Having pulled the plug on his latest Atlantic City venture, Penn National CEO Peter Carlino served the city a heaping plate of gloom with a side dish of pessimism. In fact, he pretty much slammed the door on the besieged metropolis, although his spokesman reopened it a wee bit.
Quoth Carlino: "I think as we've watched New Jersey, sadly, that's a market at the moment that is significantly less appealing to us, and that shouldn't be a surprise. There is much more bad news coming … [Pennsylvania slot parlors are] nothing but bad, bad, bad news for Atlantic City. It's going to be a while, and maybe a long while, before the picture changes in Atlantic City. It's not a pretty picture."
In other words, he didn't just plunge a dagger into the heart of Atlantic City, he twisted it around a bit for good measure. Also, Penn's legal representative on the Boardwalk is a co-owner of A.C. nemesis Harrah's Chester. Coincidence perhaps, but the symbolism is painful.
Then again … a Penn representative says the company will "evaluate the opportunity" as Bader Field continues to be shopped around. So Penn isn't really giving up on Atlantic City after all and Carlino's verbal barrage begins to sound like a "softening up" bombardment, preperatory to pushing for a better deal on Bader Field.
Carlino is right to wary of the potential threat from Philadelphia but anybody contemplating an Atlantic City investment is going to find themselves between that rock and the hard place that is the realization that new (or significantly refreshed) product and nothing else will suffice in A.C. Unfortunately opportunity — the gnarled casino-development process in Philly — and crisis, in the form of an economic deep-freeze — have coincided, leaving the status quo drifting along.
There's a variety of low-hanging fruit in Atlantic City: the 14 acres MGM Mirage is peddling; Pinnacle Entertainment's stalled Sands site; the Tropicana; perhaps even Bally's Atlantic City or a management contract at Resorts Atlantic City, if the foreclosure goes through. Not to mention the Trump Marina sale, which seems to have devolved into slow-fizzle mode. But if Penn is sending a signal, it's translating as "Bader or Bust!"