Basketball Tourney Gives a Bounce to Struggling A.C.

When Saint Joe’s and UNC Charlotte hit the hardwood at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall Wednesday afternoon, Curtis and Jim Heatherton of Dayton, Ohio were in the stands.

“We’re happy to be here,” Curtis Heatherton said.

Make no mistake, Atlantic City is happy to welcome the Heathertons, along with 30,000 or so other people coming to the resort for the Atlantic-10 Men’s Basketball Championship.

The four-day tournament (Temple is defending champion) tipped off Wednesday -- one day after Atlantic City’s casinos reported their worst-ever monthly gaming revenue declines. February’s figures were down more than 19 percent from the same time a year ago.

With the gaming halls reeling from the recession and competition from slot parlors in nearby states, the crowds generated by the A-10 Tourney are desperately needed.

"Things like the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Tournament, which features teams from all of our key feeder markets is an ideal way for us to hook people into coming here, many of whom have never come before,” said Jeff Vasser, head of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority.

Down the boardwalk at The Chelsea Hotel, which has struggled during winter mid-week periods and recently scaled back the hours of its restaurant, the upscale Teplitzky’s Coffee Shop, the tournament is bringing a bounce in business.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the demand for rooms mid-week,” The Chelsea’s Francesca Santoro told NBC 10 News Wednesday. “We fully expect to be sold out this weekend. So for us, that’s really good.”

Discount tournament ticket packages, New Jersey Transit train ticket discounts and even coupons for Atlantic City Outlets, The Walk, are all being offered to help get people into town.

Atlantic City has hosted the A-10 for three consecutive years. Tourism officials said they’re working hard to keep it here.

“There are four other cities vying for this, by virtue of the fact that it was successful here, other cities want to do it. And, we’ll find out in the next couple weeks whether we’ll have it again for another three years,” Vasser said.

Atlantic City certainly would welcome them back.

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