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ATLANTIC CITY-News that Caesars, Hilton and Resorts were putting off casino/hotel expansions and MGM Grand was rethinking a proposed $1.5 billion project had given this gaming town a case of the blues. Now Harrah’s Entertainment has lifted spirits with the news that it will launch with a $90 million expansion of its Showboat Casino/Hotel property, adding a 480-room tower.

Indeed, Harrah’s has become very aggressive with its Atlantic City properties. Besides the newly announced Showboat expansion, the company just topped out a new $113 million, 25-story, 452-room tower at its Harrah’s Atlantic City property, slated for completion next spring. Concurrently, the company is working on an $80 million project to rebuild and expand the lobby and add casino and restaurant space at the same hotel.

Also, “earlier this year, we completed $34 million in upgrades to the Showboat,” points out Tom O’Donnell, general manager of the property. “That included construction of two new restaurants and a reconfiguration of the casino floor.”

If you add up the various ongoing projects at Harrah’s Entertainment’s two hotel properties here, it all comes to $317 million that the company is investing in Harrah’s Atlantic City and the Showboat. Along the way, it’s providing some get-well tonic to counter the recent bad news.

The Showboat project, which is still subject to regulatory approvals, is slated to begin construction in February, with a planned opening in the third quarter of 2003. It will boost the hotel’s room capacity, currently one of the smallest here, to 1,230.

“With the Showboat operating at 99% occupancy for much of the year, we need this expansion to better accommodate demand from our guests,” explains Tim Wilmott, president of Harrah’s Entertainment’s Eastern Division. He notes that in the past year, the Showboat had guest reservation turndowns of more than 28,000, owing to lack of rooms. “It was a very easy decision because of the demand for rooms here,” according to Wilmott.

The Harrah’s Atlantic City expansion, meanwhile, will bring that property’s room count to 1,624, pushing is just beyond the nearby Tropicana as the largest hotel in the state of New Jersey. When all of the work is completed, Harrah’s presence here, at the Harrah’s Atlantic City and the Showboat, will total more than 2,850 rooms and almost 250,000 sf of casino space.

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