The Borgata Turns 15. What’s next for AC’s signature casino?

During the first week of July in 2003, I visited the press and VIP-related pre-opening for the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. At the time, Atlantic City’s first casino debut in a minute, plopped down in its then-bourgeoning Marina District, was built upon the ideal of a premier Las-Vegas style gaming resort and hotel. Born in the image of mega-casino owner Steve Wynn, started as part of a partnership between MGM and Boyd Gaming (MGM Resorts International took full ownership in 2016), the Borgata was born to wow: a 161,000-square-foot casino with 3,500 slot machines, 250-plus table games, a 2,000-room hotel tower, a 2,400-seat event center, a 1,000-seat theater, a 54,000-square-foot spa, to say nothing of world-class restaurants, indoor and outdoor pool areas, gardens and a second boutique hotel tower. At the height of the opening event — and the apex of its infamy — cast members from “The Sopranos” such as Joe Pantoliano were spied at the craps table. How New Jersey was that? It was a magic moment. Fifteen years later, the spell seems to have not worn off as the Borgata has consistently been the town’s industry leader.

“When Borgata entered the market, it brought with it the idea of a Las Vegas-style destination that was unprecedented on the East Coast — high-caliber entertainment, celebrity chef restaurants, lavishly appointed guestrooms, and exciting nightlife options, all under one roof,” said Mike Woodside, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa’s vice president of marketing. He should know. He’s been with the Borgata from before Day 1 as a casino credit clerk.

Whether through Atlantic City’s leanest times, the bad, the good and the most challenging, Woodside claimed that the ability to invest substantial capital back into Borgata was vital in ensuring that the property stayed fresh, immersive and engaging. “From our 2006 expansion, adding restaurants by celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck along with the largest poker room in Atlantic City, to the 2008 debut of The Water Club at Borgata, to 2012’s $50 million room redesign; development is, and will continue to be, a pillar of Borgata’s continued evolution and success,” he said.

Along with a summer of top-tier live shows celebrating its 15th anniversary, the news that the Borgata will begin taking sports bets on the first day that New Jersey state regulators allow — this, after the Supreme Court paved the way for states to allow sports gambling at the beginning of May — has made this casino the talk of the town, again, at a time when The Ocean Resort Casino and the Hard Rock Casino both are bearing down with a June 28 opening date. Along with renaming its successful, longtime Racebook gaming facility for betting on thoroughbred and harness racing (the only one in Atlantic City), as The Race & Sports Book to accommodate all sports, Borgata is currently designing (or already finishing, they won’t say) a tony, new sports betting facility at the casino.

“Utilizing MGM’s decades of experience operating sports books in Nevada, Borgata is working with New Jersey legislators and regulators to advance the state’s objective of a successful, well-regulated sports wagering marketplace,” said Marcus Glover, the president and chief operating officer, at the Borgata in a prepared statement. “As soon as regulatory approvals are in place, we will begin taking sports wagers. Borgata is uniquely prepared to begin operations as the only Atlantic City casino with an existing race book. On the first day of sports wagering, The Racebook will be renamed The Race & Sports Book. We are currently in the final design stages of a new venue that will offer an exciting environment for sports fans in the future.”

Back to the Borgata’s brand of entertainment at this, or any time, the executive brain trust knew, first and foremost, to present an entire summer of programming that “encapsulates what makes Borgata the preeminent travel location in Atlantic City,” claimed Woodside. The biggest portion of that though had to be given over to the arrival of the Ocean and the Hard Rock, the latter of whom, has attempted to snag some Borgata thunder by hiring longtime Borgata performer Frankie Valli and his Four Seasons. With that, the rumor has had the Borgata in war, or retaliation mode, with its strongest-ever summer season that began this weekend with shows form Ringo Starr and Dave Chappelle, and marches forward with a superstar season of Mike Tyson, Britney Spears, Cher, Jerry Seinfeld and Stevie Wonder.

“We relish the opportunity to showcase everything Borgata has to offer this summer, from our performer to exclusive celebrity chef-hosted dinners and tasting events such as our Sunset Party with Wolfgang Puck and Old Homestead’s 15th Birthday Dinner,” said Woodside, without referencing a war strategy. “The opening of two new properties only offers the potential to grow the entire market in a positive way.”

The Numbers

According to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, not only did 2017 show a gambling revenue increase for the second year in a row (seven casinos snagged $2.66 billion from gamblers, an increase of 2.2 percent from the year previous), the Borgata had its finest tally ever, wining $800+ million, up 4.4 percent from 2016. With that, a Commercial Café study stated that the Borgata paid $20.4 million in property taxes last year, making it the top taxpaying property in NJ, and the eighth highest-paying U.S. property outside New York City.

Ask Woodside how he likes working with AC’s recently appointed mayor (Frank Gilliam) and New Jersey’s new governor (Phil Murphy), and he mentions his large taxpaying team. “As one of the largest employers in the region (with over 6,000 team members) we are looking forward to continuing our great relationship with local and state government officials.”

The Anniversary Summer

Ringo and Dave Chappelle just left the Borgata, and now a host of parties and live concerts are at the top of the B’s birthday list.

July 6-7: Borgata Birthday Bash: Hosted by Iron Chefs Michael Symon and Geoffrey Zakarian, this family-friendly festival feature games and activities, carnival-style food and drink and the start of inaugural gaming promotions like 15X Slot Dollars and $15,000 Bonus Slot Dollars Every 15 Minutes, as well as a 15 Carats Hearts on Fire Sweepstakes and a $15,000 Borgata Poker Birthday High Hand. Barry Manilow will also be on hand both nights for VIP bashes.

June 23: Mike Tyson

The heavyweight boxing legend brings his often comic, often tragic one-man-show to the stage.

June 29: Michael Che

The “Saturday Night Live” head writer and news host hasn’t been a casino staple. Until now.

July 19-21: Britney Spears

The pop hop queen has spent the last several years in Vegas residency hell, so this is a treat.

July 27-28: Jerry Seinfeld

The king of nothing takes time off from doing comedy in cars with coffee for this two night stand.

Aug. 17-18: Cher

Maybe she’s got a Broadway show named in her honor, and maybe this is a real retirement tour Either way, miss Cher at your peril. Her show is dynamic and opulent and her voice is still strong.

Aug. 25-26: Stevie Wonder

The soul-jazz sensation plays the Event Center for “The Stevie Wonder Song Party: A Celebration of Life, Love and Music.”