The Ultimate Guide to Gambling in Atlantic City
Atlantic City is an American gambling hotspot like none other. Sure, the city is going through some tough times. Four casinos have shut their doors permanently in the last three years alone. But put that bad news out of your mind – AC is still very much alive. Where else in America can you gamble at eight world-class casinos just feet from the grandeur of the Atlantic Ocean?
Atlantic City was home to the first legal casinos east of the Mississippi River. In its heyday, Atlantic City was legitimate competition for Las Vegas. The numbers have fallen off, and a few properties have closed, but with twenty thousand slot machines spread out across an area that’s only five percent of the size of New York City, gambling is still a major industry on Absecon Island.
Most of the attention paid to Atlantic City’s casinos is on the boardwalk. And for good reason. Atlantic City’s boardwalk was the first in the country. Built in 1870, this five and a half mile stretch of walkway fronts the Atlantic Ocean and runs past all of the city’s glitz and glamor. But don’t overlook the three casinos located on the Western side of the island, clustered around Farley Marina.
Below is a guide to all eight Atlantic City casinos, what sort of games they offer, notes on the amenities and lodgings, and helpful hints for getting around the various gambling halls on the island.
Atlantic City Casinos
1. The Borgata
Address: 1 Borgata Way at Huron Ave.
Known for: Having the biggest poker room (and the only racebook) in New Jersey.
Set back a bit from Farley Marina, The Borgata is neighbors with Golden Nugget and Harrah’s. The Borgata’s 2,800+ rooms makes it the largest hotel in the state. This property opened in 2003, and is by far the most profitable casino in the city. The Borgata has a modern Tuscan theme, and its giant façade of reflective golden glass (while not exactly on-theme) is one of the first things you see when you drive in on the Atlantic City Expressway. An attached boutique hotel, The Water Club, is a 43-story building featuring 800 guestrooms and suites, a massive spa, plenty of convention and meeting space, five pools, and a retail shopping center. All rooms at The Water Club feature ocean views.
The gambling floor at The Borgata is 161,000 square feet. You can find 2,475 slot machines and video poker tables, as well as a large compliment of 180-plus gaming tables. But the big attraction at Borgata is poker. The casino’s 85-table poker room isn’t just the biggest in Atlantic City, it’s one of the biggest in any American casino. The poker room hosts daily, weekly, monthly, and annual tournaments, with buy-ins ranging starting at just $40. The World Poker Tour hosts events at The Borgata, a testament to the room’s popularity and influence. The venue’s racebook has 100 seats with flat-screen monitors, ten betting windows, and a live video wall broadcasting races from all over the world.
Five fine dining restaurants are available on-site:
- Bobby Flay Steak, an upscale steakhouse featuring recipes by the celeb chef.
- Wolfgang Puck American Grille, the hotels’ other celeb-chef venue.
- Fornelletto, an upscale Italian restaurant known for its extravagant desserts.
- Izakaya, fashioned after traditional Japanese sushi bars.
- Old Homestead, the AC branch of a popular NYC steakhouse.
Other amenities include six casual restaurants and a food court on the retail floor, retail and boutique shopping, the Borgata Festival Park (for outdoor concerts and shows), two bars, one ultra-VIP lounge, rooftop dancing and beverage service, and a full-service spa inside The Water Club.
Tip: The Borgata doesn’t “accept” buses. That means you can’t pull up on a Greyhound or other bus and get off at the door. It’s annoying, but this is part of their image. They want to be seen as a Vegas-style residential hotel and casino. The appearance of tourist buses doesn’t jibe with their image of themselves as AC’s “luxury casino.” If you’re going to take the bus into town, as so many people do, you’ll need to call a cab to make it the mile or two from the bus station to the front door. You could also take the Jitney (a local institution, like a small air-conditioned bus) for $2.25, but the trip will take longer. Uber is now operating in AC, so if you don’t want to call a cab, just call for a (potentially-cheaper) Uber ride.
2. Golden Nugget Atlantic City
Address: Huron Ave. at Brigantine Blvd.
Known for: Displaying the world’s largest golden nugget.
Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget is built right at the edge of Farley Marina. It neighbors The Borgata and The Water Club. The Golden Nugget is the home of Farley Marina – this also makes it the only US casino with an attached functional marina. This property was originally called Trump’s Castle, before being renamed to Trump Marina just a few years later. The Trump organization sold the casino in 2011. The 728 guest rooms at Golden Nugget AC make it the smallest of Golden Nugget’s casinos, and among the smallest in Atlantic City. One of Golden Nugget’s premier amenities is its massive recreation deck, which includes a jogging track, a health spa, heated pools and spas, and tennis and basketball courts. The venue’s theme is The Gold Rush.
