ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Atlantic City's top casino is accusing a rival of poaching a half-dozen of its top marketing executives in an attempt to “cripple” it by using secret details about its best and most profitable customers.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Nevada, the Borgata casino says the Ocean Casino Resort hired six marketing executives, despite non-competition agreements that bar at least two of the highest-ranking ones from working for a competitor for a year after leaving.
At particular issue is a cellphone one of the executives is said to have taken with him from Borgata to Ocean, containing priceless information on Borgata's top customers — including their personal cellphone numbers, gambling preferences, likes and dislikes including favorite foods and beverages, how much the casino might be willing to discount large losses for them, and instances in which the casino might change the rules of some games for these players.
Ocean declined to comment, saying it does not discuss ongoing litigation.
The high-stakes battle comes as the Atlantic City market undergoes a reshuffling, upended by new competitors and the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
The Borgata continues to lead the nine-casino market. But the lawsuit paints Ocean as "indisputably Borgata’s direct and primary competitor for high-level casino customers in Atlantic City" — an assertion that might raise a few eyebrows over at the Hard Rock casino.
Ocean is the former Revel casino, which shut down in 2014 after little more than two years of operation during which it never came close to making a profit. But having reopened in 2018 under the Ocean brand, and currently owned by New York hedge fund Luxor Capital, the casino has turned things around and improved its standing in the Atlantic City market. Through the first seven months of this year, it ranked sixth among the nine casinos in terms of total revenue, although Borgata still takes in three times what Ocean does.
The lawsuit focuses heavily on two former Borgata execs now working at Ocean: William Callahan and Kelly Ashman Burke. Borgata officials say Callahan was hired by Ocean in late July but retained his Borgata-owned phone with valuable details about Borgata customers — and has refused to return it as recently as Monday.
Ocean would not make either of them available for interviews Friday.
The lawsuit claims Callahan oversaw Borgata's highest-level customers, those who spent $1.5 million to $4 million per visit. Collectively, these customers were worth at least $25 million a year to the Borgata, which would use its corporate jet to fly them to events and to and from the casino.
It also asserts Ocean has hired four other Borgata marketing executives as part of an effort to “cripple” Borgata's casino operation.
The lawsuit was filed in Nevada because the Borgata's parent company, MGM Resorts International, is based there. But it also asserts the hiring of the executives violates New Jersey state law regarding unfair competition.
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