ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The casino market in the northeastern United States is saturated, yet that's not stopping some states from approving gambling legislation and companies from building new gambling halls.
That's the consensus of participants at a major casino conference in Atlantic City.
Eugene Johnson, of Spectrum Gaming Group, says by the end of this year, there will be 60 casinos in the northeast. That figure will grow to 65 by 2018, according to his colleague, Joe Weinert.
"There's not a politician in the land who is going to choose a tax increase when gaming looks so good on paper," said Wendy Hamilton, general manager of Philadelphia's SugarHouse casino. "We have to avoid the siren song. There's not a zip code in the region that doesn't have four or five (gambling) options within an hour."
Asked if casino closings outside New Jersey are likely, she said nothing appears imminent, but "of course it's going to happen" if expansion continues at its current pace.
"Pennsylvania doesn't care what happens to New Jersey, and New York doesn't care what happens to Pennsylvania," she said. "It just can't go on forever. There's a finite amount of gaming revenue out there. We are in a very volatile time and we're in a frenzy of gaming expansion. It needs to stop."
Ed Sutor, president of Dover Downs casino in Delaware, said the entire mid-Atlantic region saw decreasing revenue in the first quarter of this year.
"New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland — the entire market is down," he said. "That is, friends, saturation. You're just moving money around. You bring in a new operator and the money just moves around and the entire market doesn't go up."
Sutor noted his state is considering adding three more casinos, which he said "makes no sense."
Atlantic City has lost half its casino revenue and thousands of jobs to competition from Pennsylvania, which is now under pressure from casinos in Ohio and Maryland, said William Ryan Jr. chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
"We in Pennsylvania know the competition we now confront will always be there, and the days of double digit growth in that area are probably gone," he said.
More casinos are planned soon for Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland and New York. Hamilton noted that a planned second Philadelphia casino is being appealed to the state Supreme Court.
"There's a lot of competition right now," she said. "If you look at the entire mid-Atlantic region, you've got people really hammering each other to win people over. There's not $400 million in new money in that market. There's just not. We're keeping a wary eye on what's coming down the road; it's a scary situation."
New Jersey is considering allowing a casino in the Meadowlands, and possibly a second one in Jersey City, both just outside New York City.
"We're at a point where we're just moving money around," said Chris Brown, a New Jersey state senator from near Atlantic City, who opposes a plan to extend casino gambling to other parts of the state. "All you're doing is cannibalizing the market you already have."
Lou Kirven, an executive with New York's Empire City casino, said adding two northern New Jersey casinos to a market also planning for three new southern New York casinos would be "one too many. We have saturation."
Bill Hayles, vice president and general manager of Pennsylvania's Hollywood casino at Penn National Race Course, said Maryland's casinos have cut into his business.
"We're feeling it from the Baltimore region, seeing some erosion in our business," he said. "The sad part is before they open, you spend all your time trying to figure out how to right-size your own property."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC