The Casino File: No pipe dream – Legal cannabis can be a game-changer for Atlantic City’s casinos
The question is, will the town’s gaming halls have the foresight—and guts—to take advantage of the new weed normal?
By putting his “John Hancock” on a piece of paper a couple of weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy—fulfilling his legal obligation to the state’s voters--handed Atlantic City’s nine casinos the key to a vault, the value of whose contents are impossible to calculate. By legalizing recreational cannabis for the over-21 set, Murphy, the state legislature and an overwhelming majority of Jersey residents gift-wrapped a chance for the town’s nine gambling dens to compensate for years of gaming-revenue siphoning by other states, most notably Pennsylvania.
As other jurisdictions with legalized recreational weed have shown, pot tourism can be a goldmine, even for places that aren’t primarily vacation destinations. Imagine what it could do for Atlantic City, whose lifeblood is the travel business.
While I can assure you no one has asked me, here are several ways in which AyCee can—and should—capitalize on pot’s newly legal status:
This one is a no-brainer. Many A-listers—some of whom have proudly declared their fondness for getting high for years, if not decades—have already dived into the burgeoning legal-weed industry. So it’s hard to debate that celeb-affiliated venues—or “consumption lounges”—are a natural fit for casinos. You don’t need to be high to conjure images of a country-music room fronted by Willie Nelson or a hip-hop venue with Jay-Z’s name on it.
Cannabis tasting and dinner events
For decades, wine-and-whiskey-tastings have been a casino-marketing staple in Atlantic City, both for the general public at ticketed events, and for high-rollers at invitation-only parties (about 10 years ago, I attended a private soiree for premium players at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa sponsored by Scotch titan Macallan. The final “pour” of the evening was of 1926 vintage—a bottle of which recently sold for $1.9 million).
Like wine and liquor, marijuana comes in different flavors and configurations that encourage serious study and hobbyists. Pot tastings would certainly find great popularity, which would translate to more bodies through casino doors.
And be advised that weed-infused cuisine is a field of the culinary arts that is already so pervasive there’s even a TV show, Bong Appetit, devoted to it. There’s no reason that such dinners—hosted by celebri-chefs--wouldn’t be a hit (pardon the pun).
Trade shows and public expos
As legalization spreads across the country, so will the marijuana industry expand. Hundreds of billions of dollars are expected to be spent over the coming years, and not just on “flower” and its various derivatives. The paraphernalia realm is also a fertile field to be sown and harvested. And what better way to get the word out about such items as pipes, vapes and stash boxes to businesspeople and consumers alike than through large expositions?
Countless industries, from automobiles to beer to pizza to the gaming industry itself rely on these mega-events to promote wholesale and retail sales. And with them come hotel-room rentals, restaurant reservations, show-ticket sales and the like.
This concept, at least, isn’t merely an idea: In June, Showboat Atlantic City hotel is hosting Boardwalk Budz, the resort’s first cannabis “lifestyle” expo. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to assume it won’t be the last.
For decades, High Times magazine, the bible of the marijuana universe, has conducted the Cannabis Cup, an annual event at which people from around the world bring the pot they’ve created and cultivated to a judging program in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The magazine has, over the past few years, been staging similar contests in some states where recreational weed has been legalized. According to various news reports, these competitions have been attended by thousands.
Bottom line: The ball (bong?) is in the casinos’ court. While there is likely going to be some resistance due to “reefer madness” residue—especially among executives whose properties are owned by publicly held companies—such parties would do well to remember the stigma surrounding, and seemingly insurmountable opposition to, legal casino gambling in Atlantic City 50 years ago.
The mainstreaming of marijuana is well underway and it would be a bad bet for Atlantic City’s gaming industry to not go all-in on it.
A final thought: There will undoubtedly be those who fear for the public’s safety should cannabis become a marketing tool for the casinos. For them, I offer these words to ponder:
Five guys get drunk--and start a fight. Five guys get stoned--and start a band.
On the air
This Monday from 4 to 6 p.m., I’ll be filling in for the Press of Atlantic City’s Scott Cronick on his Off the Press program on AyCee’s WOND-AM (1400). If you are out of range of the station’s signal, you can listen here.