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Atlantic City shrinks as Vegas grows, both eye gay travelers

Las Vegas and Atlantic City as working hard to attract LGBT travelers.
Las Vegas and Atlantic City as working hard to attract LGBT travelers.
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

When it opened in 2012, Revel was the largest construction project in Atlantic City's history - today it is history. Revel ended its hotel operation yesterday at 11 a.m. and shut down its casino this morning at 5 a.m.

With the closing of the Revel and the scheduled closing of Trump Plaza, Atlantic City will have lost four casinos so far this year. The Atlantic Club closed in January and The Showboat ended its 27-year run on Sunday. Competition from new casinos in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland has been cited as a contributing factor in each of the closures.

The decline in gambling revenue has been difficult for Atlantic City and tourism officials are hoping to grow nongambling revenue from dining, entertainment and retail. It is also hoping to attract more LGBT travelers.

Through the early 80s, Atlantic City had a thriving gay scene but it was pushed out with the development of the casinos. Now the city is working hard to bring back LGBT visitors, especially with their estimated $65 billion market value.

In June, Atlantic City's openly gay mayor Don Guardian officially dedicated a section of the city's beach as being "gay-friendly." He also announced that the city would be hosting a series of events catering to LGBT travelers. One of those events was Sand Blast, held the weekend of July 18 to 20.

Sand Blast had previously been held for more than 10 years in Asbury Park in the northern section of New Jersey but organizers moved the event to Atlantic City this year. Unfortunately, attendance was significantly lower than past years and organizers have not yet committed to returning for a second year.

Atlantic City will host StandOUT, an LGBT business expo, from Sept. 26 to 28. That same weekend on Sept. 28 it will host Miss'd America, a spoof of the Miss America pageant with drag queens.

Just as Atlantic City is closing properties, Las Vegas is experiencing a mini boom. Today the Delano Las Vegas opened at MGM's Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in space previously occupied by THEHotel. This comes on the heels of Caesars' opening of its boutique The Cromwell in May and the $415 million transformation in Aug. of the legendary Sahara into SLS Las Vegas.

As marketing to the LGBT community is relatively new for Atlantic City, Las Vegas and its casino partners has been actively pursing this lucrative market for more than a decade. For example, only two resorts in Atlantic City are TAG Approved as gay-friendly, Las Vegas has 17. The TAG Approved designation was launched in 1997 to help accommodations effectively reach and sensitively serve the LGBT community. Today, more than 2,000 hotels are involved in the program worldwide.

This weekend Las Vegas will host the Gay Days Las Vegas. It is the events 3rd year, and attracted an estimated 30,000 participants last year. The event will coincide with Las Vegas Pride, which has been held annually since 1983.

According to a survey by Community Marketing Inc., a research and consulting firm that specializes in LGBT travel, Las Vegas ranks alongside New York City, San Francisco and Chicago among the top U.S. vacation destination for gay and bisexual men and lesbian and bisexual women.

Although travel trends can quickly change, it is likely that Atlantic City and Las Vegas will be comparing notes about LGBT travelers for many years to come.

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