The Golden Nugget’s gaming floor is 70,000 square feet in size, making it one of the smaller casino floors in the city. But what the venue lacks in size it more than makes up for in its variety of available table games. Golden Nugget has more tables per square foot than any casino in Atlantic City, hosting multiple version of blackjack, craps, roulette, and casino-style poker in the center of the gaming area. As for that world’s largest golden nugget – the 62-pound Hand of Faith is on permanent loan to the Golden Nugget from the casino’s Vegas location, and can be seen just as you walk in the casino from the hotel’s lobby.
The Golden Nugget is currently home to eight restaurants:
- Chart House, a traditional seafood joint
- The Buffet, a Vegas-style buffet that serves brunch on weekends.
- The Deck Bayfront Bar & Restaurant, serving modern American food.
- The Poolside Café, with snacks and drinks by the pool year-round.
- Vic & Anthony’s, the AC branch of a popular steakhouse.
- Michael Patrick’s Brasserie, presenting French food as cooked by the celeb chef.
- Grotto Italian Ristorante, a NJ-style Italian restaurant.
- Lillie’s Asian Cuisine, offering pan-Asian food at a reasonable price.
Other amenities include a recently-remodeled indoor-outdoor pool complex, one of the only smoking sections still available in the city, 24/7 bus access for guests, and the 600+ slip Farley Marina, which is managed jointly by the owner of the Golden Nugget and the New Jersey Division of Parks & Forestry.
Tip: If you’re into blackjack, check out the state’s only $5 game that’s available on weekdays. It’s at the Golden Nugget. The table moves around, no doubt to keep people from mobbing it, but it is always available.
3. Harrah’s Atlantic City
Address: 777 Harrah’s Blvd at Renaissance Point Blvd.
Website: See link on next casino.
Known for: Hosting the most slots in the city.
Harrah’s is the furthest-west casino in Atlantic City, built just west of the Farley marina. It neighbors the Golden Nugget and Borgata. This is Harrah’s flagship casino, housed in one of the tallest buildings in the state of New Jersey. Harrah’s was a big deal when it was built in 1980, for its gargantuan façade (facing Atlantic City Expressway) and its choice of location. Eschewing the boardwalk in favor of Farley Marina, Harrah’s AC set a standard that casino construction companies are still following today. Harrah’s is also one of the largest hotels in the state, and held the title of largest for many years before Borgata was completed. The main amenities are The Waterfront Shoppes retail complex and The Concert Venue, one of the more glamorous such performance spaces in a town with plenty of them.
Harrah’s Atlantic City is the best match for slot lovers in the entire city, by virtue of the massive number of slot and video poker games they host. The gigantic 175,000 square foot casino is stuffed with more than 3,600 machines. If slots aren’t your thing, the 140 table games available rival only Caesars in terms of sheer numbers. Most of those tables are dedicated to casino-style poker, though plenty of blackjack and craps tables are available around the clock as well. The 40-table poker room, open 24 hours a day, may not be the biggest in the city, but it’s one of the best-known – it hosts both World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker satellite tournaments.
Besides a shorefront food court and a few casual restaurants, Harrah’s AC is home to four fine dining venues:
- Dos Caminos, a unique upscale Tex-Mex dining experience.
- Luke Palladino, a celeb chef American-style grill and bar.
- Martorano’s, serving family-style Italian food in a modern environment.
- McCormick & Schmick’s, the AC branch of a famous chain of fancy seafood restaurants.
Amenities include the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, with twenty-three treatment rooms, a massive Jacuzzi and sauna area, and an organic café.
Tip: Harrah’s Atlantic City is positioning itself to become the most profitable casino in town, and to do that, they’re trying to win over other casino’s players. When you set up your next visit, mention that you usually visit one of their competitors, and they’ll be more amenable to room upgrades and other perks. The best way to get a free room at Harrah’s is to have VIP standing at another property in town.
4. Caesars Atlantic City
Address: 2100 Pacific Ave at N Arkansas Ave.
Known for: Offering high-limit gaming.
The first Boardwalk casino on this list, Caesars AC is located adjacent to Playground Pier. The hotel’s tower, and the skybridge connecting it to the Pier complex, is an iconic image for the city, one that visitors always remember. The theme is Ancient Rome, and it’s well-executed, visible from most parts of the city, especially as you walk or drive near the Boardwalk. Though the attached hotel has far fewer rooms than some of AC’s resorts, it is still one of the biggest in the city in area, and in terms of the attached casino. Thanks to the construction of a new parking garage, a new hotel tower, and a new shopping center, it’s also one of the best-looking spots in the city, known for having a clean and modern façade and lobby.
