existing rooms.

“It’s a dated view right now that you can see,” another executive added. “The rooms are clean, and they’re neat, but they’re not modern or inviting.”

The mismatched colors on the glass of the tower? That’s being fixed, too, Bally’s promises.

Food is on the upgrade menu

The previously vacant site called Arturo’s has been transformed into Jerry Longo’s Meatball & Martinis, replicating a dining concept that Bally’s has in Delaware and Rhode Island.

“If you ever go there, or if you’re lucky enough to be able to get a table there, you’ll see there’s a line out the door,” said assistant general manager Michael Monty. “They have blackjack tables established right at the entrance. And there’s the DJ that comes in on weekends, after 9 or 10:00 at night. The music turns up a little bit. And, you know, you can’t even get a seat at the bar.”

Additionally, local favorite Water Dog — described as “kind of an avant-garde Jewish deli” — opened last month. Along with holdover Guy Fieri’s Chophouse, there are plans for an Asian restaurant and bakery.

A lobby bar, an upgraded front desk area, and a $1 million upgrade of the high-limit slots area also are in the cards at Bally’s. A half-million-dollar upgrade of the casino’s beach bar — new umbrellas, cabanas, chairs, and tables — were available to visitors this summer.

A $9 million spa and fitness center also is part of the massive renovation, as are $4 million in casino garage upgrades and a similar amount for improvements to convention, meeting, and banquet space. And with Bally’s now boasting casino properties in nearly a dozen states as a result of an aggressive growth strategy over the past two years, an integrated rewards card is scheduled to be rolled out before the end of the year.

As an indication of the level of detail sought by the commissioners, one asked about a sport with an iconic history in Atlantic City.

“I’m not sure if we’re bringing back boxing, but we are looking into it,” Polcino said. “It could be part of the marketing strategy. You know, it all has to make sense to the bottom line. But we are talking about it.”

One new sport likely is coming to Bally’s: beach volleyball, with a tournament tentatively planned for next summer.

“What’s a better place than the Atlantic City coast on the South Jersey shoreline in all that sand?” asked Bally’s CEO George Papanier.

Bally’s long-term goals

As for when Bally’s should be expected to take on the “big boys” of Atlantic City — such as Borgata, Ocean, or Hard Rock — Polcino said, “We’re currently focused on incremental improvements on the property. And we’re holding back just a little bit from a marketing perspective, because we really want those improvements to catch up as we’re continuing to put capital dollars into the building.

“And at that point in time, we feel we’ll be able to aggressively compete in the market facility, and we feel that will be sometime around the beginning of summer 2023. We actually turned a corner and had our month of profitability in July. We expect to be profitable for the entire third quarter.”

Papanier — who described himself as “a South Jersey through-and-through boy” after growing up and graduating from high school and college in the area — said he hopes to solve an age-old problem for the city.

“I think Atlantic City, you know, during the season, it’s an awesome place,” Papanier testified. “I think the area where there needs to be a  little bit more attention is what I’ll call the offseason areas. And I think that Atlantic City’s doing a pretty good job, but certainly can do a better job. And that’s really what other activities could we inject into the South Jersey Shore in order to motivate people to go there?

“Again, the summer is not an issue. People want to be there. There’s never a room that’s available in the market. So we have to figure out how we can, you know, convey that type of customer attitude to the offseason. And I think really the direction for Atlantic City is to figure out again how to get back into the convention and visitors business. We have 80,000 feet of convention space, and we feel it’s underutilized for the market. We feel we have enough rooms, not only ourselves but also with the neighboring hotel, that we could presently go after a larger convention type of a business as well as the meetings associated with that.”

Photo: Joe Lambert/USA Today

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