NJ Regulators Approve Sale Of Bally’s After Promises From New Owner

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Twin River committed to a $90 million upgrade of the admittedly dated Bally’s casino in Atlantic City before New Jersey regulators on Thursday approved the company’s purchase of the Boardwalk property.

Legendary Atlantic City casino attorney Lloyd Levenson, speaking remotely before the state Casino Control Commission on behalf of Twin River on Wednesday, recalled the Bally’s Park Place opening on Dec. 29, 1979.

Back then, Levenson said, Bally’s was “the place to see, and be seen.”

But Levenson acknowledged that the casino since 2016 has been dead last in casino revenues nearly every single month as former owner Caesars Entertainment directed its focus more to its Caesars and Harrah’s properties.

“Things won’t change overnight, but it will happen,” Levenson said of a Bally’s rejuvenation. “Twin River has the experience and the vision to again make Bally’s the place to see and be seen.”

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The renovation estimate is well above a previous promise of $65 million in upgrades.

They bought the casino — and the name

Not only will the casino name be retained after the sale — for just $25 million — is finalized in the next few weeks, Twin River next week is also rebranding its entire company as Bally’s.

“It’s an iconic brand, and it establishes us as a legitimate casino company from a customer standpoint,” said Twin River CEO George Papanier, whose first employment in Atlantic City dates to almost 40 years ago. “I can’t imagine Atlantic City without Bally’s in the skyline.”

Twin River has absorbed some criticism from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement for failure to provide timely and detailed replies to questions about the planned upgrades. But after the company agreed to all provisions mandated by state regulators, the commission gave its preliminary approval.
“It’s clear to me that Twin River’s executive team has put a great deal of thought into finding the best path to improve Bally’s’ fading conditions,” said  commission Chairman James Plousis. “Given the amount of improvements planned in the first year, we expect a considerable progress report” at a subsequent hearing early in 2021.
The sale of Bally’s included a provision for the Wild Wild West tower and its large sportsbook to be transferred over to the adjoining Caesars casino.

Sportsbook — and boxing?

Last week, Bally’s announced a partnership with daily fantasy giant FanDuel to operate the ninth and final sportsbook in the city. Papanier said that work on a temporary sportsbook would begin “immediately,” with a three-to-six-month buildout of the FanDuel permanent site with a Boardwalk entrance in the former Blue Martini location.
Entertainment will be back in the amenities mix once the pandemic eases, Papanier said, adding that mixed martial arts and boxing cards could be part of that. The company also gains an opportunity to profit from online casino gaming, in addition to revenue it earns from both mobile and retail sports betting and traditional gaming on the casino floor.
An additional revenue stream will come from better utilization of 80,000 square feet of convention and meeting space, Papanier said, commenting that Caesars Entertainment “has not done it any favors in recent years.”
Twin River operates casinos and racinos in Rhode Island, Mississippi, Delaware, Colorado, and Nevada. Papanier said that the 14-16 million combined customers would be united under one loyalty program, with extensive cross-marketing that will include reward trips to the Atlantic City casino for patrons who reside elsewhere.
“Our business approach does not rely on cannibalization of existing market share,” Papanier said. “We don’t shy away from competition, and we are not coming to the city to be embarrassed.”
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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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