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Tourism leaders: 'Do AC' campaign is catching on

WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press
Wednesday, 17 Oct 2012 | 8:49 AM ET

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- More people who view AC are willing to "Do AC."

The Atlantic City Alliance, the new marketing arm of the casinos, says its multimillion-dollar advertising campaign shows people in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Baltimore, Md., are improving their perceptions of Atlantic City. A survey found that 39 percent of people who saw the campaign say they are motivated to visit there.

The group is using $30 million a year that the casinos used to have to pony up to the state's four horse racing tracks in return for keeping slot machines out of the tracks. That money is now being used to promote Atlantic City more aggressively than ever before.

Don Marrandino, chairman of the alliance and president of four Atlantic City casinos, says the "Do Anything, Do Everything, Do AC" campaign has focused intently on non-gambling activities, letting people know about fine dining, top entertainment, spas and shopping in the resort.

"It promotes an image of fun, excitement, great hotels and great entertainment," he said. "Instead of Atlantic City being shown just as a gambling destination, we're showcasing the resort as a whole. It's getting the word out that this is not a one-horse town."

The campaign, and the alliance itself, are key pieces of Gov. Chris Christie's turnaround strategy for Atlantic City, which recently lost its ranking as the nation's second-largest gambling market to Pennsylvania. The governor put a revamped state agency in charge of planning, economic development and tourism in Atlantic City, and it is assisting the city with safety and cleanliness initiatives.

Christie says he's willing to give Atlantic City five years to see if his reforms will work before reconsidering whether to amend New Jersey's Constitution to permit casino gambling in other parts of the state. Northern New Jersey politicians and the horse racing industry have long wanted a casino at the Meadowlands sports complex.

Liza Cartmell, president of the alliance, said 79 percent of people who saw the ad campaign said they felt better about Atlantic City afterward. She said respondents were more likely to see the resort as "sophisticated, glamorous and less rundown."

The campaign emphasizes shopping, entertainment, dining and golf.

"Atlantic City is more than just a place to gamble," she said. "It's clearly a very important part of it, but it's not the only thing in the city you can do."

Cartmell said 85 percent of the people who saw the ad campaign reported they were motivated to take some action regarding Atlantic City, with 39 percent saying they were motivated to visit and 33 percent motivated to learn more about Atlantic City.

The alliance surveyed 1,200 people for their opinions of "Do AC" online. Its target demographic was "fun-seekers," defined as adults ages 21 to 65 who like to make short trips and enjoy some combination of shopping, fine dining, spas, the beach or gambling.

A $400,000 holiday-themed ad campaign designed to promote shopping in Atlantic City is on the way soon. It will include, among other things, Atlantic City shopping messages on 4,000 New York City taxicabs.

The alliance is considering several more tourism-related activities in coming months, including hosting a national championship for sandcastle sculpting and possibly an art contest involving Boardwalk chalk drawings.

Cartmell also said the alliance wants to host more large-scale free events like the recent high-wire walk by daredevil Nik Wallenda. That event, which was covered live on some TV stations, resulted in an estimated 250 million positive impressions of Atlantic City among people who either witnessed it in person, saw it on TV, heard about it on radio or read about it, she said.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC