Tuesday, December 2, 2014


When I was a kid, in sixth grade, my class held a straw poll during the 1976 election campaign, during which a public question on whether or not to allow casinos in Atlantic City was on the ballot. I voted no but the "yes" vote won in my class.  I didn't like the idea because I knew that you could lose a lot of money by gambling - I remembered that "Flintstones" episode where Fred loses all his money on a slot machine in "Rock Vegas" - and so I thought it was a bad idea.  As an adult, I still dislike gambling . . . and Atlantic City's 36-year experiment in casinos (the first one opened in 1978, during the Memorial Day weekend)  have only proven what a bad idea it truly is.
In 1976, Atlantic City was a dying resort town, with fewer people going to enjoy its public beaches and fewer still staying at its hotels; thanks top the Atlantic City Expressway and the Garden State Parkway, the Jersey Shore could be a day trip, and those who preferred to stay at the shore longer for a vacation preferred Ocean City, the squeaky-clean town on the next barrier island down, or Cape May, with its Victorian charm.  Atlantic City was just a bunch of old hotels and a dilapidated boardwalk.  By approving casinos, New Jersey residents hoped the move would spur the city's economy, and supporters of the legalization sold the idea as tuning the seaside resort into an American Monte Carlo, a contradiction in terms when you consider that Monte Carlo is the playground of the old-money gentry and royal blue-bloods of Europe.   It became apparent as soon as the first casino in Atlantic City opened that it was going to be no more than a retreat for middlebrow schmucks from the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan eras.  Here in America, Monte Carlo is a Chevy.  
But here's the thing.  The casinos enriched a lot of developers and real-estate tycoons like Donald Trump, and it may have poured some dough into the state's coffers, but it didn't help the local economy.  The city continued to decline while the casino moguls made out like their one-armed bandits.
Until they didn't.  Thanks to competition from other states and from online gambling, casinos have been closing in Atlantic City left and right over the past couple of years, and even Trump - down to owning the Trump Taj Mahal - doesn't see much of a future there.  Las Vegas managed to re-invent itself as a leisure destination for all sorts of activities in addition to gambling, and its location - in the desert, far from the next major city - means that it doesn't have to worry about competition so much.  Altantic City is just outside the Boston-Washington corridor, and there's increasingly little if anything you can do there that you can't do anywhere else.  Thanks to its proximity to the great cities of the Northeast, what happens in Atlantic City can't stay there.  There's no exclusivity to the place whatsoever.
Call me crazy, but the only way I see Atlantic City surviving is to just concentrate on being a great destination for people who want to enjoy the shore - beaches, fishing, golf - in other words, be the splendid resort town it used to be, only without the yoke of Prohibition.  "Boardwalk Empire" without the Empire part.  That would be preferable to what it is now . . . and it isn't much. 
And my attitude toward gambling only shows that, everything I ever needed to know, I did learn from Fred Flintstone. ;-)  

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