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Even as casino gambling floors closed because of a lack of government monitors, this long down-at-the-heels gambling mecca welcomed two more glitzy, Las Vegas-style developments, the latest in a 3-year effort to lure a more upscale crowd. The unprecedented shutdown, fallout from a statewide budget battle that also closed New Jersey state parks and beaches, didn’t stop the opening of a $200 million expansion at Borgata, the wildly successful, Las-Vegas-style mega-casino that kicked off the city’s makeover when it opened in 2003.
The 2,000-room property now boasts three more celebrity-chef-run restaurants another nightclub, an 85-table poker room and a bigger gambling floor in square feet. Also new is The Pier at Caesars, a $175 million luxury shopping and entertainment complex from the developers of The Forum Shops in Las Vegas. It’s home to Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Gucci and other high-end retailers.
“Atlantic City reminds me of Las Vegas 15 years ago,” says Puck, chatting at his bustling new restaurant, Wolfgang Puck American Grille. “I think this is really just the beginning here.”
Puck was one of the first big-name chefs to open an eatery in Las Vegas, in 1992, when the city was just beginning an explosive decade. Wide swaths of Atlantic City’s ocean-facing boardwalk, and the gambling casinos that line it, remain run-down, and many properties continue to rely heavily on a low-budget, bus tour crowd.
He says Atlantic City seems to be at a similar point. “I wouldn’t be surprised if, in 15 years, this looks a lot more like Las Vegas.”
But the tide seems to be turning. Other notable Las Vegas-style projects that have opened in Atlantic City the past two years include The Quarter, a $225 million Old Havana-themed retail, dining and entertainment complex at the Tropicana Casino, and a $58 million House of Blues restaurant, club and concert hall. More than $1 billion in additional development is in the works at the city’s 12 casino gambling locations.