Atlantic City Is Gambling On Attracting Gamers With New First-Person Shooter Games


Atlantic City is dead. At least it appears that way on a stinging but sunny November afternoon.

The second parking spot in the Harrah’s garage is available. In twenty years visiting America’s Playground, I’ve never been lucky enough to park on a level below the fourth. Two spots across the aisle were also vacant.

The drive down Route 30 through Galloway and Little Egg Harbor was familiar in route, but different in landscape . Many of the hotels, motels and eateries clogging the arteries leading into the heart of east coast gambling were gone. The billboards snaking the final mile into town boasts the names of singers who never quite were famous and C-list celebs still somehow drawing a crowd.

The reason for this pilgrimage, my first in over five years, was slide a $20 into Caesar’s Entertainment latest offering of enticement to people willing to part with cash – the Danger Arena. In early November, the company debuted the first skill-based video game at Harrah’s, Caesar’s and Bally’s casinos.

The brainchild of GameCo. Inc, the Danger Arena is a first-person shooter game. The pay outs are based on a player’s 45-second performance using a game controller similar to that of the Xbox and Playstation. Danger Arena is the first skill-based games to hit the market and Atlantic City is the testing ground.

“The GameCo product is fresh innovation for our industry,” explains Noel Stevenson, the Regional Director of Public Relations for Caesars Entertainment. “The games continue to evolve our casino floors as destinations of the future.”

Evolving into the destination of the future is possible, but on my visit just weeks after launch, the Danger Arena wasn’t easy to find among the other video screens, slots and tables. In fact, my colleague and I wandered past the vacant Danger Arena twice before realizing our mistake. The machine weren’t crowded with players because they weren’t turned on.

Gambling On Video Games

Atlantic City hasn’t officially flat lined yet but the resort town is on life support. The causes of death are numerous. The crowds are smaller due to casino rivals in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and Delaware and legalized internet gambling in the Atlantic City’s home state of New Jersey keeps local gamblers in their own home.

Five casinos have closed since January 2014 – Revel, Showboat, Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal and the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel. The Atlantic Club was the first casino to open in 1978 – then under the Resorts banner — and was ironically the first to close.

The Taj Mahal is the latest casualty, ceasing operation in October of this year, and the seven remaining casinos are treading water much deeper than the waves crashing against the empty AC beaches. The magnificent seven also saw their revenue increase by nearly 6 percent compared with a year earlier, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

“Right now the market is stable,” explains Nicholas Huba. Huba covers the casinos for The Press of Atlantic City. “The people who study the casino revenues feel profits should stay around these levels for the next couple of quarters.”

The lone place casinos are seeing a rising revenue stream is online. Internet gambling brought in $16.6 million in October, up nearly 30 percent from a year ago.

Entities like Caesar’s Entertainment hope those online eyeballs translate to more foot traffic and a younger demo shuffling across the still gaudy casino-floor carpeting.

“The product appeals to both our loyal customers and also a younger demographic,” Stevenson said, “those people who may not have played slots before but grew-up playing video games.”

Casinos would kill for the number of Americas addicted to video games. More than 55 million Americans play games regularly (3 or more hours per week) and 4 out of 5 households own a video game console.

The average age of gamers is 35. I’m 39 and my co-conspirator on that November afternoon trip to AC is 38. We’re right in demo and itching to play.

Now back to those blank screens.

Every Danger Arena game was being serviced at both Caesar’s and Harrah’s. We didn’t bother taking the walk to Bally’s after a slot attendant told us that they’re probably down at every casino. “If they’re down in two spots, they’re likely down everywhere.”

“The machines were taking a routine software update at this time” Stevenson explained in an email after the unsuccessful trek. Apologies were handed out as well as an offer for a return visit and room accommodations.

My friend and I seemed to be the only two people concerned with the games that day. Every other casino patron, most more interested with early bird specials and not missing the bus home, didn’t seem too put out by the out of order signs hanging around in the Danger Arena.

A routine software update sounded odd considering the games weren’t even a month.

Blaine Graboyes, CEO of GameCo, was more than happy to explain a little bit more about the downtime.

“The games have been operating steadily and successfully. We have made one software update since launch which incorporates some improvements based on ongoing testing and user feedback.”

One update. On the day I chose to test the machines out. It seems my lucky streak ended in the parking lot.

GameCo is pushing forward with game development, recently signing a deal with Paramount Pictures to develop games based on the films Mission: Impossible, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Paranormal Activity. Graboyes expects machines to be operating in all seven Atlantic City casinos over the next few months and in new jurisdictions such as Connecticut, Florida, California and Oklahoma.

“Obviously Nevada is the largest single market in the U.S. and we plan to launch product in Las Vegas and Reno in early 2017.”

Chris Illuminati covers wrestling and random topics for The Outside Game. He’s written five books. Follow him on Twitter.