Inside Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, a group of event professionals donning yellow hard hats line up. The property’s impressive pool is in immediate proximity, but the slot machines and buffets normally associated with casinos are out of sight. Doors open, and the planners and suppliers prepare to enter—similar to the Pevensie children entering Narnia for the first time in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” A new world is introduced.
The two-story structure with 100,000 square feet of meeting space, known as Waterfront Conference Center, is the physical manifestation of a dream to beef up business not only in the hotel, but Atlantic City itself.
“It’s a real game changer,” says Caesars Entertainment’s Steve van der Molen, vice president of meeting operations for the Atlantic City region, of the new center, which celebrated its grand opening in September, months after a series of sneak previews began drumming up excitement.
Atlantic City has needed this change in fortune. In recent years, the famed New Jersey destination has been battered, both from Superstorm Sandy and the closing of four prominent casinos. The damage from the 2012 storm, exaggerated by national media, to the iconic boardwalk has long been repaired. However, the erosion of the gaming business hasn’t been as easy to fix.
With the explosion of casinos on the East Coast, gamers have more options and fewer reasons to take the bus to Atlantic City. What used to generate more than $5 billion annually now brings in $3 billion—a sizable figure to be sure, but a big gap remains.
In a nutshell, that’s why Atlantic City has gone all in on meetings and events, beginning with last year’s creation of Meet AC, headed by President and CEO Jim Wood, formerly of the Louisville CVB. It’s Wood’s job to help reinvent Atlantic City as a place to hold marquee events and conferences.