Survey: Parking is top lure for visitors to AC

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - September 11, 2008 A new survey by the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority finds gambling ranks seventh on a list of why people choose to come to the resort.

Easy parking topped the list, followed by the convenience of getting to Atlantic City, the ease of getting around within the city, dining options, hotel room availability, and the beach and Boardwalk.

Jeff Vasser, the authority's president, says the yearlong survey of more than 3,000 visitors shows that Atlantic City's efforts to transform itself into a destination resort where gambling is only one of the attractions are working.

"It validates the direction that Atlantic City is going," he said. "For some people, if you want to play a slot machine, there are options closer to home. Slot machines are not the compelling reason to come to Atlantic City anymore. It's the shopping, the dining, the entertainment - the whole package."

The trend, which has been under way for the past several years, represents a big bet in the future of what has traditionally been aimed at day trippers who ride buses here, play the slots for a few hours and go back home.

But slots parlors in Pennsylvania and New York have been steadily eating away at Atlantic City's customer base and revenues. The city's 11 casinos have taken in $3.2 billion, down 5.2 percent from the same period in 2007. And 2007 itself was the first year in the 30-year history of casino gambling in Atlantic City that revenues fell from the previous year.

Visitors to the resort declined last year to 33 million from 34 million in 2006.

But the number of hotel room stays increased somewhat, another indication that people are coming here not only to gamble.

Those who come to the resort by air spend the most on average, at $1,300 per stay. On the other end, bus day trippers spend an average of $260, while those in town for a one-day convention spend an average of $98 here, according to the survey.

Those who said they came to Atlantic City primarily to shop visit an average of six times a year and spend an average of $310 per trip. Most members of this group are female, with a median age of 45.

The survey also offers evidence of some of the challenges facing Atlantic City. More than a third of those surveyed also say they gamble regularly elsewhere, including Las Vegas (31 percent), Pennsylvania (20 percent), Connecticut (15 percent), Delaware (8 percent) and New York (8 percent).

Other reasons people gave for coming to Atlantic City were shows and entertainment, shopping, availability of mass transit to and from the city, and clubs and nightlife.

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