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ATLANTIC CITY-Last week, the 2.2-mile connector between downtown and the Marina District brought new traffic to Harrah’s Atlantic City’s front door (see earlier story). Boyd Gaming and MGM Mirage are building the $1 billion Borgata resort nearby. The competition in the Marina District, where there is plenty of developable land compared to the largely built-out Boardwalk, is becoming fierce. And Harrah’s wants to make sure it doesn’t get left behind.

“There are a number of exciting dynamics taking place in Atlantic City,” says Phil Satre, chairman/CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment. “The casino expansion will capitalize on those dynamics by providing new amenities that should draw additional customers to our property.”

The expansion Satre’s referring to is an $80 million project that will add 28,000 sf of casino space, almost 1,000 slot machines, a 19,500-sf grand lobby and a variety of interior and exterior aesthetic improvements. The Atlantic City planning board okayed Harrah’s proposal late last week. The work is expected to be completed by the middle of next year.

This latest project will be done concurrently to Harrah’s hotel expansion, already underway. The $113 million expansion will add more than 450, bringing the property to a room count of 1,626. It will be the largest hotel in New Jersey, at least until the Tropicana completes its own expansion and the Borgata opens in 2003.

Indeed, Harrah’s has been something of a work in progress. More than 400 rooms were added to the property four years ago at a cost of $81 million. And over the last two years, more than $14 million has been spent on amenities and décor to make the property more upscale.

And by most yardsticks, Harrah’s Atlantic City has indeed kept up with the Joneses. It’s the most profitable of the two dozen properties the company operates nationally, according to Harrah officials. Last year it had the biggest profit margin of all the Atlantic City casino/hotels, while ranking third in gross operating profit and third in hotel occupancy rate.

As far as the burgeoning development of the city’s Marina District, “it shows the wisdom of those who were against developing much of the tract as a golf course,” according to planning board attorney John Abbott. That reference is to a proposal that came down back in the mid-90s, but was voted down by the planning board, which reverted the land in question to casino development.

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