Caesars is known as the home of VIP gaming in the city, and that philosophy trickles down onto the general casino floor. Sure, you can find all sorts of behind-the-curtain games in VIP sections upstairs, but we were surprised to see some pretty high limits available right on the casino floor. The casino is famous for its table on the gaming floor that offers blackjack bets of up to $50,000. But that’s mostly flash without substance, since the name of the game on the casino floor is clearly slots. With nearly 3,000 slot machines, Caesars has one of the largest collections east of the Mississippi. Also home to several World Series of Poker circuit tournaments, Caesars seems to have it all when it comes to gaming. The 145,000-square-foot casino is home to 145 table games, 40 poker tables, and thousands of gaming machines.
Fine dining is an Atlantic City tradition, and Caesars doesn’t disappoint, offering:
- Nero’s Italian Steakhouse, an upscale Italian eatery specializing in meat. Hosts Sunday brunch.
- Palace Court Buffet, a food court-like collection of local restaurants and chains.
- Café Roma, a traditional family-style Italian restaurant.
- KWI Restaurant and Noodle Bar, with a pan-Asian menu and weekend buffets.
- Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, the newest restaurant at Caesars.
Amenities include shopping at the Playground Pier, the Qua Baths & Spa in the hotel’s Ocean Tower, a salon, a big outdoor pool complex, a free pass to Bally’s indoor pool during the winter, and two nightclubs. The Circus Maximus Theater presents amazing acrobatic shows year-round.
Tip: The best view of the Boardwalk, the beach, and the people can be had at Caesar’s, outdoors at Nero’s Italian Steakhouse. Grab an obscure Italian beer, some appetizers, and watch the crowd gathering to enjoy the seaside.
5. Bally’s Atlantic City
Address: 1900 Boardwalk Ave.
Known for: Its excellent central location.
Located between Caesars and the Central Pier, Bally’s was originally built at Park Place and The Boardwalk, a prestige address related directly to the most expensive piece of property in the Monopoly board game. Bally’s was one of the first casinos built on the boardwalk, and is still the largest hotel in the area, with 2,000+ rooms. The theme is simply modern gaming, with lots of old-school glitz and glamour and plenty of Atlantic City’s unique charm. The main amenity besides the casino is the newly-christened Legends in Concert Theater, the largest in the area, and home to the biggest headlining tours. Bally’s is centrally-located – if you plan on visiting all five of the boardwalk properties, staying at Bally’s is a sensible choice, since you’re a short Jitney or cab ride from more than half of Atlantic City’s casinos.
Bally’s two on-site casinos total 225,000 square feet of gaming space, making it the largest in the area, if you consider both floors as one venue. Between the two of them, these casinos host some 5,000 slot and video poker games, hundreds of gaming tables for classics like blackjack and craps, and specialty games like video dealer electronic roulette. Poker isn’t a big deal at Bally’s, and in fact, the emphasis seems to have shifted entirely to dealer-run casino-style poker games. Bally’s is home to Baccarat Palace, the only baccarat-exclusive gaming parlor in the city, and a favorite of visitors from Europe and Asia.
Bally’s has a number of famous restaurants and local favorites, including:
- Guy’s Bar-B-Que Joint, the newest addition, and offering family-style barbeque.
- Arturo’s, an exclusive steakhouse in the VIP section.
- Buca di Beppo, a popular chain Italian seafood eatery.
- Guy Fieri’s Chophouse, a casual take on the American steakhouse.
- Harry’s Oyster Bar and Grill, a local institution.
- Johnny Rockets, for all your modern American food desires.
- Noodle Village, serving pan-Asian food on-the-go.
- The Diamond Club, a VIP-only lounge and bar on the casino’s top floor.
Amenities include the Spa at Bally’s, an indoor heated swimming pool, six hot tubs, two saunas, plus basketball and racquetball courts, a gym, a salon, and a big recreational deck, outdoors, with views of the ocean.
Tip: Guests pay a fee of $5 for use of the pool facilities. On the weekends, it’ll set you back $10. This fee is waived for VIP members.
6. Resorts Casino Hotel
Address: 1133 Boardwalk at Danny Thomas Blvd
Known for: Being the first casino in Atlantic City.
Located right in front of Steel Pier, Resorts Casino Hotel is the oldest casino in the city that’s still operating. When it was built in 1978, it was the country’s first legal casino to ever be built outside of Nevada. Resort Casino Hotel has a Roaring 20s theme, unique among Atlantic City casinos in attempting to capitalize on the city’s fascinating Prohibition past, as seen in Boardwalk Empire. The casino’s most notable design feature is its two towers, with their industrial late-1970s look, taking up a big chunk of the skyline near Steel Pier. Not the prettiest buildings on the Boardwalk, but certainly some of the most historic. Resorts recent renovation expanded the hotel to just under 1,000 rooms.
