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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I haz an AC take too.

Timeout from online spewage to take a look at the live realm - all the poker movement in PA/DE/MD lately produced a couple of reasoned takes from Jordan and Riggstad.

The thing is, both of them are looking at it from a New York/Philly point of view. When you move further south down here to DC/NoVa- the logistics of Atlantic City become a much bigger problem.

No matter what, it'll always be a four hour haul door to door. Sure, you can speed, take shortcuts, hop a bus... whatever, unless a bunch of gnomes dig a tunnel under the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware, actually getting there will always be a sunk cost of time and money spent en route and not at the tables.

Of course, when it's the only option around in a 400-mile radius, hey, that's an acceptable price to pay. And when that changes...

AC has always taken advantage of a near-monopoly on East Coast gaming and coasted on that for years. It's like the newspaper industry - the fundamental, entrenched advantage the incumbent has over upstarts ends up turning the major players into dinosaurs, unable to adapt.

Once conditions change - the rise of the Internet, or other states suddenly competing in gaming - Goliath can fall a lot faster and harder than you can possibly imagine - Bizzaro Obi-Wan, if you will.

AC hasn't prospered because of appealing attractions, or inspired management, or the best gaming options. It's prospered by default - because the region surrounding it chose not to play the game. Until now.

I haven't been to AC since playing in a Borgata tourney back in January 2009. Now, I've got a family and a three-month old, so that would kill most poker junkets anyway - but if there was a room 60-90 minutes away, I'm sure I would have hit a short afternoon session or made a day trip by now.

Availability and convienence are far more crucial factors than people want to acknowledge. I love the Borgata - I think they run their room right and put together some wonderful tournaments and structures - but I can't afford to burn the travel time to get there.

Ok, so let's assume you decide to make a destination trip of Atlantic City instead. Maybe it's a family trip, maybe just you and the missus. Now you introduce all of the other factors - AC still is a bleaker, colder, more depressed and depressing area than other coastal options (Ocean City, Virginia Beach, Outer Banks) - hotel costs are just way overvalued for what you actually get - you can't pump your own gas anywhere in the state - every U-turn is a cloverleaf - Jersey players are the grumpiest people ever - blahblahblah, the whines get sillier the longer we go on.

I don't think AC can compete by going cheap; that doesn't address any of its disadvantages - and to be honest, you can't really incentive someone like me enough with comps or discounted rooms to overcome most of those problems. It's not enough that there's an outlet mall or carnival or pier or whatever new geegaw got built this summer - stuff like that is everywhere and just brings you parity with your competition. (I came all the way here for just this?)

What does AC offer that (name your casino/vacation spot) doesn't?

Honestly, if Charles Town or Arundel Mills or Delaware Park can just give me a comparable poker experience, one that's 80-90% good enough - well, I don't see why I'd be in AC again unless there's another great deepstack tourney Tab's running at the Borgata, or I just want to get out of town and eat a greasy White House Sub.

Market differentiation by going upscale, becoming a Vegas East with unique entertainment and gaming options - is probably the only path with any chance of long-term success - but I have a hard time seeing that actually executed correctly in Atlantic City.

If all these new states don't screw up gaming on their own - then yeah, the ship be sinking indeed.


HighOnPoker said...

Interesting arguments, but I think we end up in the same place. My emphasis on lower prices relates to turning AC into an East Coast Vegas. Vegas has cheap room rates which offsets some of the other costs. AC needs to match that or it'll add another reason NOT to go to AC (Reason #1 = Distance; Reason #2 = Cost).

I have one more point to make. If you are only going to AC once a year because of the distance (4 hrs is much worse than the 2 1/2 hours NY and Philly faces), then you are not the customer who AC should fear losing. They should fear losing the close-enough players who go to AC often, rather than those distant players who rarely play and will never play no matter what the incentive if a new casino opens up in the 4-hour-away area.

Heffmike said...

No, I doubt AC worries, or even should worry, about a non-regular like myself. But, I think there are plenty of regulars in the DC area who would drop the AC market in a heartbeat if a more convenient option presents itself - and there really isn't much AC can do about that, which is more of the point. That's a chunk of the market that's going out the door regardless.

The AC market is inevitably getting chopped up and shrinking geographically. That's a hell of a bind to be in, and trying to maintain revenues by snagging a bigger piece of a shrinking pie is tough.

What's more interesting is to flip the argument around, to something AC can control. You're squarely in their sights, as a player who visits frequently from the NYC area, who's close enough to matter, where all the logistical/convenience issues work in their favor...

What would an Allentown or other room have to do to get your action, and what would AC have to do to keep it?

From reading the new post, comped rooms do work nicely :-)

I don't think AC can compete long-term by being cheaper - you can always be undercut by price - but they can compete by being better.

A lot of the future success of AC will hinge on whether casinos in PA/DE/MD botch their opportunity with poorly-run rooms that don't make money, milk the players too hard, or both.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I'm sure you're right about AC not being able to effectively compete by becoming cheaper. It's already "cheaper", not in the monetary sense of the word but in the quality sense. AC is a hole, everyone knows it, and the resorts don't do much or offer much to change that fact. And that fact is what will keep people away in droves once closer options are available to them to get their gamble on. It's silly to think that people will drive 2 1/2 hours from, say, New York City to AC just to take advantage of that "reduced" $40 fleabag room at the Showboat because they would need to spend $70 at the new casino just an hour away in the Poconos. The longer that people in AC keep telling themselves they can compete by cutting price, the longer they put off the inevitable once competition really starts coming in.

But you also said in your post one of the most assinine things I've ever heard used as a slam on New Jersey. With how emminently slammable Jersey and its denizens are, the fact remains that the full-serve requirement at all gas stations in the state is hands-down the single best aspect New Jersey has to offer.

I would love to hear a cogent argument as to why "you can't pump your own gas anywhere in the state" actually counts as a negative and not a positive about NJ. What, you prefer having to get out of your car and getting the smell of gasoline all over your hands for the rest of the day? Or do you just love standing outside for 5 minutes in the 15 degrees instead of sitting inside your nice warm car while someone else does the standing for you? Oh, and also pumps you the cheapest gas in the nation, on top of it being full-serve.

Riggstad said...

I like your view point Mike. I just posted part two of my point. I'll get to part three tomorrow and I think (or hope) that it explains very clearly of why AC doesn't need to panic.

Heffmike said...


Bottom line - you drive your car, you pump your own gas.

You have a driver, fine, get someone else to do it.

But self-serve gas stations are a feature, not a bug.

-Don't have to give your credit card to some muppet.

-Anyone who can't pump gas without spilling it on themselves... well, jeez, it's not that hazardous or difficult or cold outside.

I don't pay people to do anything I can do myself with minimal ability, effort, or danger. That's just demeaning to the person who does the service.