Caesars' CEO touts $125M meeting center in Atlantic City, won't guarantee future of 3 casinos

Industries Associated Press

The CEO of Caesars Entertainment said Wednesday a new $125 million meeting center his company is building will help define Atlantic City's future, even as he pointedly refused to say whether his company is done closing casinos there.

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Gary Loveman said the center next to Harrah's Resort Atlantic City will be ready by next summer and should help Atlantic City expand its minuscule 1 percent share of the $16 billion northeast business meetings market.

But he also would not say whether his debt-laden company is considering closing any more of the three casinos it still owns here. Caesars closed the Showboat on Aug. 31, and after a topping-off ceremony Wednesday for the steel skeleton of the meeting center, Loveman seemed to put Bally's on notice.

"The challenge in Atlantic City is not simply revenue but cost," he said. "Given the balance of revenue we enjoy at Bally's, we need to make money there."

Asked whether his debt-laden company is finished closing casinos in Atlantic City in the next one to five years, Loveman would only say, "I can't comment on something that might happen in one to five years."

He added a large part of his company's future plans for Atlantic City will await the recommendations of a study commission Gov. Chris Christie empaneled last month to consider the resort's future.

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"For the time being, we'll wait and see," Loveman said.

In a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the casino company said last week that it has reached out to some of its creditors — namely bank lenders — to find ways to ease pressure on its $24.2 billion debt. Many analysts believe a bankruptcy filing is likely.

Loveman also heartily endorsed New Jersey's efforts to offer legal sports betting. A judge is expected to decide this week whether the state's latest effort — scheduled to start Sunday at a Jersey shore horse racing track — should be allowed to proceed. The major sports leagues want a court to block it, saying it still violates federal law.

"I'm always interested in sports betting," Loveman said. "Americans over 21 ought to be able to bet on sports."

Loveman said the investment his company is making in the meeting center shows its faith in the next iteration of Atlantic City.

The center is designed to complement — not compete with — the existing Atlantic City Convention Center, which Loveman said is more suited to industry trade shows and exhibitions. His new center should appeal to Fortune 500 companies planning business meetings. Rick Mazer, general manager of Harrah's, next to which the center is being built, said the new structure has already booked $6 million worth of meetings, with another $8 million pending.

Loveman acknowledged the very real pain Atlantic City's transformation is causing; so far this year, four of its 12 casinos have closed, and the Taj Mahal could become the fifth next month.

"But we are playing for what comes from it: a vibrant, appealing market," he said.

Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC