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Atlantic City Ready to Gamble on Sports Tourism

19 Jan, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Flagging Tourism, Decline in Casino Revenues Spur Rise of Meet AC

As Atlantic City’s fortunes have declined – gambling and tourism simply aren’t bringing in enough income, which has led to high unemployment rates and tourism revenues half of what they were in 2006 – city officials have crafted a number of programs to attract more visitors. Meet AC, a non-profit group that was formed last year to build a plan to attract meetings and conventions to the city, has now turned its attention toward sports tourism.

Meet AC has been largely funded by the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. Its newly launched athletics arm, the Atlantic City Sports Commission, has a stated goal of transforming the city into a destination for sporting events reminiscent of its storied sporting history, from world class heavyweight boxing events to surfing and swimming championships, according to Jim Wood, Meet AC's president and CEO. Atlantic City most recently hosted the Atlantic 10 collegiate athletics conference championships from 2007 to 2012. Sporting events, said Wood, can help fill hotel rooms and restaurants to improve the city’s economic outlook, and boost the fortunes of the flagging 18,000-seat Meadowlands arena.

“Even during the Great Recesssion, we saw that sports continued to grow dramatically,” Wood said during a press conference at Boardwalk Hall announcing the new commission. Later, Wood said the commission’s goal is to “generate 100,000 [hotel] room nights in the sports market” within five years — up from “the low 20,000s right now,” according to the Press of Atlantic City Web site.

Under the new program, the city is hoping to attract everything from arena football to cheerleading competitions. The commission will provide extra muscle and leverage in pitching the city as a sports events and business destination.

"With the Atlantic City Sports Commission, we will have a more comprehensive approach to going after this kind of business, going after these sporting events in what is a very diverse marketplace," Wood said.

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said sports are something everyone can relate to.

"Bringing big sporting events and sports-related conventions in is not an entirely new thing for Atlantic City but I think a unified, concentrated approach is going to mean a lot for the city,” said Guardian.

The plan to attract sporting events to a gambling mecca could create a compelling prospect for sports fans who are gambling-minded.  In September, New Jersey governor Chris Christie issued a directive to legalize professional sports betting pools at casinos and racetracks.  Supporters are hoping that the directive, coupled with the efforts of the new commission, will help stem the tide of lost jobs. In late summer, 5,000 casino workers were laid off due to the closure of the Revel and Showboat casinos.

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