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ATLANTIC CITY-It’s still in the early planning stages, and the price tag is uncertain, perhaps as much as $1 billion or more, but the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort could be the next property here to get a major expansion. The Hilton is currently the smallest of this city’s casino hotels with just more than 800 rooms and about 60,000 sf of gaming space.

The project hasn’t been formally announced, but that is expected to come this week as management of the property headed by regional president Anthony Rodio unveils their plans to corporate officials in Las Vegas. The AC Hilton is owned by Resorts International Holdings, a division of the Los Angeles-based Colony Capital.

But the plans emerged late last week during testimony by hotel officials before the state’s Casino Control Commission relative to getting the casino’s five-year operating license renewed. That renewal application was approved unanimously by the commission.

Hotel officials did not release a timetable for the expansion, pending corporate approval, and cautioned that the project is in the early planning stages. But details divulged by Rodio and company before the commission call for a new 1,000-key tower that would boost the room count past 1,800. Existing gaming space would double to approximately 120,000 sf, and the project would add new retail space and restaurants, a 3,500-seat theater and a 3,000-car parking garage. The new facilities would rise on three adjacent blocks and would be attached to the existing property.

“It’s a gem of a property that would benefit from expansion,” Rodio told commissioners. “It is the smallest property in this market, and we have to turn away from 30,000 to 35,000 people a month because we don’t have the hotel rooms to accommodate them,” he added, noting that the hotel’s occupancy generally ranges from 95% to 100% year-round.

The hotel/casino began its commercial life in 1980 as the Steve Wynn-owned Golden Nugget. Wynn then sold it to the Bally Corp. in the late 1980s for a reported $440 million, and the property subsequently underwent its only major expansion in 1997 when 300 hotel rooms were added. Resorts International/Colony Capital bought two years ago as part of a $1.2-billion deal that included three other casinos in Indiana and Mississippi.

If the project moves forward, the AC Hilton would join a list of properties that are undergoing or have undergone major expansions recently, including the Borgata, the Tropicana, Trump Taj Mahal and Harrah’s.

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