A leak in a huge pipe at a utility plant knocked out air conditioning Thursday to two Atlantic City casinos, a shopping mall and a concert hall, and it may be Monday before emergency repairs can lower the temperatures to tolerable levels.
The loss of air conditioning at Caesars and Trump Plaza could not have come at a worse time for the nation’s second-largest gambling market -- exactly in the middle of the summer season, when casinos take in the most revenue from gamblers and overnight guests.
Atlantic City is in the fourth straight year of a revenue decline that began when the first slots parlors opened in neighboring Pennsylvania and began stealing some of the resort’s most reliable customers.
During the summer weekends, every gambler’s dollar counts as the city’s 11 casinos struggle with competitors in neighboring states, as well as the sluggish economy.
“It’ll be a tough weekend,” said Mark Juliano, CEO of Trump Entertainment resorts. “It’s a difficult situation because it’s hot and uncomfortable.”
Indeed, it was. John Fencik of Bayonne walked through the famously hot glass-lined pedestrian skyway linking Trump Plaza’s parking garage to the casino.
“It’s always hot in the walkway so I started pulling and tugging at my shirt, saying, ‘It’s getting hot in here,”” he said. “I walked into the casino, and it got worse. I started thinking, ‘Do I have a fever?””
Rosemary Coscio of Cape May spent most of last night fiddling with the controls for the air conditioning in her hotel room at Trump Plaza -- and wondering why the room wasn’t getting any cooler.
And Dorothy Collins of Bayshore, N.Y., had just arrived at Caesars for a several-day stay, but walked out after 10 minutes, the heat unbearable.
“It was very uncomfortable,” she said. “We both have breathing problems, and it was just too much.”
In the Caesars lobby, staffers handed out bottles of water. On the casino floor, idle dealers fanned themselves with small cards as they waited for players to approach empty tables.
David Weiss, president of Pepco Energy Services, did not know why the pipe began to leak last Saturday and worsened early Thursday morning. He said crews will work around the clock to hook up temporary service while trying to patch the leaking pipe.
The casinos transferred guests to other casinos they own in town. A Melissa Etheridge concert scheduled for Saturday at Caesars was still on as of Thursday.
Boardwalk Hall, which was hosting a dance competition Thursday, hooked up electrical fans and let patrons bring in drinks from outside, something normally not allowed.
The utility is calling in temporary cooling trucks from around the country, the first of which will be hooked up to the affected buildings on Friday. But relief won’t be immediate.
“It will take awhile to take a building that’s 80 degrees and bring it back to comfortable temperatures,” Weiss said.