A Shot of Swank for Atlantic City

A new casino, the Borgata, hopes to bring in the high rollers

The Borgata Casino Hotel & Spa, a $1.1 billion joint venture between MGM Mirage and Boyd Gaming (BYD ) brings beautiful design, fine dining, and high-end shopping to Atlantic City. But will it attract a more upscale clientele -- "Atlantic City rejecters" is the term Borgata executives use -- rather than the day-tripping slot players who make up a large part of the seaside town's visitors?

For starters, the Borgata's decor is striking. The entry is a multistory wall of frosted glass. Red and purple lights illuminate the front desk. Dale Chihuly's garish glass chandeliers hang from the ceiling.

This is a softer and quieter place to gamble. The casino feels spacious and airy, with wide aisles and a marble path that lets you navigate the floor with ease. A glass-walled "Living Room" separates the hotel elevators from the casino floor, providing a place to relax but still take in the action nearby. The spa has a separate hair salon for men, modeled after an old barber shop and featuring a pool table. When it's time to leave, you pick up your car from an underground valet apart from the main entrance, so you don't get stuck with the incoming traffic.

When you get hungry, be prepared to pay up. The $16.95 buffet lunch, served in the Borgata Buffet, is laid out on stainless steel platters, not the usual warming trays, and is a step up in presentation and quality. On the Monday afternoon we were there, just four of the Borgata's 11 restaurants were open for lunch, and that was not enough. There was even a line to get into the tequila bar. That meant we didn't get to sample the higher-end entries, like Suilan, an Asian fusion restaurant from Susanna Foo, a well-known Philadelphia chief, or the Old Homestead, an offshoot of the Manhattan steakhouse whose menu includes a $41 Kobe beef burger.

The Borgata has been following its Atlantic City rivals in booking top-shelf entertainment in two auditoriums that seat 1,000 and 2,400, respectively. Comedian Bill Cosby and singer Jewel were two recent performers. But the Borgata's retail shops were a disappointment both in number and merchandise. Who needs another store selling DKNY tee-shirts and Tommy Bahama khaki shorts?

The guest rooms, which start at $179 a night (for weeknights), feature fine, 300-thread-count bed linens, high speed Internet access, showers for two, and floor-to-ceiling windows for bayside water views. True, the Marina District location, a 15-minute jitney ride from the city's famous boardwalk, leaves you feeling a bit isolated. But Atlantic City's casino revenues jumped 11% in August, the Borgata's first full month of operation. So it looks as if the new joint in town is bringing new faces -- with some big spenders among them.

By Christopher Palmeri

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