In Sad Atlantic City, Hope Is a Losing Bet

I remember when my parents took my little sister and me to Atlantic City in 1970. That was eight years before the city’s first casino, Resorts, opened and singer Steve Lawrence lost the first $10 to the house. Back then the hotel of choice was the oceanfront Chalfont-Hadden Hall, and we stayed in and ordered room service. The waiter complained to my dad that his tip wasn’t big enough, and outside a cold February rain made the next day a drizzly bummer.

I read in today’s NY Times about the ‘death spiral’ that one casino executive calls the city in 2009. The only tiny bright spot is that the Borgata, which opened in 2003 was only 5% down this year. The other casinos saw declines in revenue of between 13 and 24%. In Vegas, it’s bad too, but Atlantic City presents an even more depressing picture of empty weekday hotel rooms and endless rows of empty slot machines.

The state relies heavily on the gambling tax, but another sad fact is that this money, while dwindling, goes to fund many other projects in wealthier parts of the state. The city itself is a dangerous place, once when I was there I was advised, strongly, not to ever leave the boardwalk. A community theater in Morristown got gambling tax funds that many in AC believe should have been spent to tear down empty tenements.

Everyone in the story is hoping for a happy ending, but with the expansion of gambling now to metro New York, and even possibly to Palmer Massachusetts, it seems to me that this pie is getting sliced too thin. The Revel Casino, the one project still under construction in AC is short a mere billion dollars….if they can get this, they might be able to actually open it up.