The weekend after Christmas, Linda and I took the kids on an overnight down to the Revel Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. Very nice rooms, very nice views, very nice restaurant and and very bankrupt at the moment. Just seems to be the way things are going in AC these daze. Despite it’s breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, most of Atlantic City seems to be lost in some sort of post-depression time warp…but it wasn’t supposed to be this way anymore.
On May 26, 1978, Resorts International opened in Atlantic City bringing legalized gambling to New Jersey and the hope of renewal to a once bustling beach community that had fallen on hard times. Today there are 11 casino hotels in AC, 5 of which some form of bankruptcy. The Atlantic Club Casino Hotel (formerly the AC Hilton) closed up shop last week. Instead of becoming Las Vegas meets South Beach, AC has become a cruel version of broken down slum where the magic fairy dust inside the casinos never reaches the ground or catches the breeze of the ocean nearby.
Some of the hotel casinos are nice places to visit, especially the newer ones such as the Borgata and Revel. Unfortunately for AC, the world outside the casino doors remains the same. Boarded up buildings, empty lots, honky tonk stores line the boardwalk, homelessness and poverty. In Vegas you can walk The Strip at all hours of the day and night. In AC, there is no strip to walk on…only dimly lit, deserted streets where you can’t help but feel that this might not be the safest place to take a walk.
The irony is that much of this can be blamed on the game that made Atlantic City famous…monopoly. Not the game itself but the fact that for many years, AC had a monopoly on east coast gambling. Other than going to Las Vegas, there was nowhere else in the US that offered legalized casino gambling. If you build it, they will come and come they did. Into the shiny, bright and lavish casino hotels came the gamblers, the partyers and those looking for a bit of excitement. They walked through the doors one day and out another never seeing the real AC. And what did the powers that be do to AC to make it more attractive on the outside? They did nothing because they had a monopoly and when you have monopoly, you do nothing except count your winnings.
But the monopoly didn’t last forever. First came the Indian casinos, some closer to NYC than AC was. Those were followed by legalized gambling in other states, including our next door neighbor Pennsylvania, which actually has more casinos than New Jersey. Now other states want a piece of the pie and the monopoly, and the opportunity it offered to truly re-invent AC, is gone, quite probably forever.
It’s really too bad. AC could have been Las Vegas by the ocean, our version of Monte Carlo. A world class beachside resort where the beautiful come to play and lose their money. When you are in AC these days, you run the risk of losing your money outside the casino almost as much as inside, only it’s not by playing a game of chance.