Philly developer Bart Blatstein gets early approval for new casino building near Showboat in Atlantic City


Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein has gotten an approval toward obtaining a casino license, with plans to make his Showboat Atlantic City hotel part of an expanded gaming complex.
The New Jersey Casino Control Commission granted Blatstein a so-called certificate of compliance at a hearing Monday, making him eligible for a full-fledged casino license.
Blatstein told commissioners at the meeting that he planned to build a casino structure on a 123,000-square-foot lot he acquired to the northeast of Showboat, which would let him circumvent a deed restriction that bars gambling in the property itself.
“The old-style casinos are no longer in vogue,” Blatstein said. “This gives me an opportunity to do something for today and tomorrow.”

Blatstein, who is known in Philadelphia for developing properties including his since-sold Piazza at Schmidts apartments in Northern Liberties, did not provide any details on the timing for his new casino project.

It would follow last year’s reopening of the former Trump Taj Mahal, reincarnated as the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and the former Revel, now known as the Ocean Resort Casino.

Although the Ocean Resort stumbled last year under its previous ownership, the city appears to be benefiting from the new entrants.

Atlantic City recorded $241.2 million in gaming revenue in February, up 27 percent from that month in 2018, according to the most recent data from New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement. Atlantic City tourism and employment have also been on the rise, according to the Casino Association of New Jersey.

Gaming-industry consultant Robert Ambrose said he can see the market supporting another entrant as long as it and other city businesses can draw a customer base beyond the single-minded gambler it had relied on in the past.

“Growth today has to be strategic, slow and steady in all areas, not just gaming,” said Ambrose, who also teaches casino management at Fairleigh Dickinson University in North Jersey. “As the market growth returns to what we can call a new normal for Atlantic City, there is substantial nongaming spending throughout the city happening now.”

That’s a big change from 2014, when the Showboat, Taj Mahal, and Revel were among five of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos to close amid fierce gambling competition on the East Coast, which squeezed the city’s only real industry.

Blatstein purchased the 852 guest-room Showboat for $23 million around then from Stockton University, which had planned to turn it into a residential Atlantic City campus.

The university’s plan was complicated when owners of what was then the Taj Mahal next door raised the legal requirement that the property be used only as a casino hotel, out of concern that the presence of underage students could be a liability. Stockton has since built the campus in another part of Atlantic City.

Blatstein told commissioners Monday that he negotiated the September 2016 dismissal of this restriction with Carl Icahn, who then controlled the Taj Mahal. In return Blatstein agreed to provide the billionaire investor with 40 guest rooms at the property “for a couple summers, if needed,” Blatstein said.

The dismissal of that restriction left in place a second, contradictory one put into place by another of Showboat’s previous owners, Caesars Entertainment Corp., that prohibited gambling in the building. With that requirement in effect, Blatstein opened the property as a hotel alone.

More recently, a Blatstein-owned fitness club called Matrxx Fitness has opened at the former casino, which has also hosted conventions such as the International Motorcycle Show and the Atlantic City Vegan Food Fest.