Atlantic City always was a gambling retreat on the Eastern seaboard, but since the Borgata opened eight years ago last week, the city has been a reinvigorated bed for nightclubs. Howard Weiss helped launch the Borgata’s nightlife program in 2003 and, after heading out to run venues like Pure and LAX, he’s back in Atlantic City. Earlier this year, his handiwork at Harrah’s helped Pool After Dark earn not only the 2011 Nightclub & Bar Mega-club of the Year Award but also a slot on the Top 100 list. Recently promoted to Regional Director of Nightlife Operations, Strategy & Development for Caesars Eastern Division, Weiss shared some of his thoughts on rejuvenating nightlife and operating within Atlantic City in general.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): You have a many nightlife venues under your belt with the new promotion.
Weiss: Eighteen in total. They’re spread out among our hotels and resorts, which include Caesars, Harrah’s, Showboat, Bally’s and Harrah’s Chester, Pennsylvania. Harrah’s Pool After Dark in Atlantic City alone is a $25-million-a-year operation.
NCC: What’s the current strategy for overseeing so many establishments with all of their various nuances?
Weiss: We’re trying to centralize a lot of our operations in nightlife and entertainment. It’s currently about understanding our assets and trying to tweak what we’ve got. Then we’ll figure out next steps for moving the brands forward. We’ve got a lot of competition coming on board in the next few months, like the Golden Nugget taking over Trump Marina, and Revel coming in 2012 next to Showboat.
NCC: Walk us through how you assess an asset and try to streamline it.
Weiss: The first property I’m going after is Harrah’s. There are three other venues there. We’ve got Dos Caminos restaurant, which just opened; Exhibition Bar, which is a center bar like at the Hard Rock in Vegas; and Eden, a live-act lounge. We’ve also got the pool, which doubles as a nightclub, so we want to figure out how we can take people from the pool and transition them into one of the other venues before and then after. So we’re plugging in entertainment and DJs we can cross-transfer between outlets. A lot of the DJs we hire for the pool on a weekday are promoter-driven, so they have a strong following. We’re booking them in multiple venues, and we’re trying to package up things to give consumers a deal. We’ll say, “Come stay on a Wednesday, have dinner at Dos Caminos and then bottle service at the pool for X number of dollars.” The vision for Harrah’s is to bundle it all together and truly partner with the hotel.
NCC: Who is your ideal consumer for Harrah’s?
Weiss: The target consumer is 21 to 35 years old, with a mid-level of disposable income. We want people who go out and party but don’t need to spend a ton of money. As a result, we’re moderately priced; our bottles are $300 and entrance during the week is only $10. You can come out more than two or three times a year as opposed to the bigger super clubs, the ones currently over-saturating Las Vegas. We think our nightlife venues can be high-energy, ultra-lounges and bars. At the pool, we have to get 2,500 people in there to be a good party, and we’ve been successful in reaching those numbers for the last few years.
NCC: How do you reach them so well?
Weiss: We have a team of about 75 street promoters. That’s how we continue to drive people here. We don’t offer drink specials, because once you offer those, it lowers the brand. We do offer early entrance, which saves you half the cover charge on a Friday. Let’s get them in early and get the doors packed. By the time midnight rolls around, we’re at about 1,500 people.
NCC: How has Atlantic City been doing for nightlife operators in general over the past few years?
Weiss: It’s been inconsistent. Nightlife in Atlantic City has not been really as successful as it could be. Borgata works well because they built up from ground zero and cultivated and developed and maintained their brand well. Most other places have a 12- to 14-month shelf life here. Borgata also has a 6,000-person event center, so they’re able to book large entertainment acts. We’re working on building something similar in Harrah’s for 2013, but we don’t have the opportunity to start from scratch.
NCC: What advantages does Atlantic City offer that other gambling-centric cities can’t?
Weiss: We have room to grow. We need to clean up — from a city perspective — the boardwalk and the housing market. And the new city leadership is good. They’re making sure we need to spend the money where we need to spend it. Atlantic City spends about $2.5 million a year on advertising for tourism. Vegas spends $100 million on similar ads. So we can definitely get ourselves out there more. As hotel leaders continue to come together with city leaders, with everyone joining forces, the long-term future of Atlantic City will be great.