Ask any Atlantic City gambling executive how their career started, and the answers will be as varied as the choices at the casino buffet.
Some of AC’s casino shot callers started as room service attendants, table games dealers or U.S. military officers. Others have more traditional backgrounds in finance, marketing or hotel management.
Joe Giunta, the senior vice president and general manager at Tropicana Atlantic City, parlayed a passion for food and talent in the kitchen into a C-suite on the Boardwalk. After more than 20 years in Atlantic City casinos, he became Trop’s top executive last fall.
“I have had one of the most interesting careers, and it’s just been a wonderful journey,” said the new boss at Tropicana.
Tropicana has all of the ingredients Giunta needs to serve up success. It boasts nearly 2,300 hotel rooms, over 40 dining options and bars, 20-plus retail outlets, an IMAX theater, four pools, three nightclubs, two spas and a 5,000-square-foot sportsbook.
In preparation for his first summer at the helm, Giunta sat down for an exclusive interview with PlayNJ.
From Playboy to Cali and back again
As a young chef, Giunta got a taste of casino life in the early-80s at the Playboy Hotel & Casino.
“That was quite an experience,” he says with a wry smile.
Giunta spent the better part of the next two decades sharpening his skills and expanding his vocational palate at swanky hotels in warm-weather climates, including St. Thomas, Puerto Rico and San Diego. But being exposed to casino gaming in some of those locales had him longing for the East Coast again.
“I had this calling to come back home,” Giunta says.
He returned to Atlantic City in 2001 as the food director at the former Showboat Casino Hotel, a Caesars Entertainment property at the time. Giunta has been a company man ever since.
“I’ve had a good 21-year run here in Atlantic City for our organization,” he says.
Giunta’s experience makes sense for Trop AC
For nearly two years, Caesars Entertainment has been renovating and upgrading its three Atlantic City casinos — Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Tropicana. The Reno-based company is spending over $400 million in AC on everything from hotel rooms to live-entertainment venues.
Last year alone, Trop announced eight new food and beverage concepts, most of which are now open. By early summer, Il Verdi, one of the city’s highest-rated restaurants, will have a new home overlooking the Boardwalk and Atlantic Ocean.
Appointing a food and beverage specialist to head the property was a no-brainer for Caesars Entertainment. Giunta is bullish on Tropicana’s appeal.
“There’s more to do here than there is anywhere else, and I don’t know if that’s even arguable … (and) we continue to add experiences that we think are creative or additive.”
Tropicana digital enhancements coming in 2023
The casino floor at Tropicana is also getting a makeover. New carpet is being installed, as are new slot machines and table games, all of which will complement a new digital Caesars Rewards center opening later this year.
Additionally, some technology updates are coming. Ivy, Caesars Entertainment’s virtual concierge service, is hitting the AC market in 2023. Ivy has been available at Caesars’ Las Vegas casino hotels for several years.
“This technology allows us to elevate the guest experience and improve speed and efficiency, resulting in increased customer satisfaction levels and seamless experiences for our guests. Service is at the forefront of everything we do at Caesars Entertainment.” – John Koster, eastern regional president for Caesars Entertainment.
Tropicana is also beta-testing a cross-platform slot product with the Caesars Casino & Sportsbook app. Players can scan a QR code on specific slot machines at Trop and play the identical game on the mobile app. It differs from the current online casino experience, which often features different games than those on casino floors.
“That’s another piece that is going to easily help us transition our on-property players to our digital world,” Giunta said.
Trop’s future is customer-oriented, boss says
Giunta says the updated Trop was envisioned with the customer in mind.
“It really feels new and fresh and brighter and cleaner and just a much better gaming experience. And I know that was the goal, and I think we’ve delivered.”
Giunta has kept a low profile the last few months, which is fitting for someone who came up working in the back of the house. But the affable honcho can’t hide his enthusiasm when given the opportunity to talk about the future of Tropicana.
“We’re really excited about the future. And listen, that’s not just my thoughts. I mean, we really are excited about the future. There’s just so much for us to be optimistic about with what we’ve brought to the market.”
Will NYC casinos be a ‘boon’ for Atlantic City?
The long-time executive is pragmatic regarding some of the more significant issues facing Atlantic City’s nine casinos.
The inevitability of New York City casinos looms over the AC market. South Jersey never fully rebounded from Connecticut and Pennsylvania taking away its East Coast gambling monopoly. Locally, the concern is that a concentration of new casinos in NYC will negatively impact Atlantic City.
Caesars Entertainment, Trop’s parent company, is among the gaming companies jockeying for one of three possible NYC casino licenses. The company has proposed a full-scale casino resort in Manhattan’s Times Square. Other AC casino operators — Hard Rock International, Bally’s Corp. and MGM Resorts International — are also seeking a license in New York.
Giunta sees an opportunity and an added benefit for Trop and Caesars Entertainment in Atlantic City.
“We think it’s absolutely positive once we get our casino in Manhattan (wink, wink). We’ll have a pipeline to drive that business down to us and for us to drive business back to (NYC). … We believe that a Caesars Entertainment casino in New York City would be a boon for us, and we’re thrilled about that.”
Smoking ban not on tonight’s menu
One thing Giunta was not thrilled to discuss was a possible smoking ban. State lawmakers in Trenton are weighing the possibility of closing the smoking loophole for casinos in the NJ Smoke-Free Air Act. Another legislative hearing on a proposed bill is scheduled for March 9.
Proponents of a smoking ban argue that secondhand smoke endangers guests and employees. The casino industry believes that a ban will result in revenue losses.
Giunta understands both sides. Ultimately, he recognizes (as do the other AC casino executives) that no matter what happens, some people will not agree with the final outcome.
“It’s one of those challenges that we’re trying to work through. I suppose that our legislators for the state of New Jersey are going to make that decision. And when that decision is made … all nine of our Atlantic City casinos are all going to be on the same playing field. And I think we’ll all find ways to manage through that the best that we possibly can.”
Introducing a ‘dynamic’ Atlantic City
Atlantic City casinos look forward to the summer. The time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the busiest part of the calendar.
Giunta and the team at Tropicana are anxious for summer tourists and returning guests to see the changes on the property. Company-wide, Caesars Entertainment is banking on a strong summer at the Jersey Shore. All three AC casinos are unveiling something new this summer, and the anticipation is growing.
“Our properties are going to be that much more dynamic when we get everything done and reopen,” Giunta says.
As to the big question on everyone’s mind — yes, he still cooks.