Water Club leads new trend of non-gambling hotels - Tuesday 1st of July 2008

Its got tons of marble, an $18,000-a-week floral budget, five swimming pools and a spa-in-the-sky. About the only thing you wont be able to do in The Water Club is gamble.

The new boutique hotel next to the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is the first of its kind in Atlantic City, but several others are on the way. Theyre designed to cater to pampered vacationers looking for luxury who may not care about snake eyes or straight flushes.

Although it was built by the Borgata, the $400 million, 800-room Water Club is being aggressively marketed as a stand-alone luxury hotel; its top attractions are for guests only, and are not even available to Borgata customers.

It started accepting guests several weeks ago, but held its grand opening ceremony on Friday.

Plans for The Water Club started soon after the Borgata opened in 2003.

"Early on, just after we opened the Borgata, it was apparent to us that we needed more hotel rooms, and more Borgata," said Larry Mullin, the Borgatas president. "The Water Club will launch Atlantic City into the next wave of new investment as it continues to evolve as a destination resort."

That has been the citys mantra in recent years as it struggles to get away from its three-decades-old business model built around day-tripping gamblers who ride a bus here, play the slots for a few hours (expecting a free buffet), then go back home.

The idea now is to attract a young, hipper _ and, above all, richer _ crowd to Atlantic City by making it a place to come for fine dining, top-name entertainment and ultra-luxury hotels that rival those anywhere in the world.

"We wanted those customers to see Atlantic City in a new light," said Keith Smith, CEO of Boyd Gaming, which owns the Borgata with MGM Mirage. "This is not just another hotel tower. The Water Club draws its inspiration from world-class boutique hotels in New York, Los Angeles and Miami."

The prices are world-class, too. Rooms run from $299 to $499 a night during the week, and $500 to $700 a night on weekends.

The 43-story Water Club is the first in what could be a series of non-gambling luxury hotels cropping up in Atlantic City. A grand opening ceremony is expected next month for the Chelsea, a 330-room, $105 million project by developer Curtis Bashaw and business partner Craig Wood that involves gutting two old motels, the Howard Johnsons and the Holiday Inn, and melding them into one hotel with a 50s and 60s retro theme.

A similar project called "Prasada" is proposed for the Boardwalk at Kentucky Avenue. Developer Christopher DiGeorge wants to open a 200-room non-gambling hotel by 2010 or 2011.

The Water Club created 800 new jobs _ one employee for each of the hotels rooms.

Although it markets itself as a separate, non-gambling hotel, The Water Club is located directly next to the Borgata; customers can easily stroll there to gamble if they choose.

Bill Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming, said the new hotel ups the ante for Atlantic City.

"Just as Borgata offered a trade-up for the market, The Water Club offers a trade-up for the Borgata," he said.

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