Resorts’ 100,000 square foot gaming floor was once one of the biggest in America. These days, it’s quaint more than anything else, though it should be pointed out that Boardwalk casinos tend to have smaller more cramped casino floors. Home to more than 1,800 slots, Resorts is the place in town for high-limit machine gaming, with machines accepting wagers up to $1,000 right on the general casino floor. The 75 table games on the floor aren’t going to win the casino any awards, but they do an adequate job of representing the classic AC casino games. Poker has always been a part of the gaming at Resorts, though the room and its 35-tables is on the small side, even for AC.
- Dining at Resorts ranges from the elegant to the informal:
- Margaritaville, the furthest-north iteration of this beach-obsessed chain restaurant.
- LandShark Bar and Grill, AC’s only year-round beach bar.
- 5 O’clock Somewhere Casino Bar, open around the clock, serving sandwiches and light food.
- Margaritaville Coffee Shop, open 24 hours a day.
- Luigi’s, the hotel’s lone fine-dining experience, an elegant Italian restaurant.
Amenities include two showrooms, one large venue for headlining concerts and a smaller black box space for comedians, local bands, and other performers.
Tip: The food court near the Boardwalk is the newest and best in the city. It’s also one of the easiest to access, since you don’t have to go anywhere near the casino or hotel lobby to get in. There’s a Starbucks vending machine right next to the Boardwalk at the feet of this casino, on the beach-side. It’s the only Starbucks vending machine in Atlantic City.
7. Tropicana Casino & Resort Atlantic City
Address: 2831 Boardwalk at S. Brighton Ave.
Known for: Offering the best payouts in AC.
At the far south end of the Boardwalk, the Cuban-themed Tropicana Casino & Resort offers a little piece of 1950’s casino nostalgia for visitors to Absecon Island. Its domed hotel tower is visible from miles away, and is an iconic part of the city skyline. The attached hotel has nearly as many rooms as The Borgata, making it the second-largest in the entire state of New Jersey. The Tropicana has a special place in Atlantic City’s history – the hotel formerly built on the site was a summer home for many notorious gangsters, the meeting place for territorial disputes during Prohibition, and a number of other intensely-interesting (and totally illegal) activities. Though the Tropicana is a bit past the beating heart of Atlantic City, it offers a taste of what the city was like during its heyday, and is worth a visit if you’re in the area.
The casino at the Tropicana is famous as the regular favorite of Atlantic City gamblers. Several magazines, including Casino Player, has named it the luckiest casino in Atlantic City for many years in a row. It isn’t the largest casino by any means, with 123,000 square feet of gaming floor, 130 tables (one of the smallest collections in AC), and 2,600 or so slot and video poker machines. One nice feature at the Tropicana – all the machines are organized by price point, a feature that other Atlantic City gambling halls would do well to emulate. The casino itself is three stories tall, with general gaming on the first two floors, and a large VIP area on the top floor. The Tropicana’s daily poker tournaments are “where the locals play,” by which I guess they mean the locals who aren’t professionals playing at The Borgata on the bay side of the island.
Your dining options at the Tropicana include:
- FIN – A Seafood Experience, serving one of the city’s priciest dinners.
- Golden Dynasty, an ultra-upscale Chinese restaurant.
- Il Verdi, a family-style Italian restaurant requiring a coat and tie.
- The Palm, a grill and bar serving modern American cuisine.
Tip: The Tropicana is massive. We’ve only listed a few of the property’s restaurants and bars. To list every eatery on-site would require a few thousand words. You could spend several days just adventuring around the resort itself. Schedule one day just to explore the grounds.
The state of New Jersey has moved to take partial control of Atlantic City, thanks to the ongoing economic crisis. It’s not clear, yet, what impact this is going to have on gambling in the city. At best, it’s a last-ditch effort that will reverse the city’s fortunes, potentially even leading to a legitimate turnaround. At worst, it’s a huge expense on an area that’s bound to fail, regardless. Its high drama, and a gamble quite worthy of its Vegas-style surroundings.
For now, the loss of four competitor casinos has improved things for gamblers. Casinos are working hard for tourist dollars. Early data indicates that a trimming-down of available casinos has improved profits for everyone. Atlantic City may be on the verge of a bounce-back.
Whether or not that’s true, it’s time to consider a gambling trip to New Jersey. The restaurants are out of this world, which most people don’t realize, and the customer service you’ll get is equal to anything you’d find in Vegas. Let’s not forget that world-class gambling is available pretty much on every corner.
There’s a splash of good news coming out of Atlantic City – two of the city’s recently-shuttered casinos are returning to life. Revel is having a second go of the casino business, while Showboat is re-opening as a non-gaming resort hotel. This is great news, especially coming on the heels of the city’s tiny blip of economic recovery. It’s a cliché, but we can back it up – there’s never been a better time to discover what Atlantic City casinos have to offer. Whether or not Atlantic City’s casinos are around for another thirty-five years is still a major unknown. Visit while you still can – before developers turn it into another Disney World.