ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Few things feel better in a gambler's paradise than the end of a long losing streak. And that's what Atlantic City has just experienced.
Casinos in the nation's second-largest gambling market, posted a monthly revenue increase of 4.2 percent in December, marking the first uptick in New Jersey gambling halls in 3½ years.
The city's 11 casinos took in $246.5 million in December. Slot machine revenue was up 8.3 percent, to $174.1 million, while table game revenue decreased by 4.3 percent, to $72.5 million.
The last monthly increase in casino revenue came in August 2008.
The weather and the calendar last month helped; in December 2010, New Jersey was buried under several feet of snow that hit the day after Christmas and brought much of the state to a halt. This December also had an extra weekend day compared with Dec. 2010.
For the year, though, Atlantic City's casinos won $3.3 billion, which is down 6.9 percent from 2010. It marked the fifth year in a row that Atlantic City casino revenue has declined, hurt by competition from casinos in neighboring states, and the continuing economic uncertainty.
But the end of the unprecedented losing streak had casino executives and regulators encouraged.
"The positive win results are an encouraging sign of economic recovery for Atlantic City casinos," said David Rebuck, director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, whose office released the figures Tuesday afternoon. "This is an exciting time for Atlantic City as we see more visitors enjoying the casinos and the wide-array of attractions.
"This has been the highest monthly percentage increase since December 2006," he added. "With the regulatory reforms in place and the upcoming opening of the Revel casino, we are hopeful that this positive trend will continue and reinvigorate the excitement that is part of Atlantic City and its casino venues."
Robert Griffin, CEO of Trump Entertainment resorts and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, welcomed some long-awaited good news for the resort.
"I believe we will look back at December 2011 as the beginning of the rebirth of Atlantic City," he said. "These results in December clearly show that the future of Atlantic City is a bright one."
Likewise, Tony Rodio, president of the Tropicana Casino and Resort, predicted 2012 would be a good one for Atlantic City, more likely than not to end in positive territory and break the five-year losing streak.
"We've been seeing this trend for a while now, the declines getting smaller, things getting a little bit better," he said. "We'll have a lot of positive months sprinkled into 2012."
That should prove true when the $2.4 billion Revel casino opens in May, bringing new customers — and money — to the resort. It will be the city's 12th casino, and the first to open since the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in 2003.
Atlantic City's casino revenue hit a peak of $5.2 billion in 2006. That was when Pennsylvania opened the first of what would be 10 casinos right across the Delaware River that would siphon off customers and money from New Jersey's one-time east Coast casino monopoly. When the great recession hit, it made matters even worse, and Atlantic City has been struggling to recover ever since.
Recently, casino executives have said they sensed a turnaround coming, citing good crowds and profitable returns on things not having to do directly with gambling, like big-name concerts, top restaurants, spas and shopping.
There was evidence in several places: traffic heading into the city on the Atlantic City Expressway was up nearly 9 percent in December, inbound passengers at Atlantic City International Airport were up nearly 2 percent, and there was a surge of bus passengers coming to Atlantic City and staying overnight, according to the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Resorts Casino Hotel had the biggest percentage increase in December, up 23.1 percent to nearly $11 million. The Borgata took in nearly $56 million, an increase of 19.1 percent. The biggest monthly decline in December was posted by Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, down nearly 15 percent to $8.4 million. The casino has been for sale for several months, but has yet to find a buyer.
The year-to-year figures were more sobering. Of the 11 casinos, only the Borgata posted an increase, and it was less than 1 percent. The casino took in $651.8 million for the year.
Trump Plaza posted the biggest yearly decline, nearly 22 percent, to $136.7 million. The Golden Nugget Atlantic City, whose owners bought the former Trump Marina Hotel Casino in May, was down 15.1 percent, to $125.1 million. The Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, was down 13.3 percent to $348.8 million.
ACH, the casino formerly known as the Atlantic City Hilton, was down 12.6 percent for the year, to $142.9 million; Bally's Atlantic City was down 11.2 percent to $378.3 million, and the Showboat Casino Hotel was down 9.4 percent for the year, to $258.2 million.
The Tropicana was down 7.8 percent to $277.1 million; Harrah's Resort Atlantic City was down 3 percent to $439.8 million, Caesars Atlantic City was down 1.1 percent to $404.3 million, and Resorts was nearly flat for the year, down 0.2 percent to $154.2 million.
For the year, Atlantic City's slot machines took in $2.34 billion, down 5.6 percent from 2010, and table games took in $974.7 million, down 10.4 percent from a year ago.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC