AC in Decline

atlantic_cityThere has been plenty written about Atlantic City’s woes lately. My personal point of view is that I don’t like the gambling industry, and I don’t “Do AC”. In general I think gambling preys upon the weaknesses of people and sells the unrealistic promise of a life changing experience, when it far more often robs its participants of their money and causes pain and desperation. Be that as it may, I am not a puritan and do not view gambling as evil; nonetheless, I never wanted casino gambling in NJ–nor did the citizens of NJ when it was originally proposed. I resented that casino gambling was railroaded into law in NJ in the 70s when it was not wanted. Historians will note that in 1974, New Jersey voters voted against legalizing casino gambling statewide. However, the industry and state circumvented the wishes of its citizens by calling a do-over and recasting the referendum in 1976 approving legalized casinos, but restricting them to Atlantic City based on the promise of the good it was going to do for the state and the Atlantic City area. Resorts International opened in 1978, others followed, and the rest is history. However, I am not happy about the current decline of the gaming industry in AC, because it hurts people and the state, but I am not sad about it either. NJ is “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo” (see Damn Yankees) in its zeal to use the casino industry to addresses its fiscal woes.

That the industry is in decline in AC is an understatement and well reported. Hardly a day goes by without another article about the decline of Atlantic City’s casinos. We began the year with 12 AC Casinos and might end the year with 8, and that still may be too many. Revenues have plummeted in NJ from more than $5 Billion annually a few years ago to less than $3 Billion annually and declining further. The reasons are obvious—competition from nearby casinos in PA, NY & CT, and the reality that AC was never the “special destination” it thought it was. Atlantic City has been a collection of opulent palaces designed to keep their customers inside in their “special world” lest they see the downtrodden town of AC, which remains downtrodden, to be kind. Worse yet, while AC is a shore destination, a major advantage, it has lost a golden opportunity to truly become a vacation destination. AC was the 2nd gambling mecca after Las Vegas but did not take advantage of their head start. It’s like having your lead off hitter hit a triple, but the team still is unable to score. So now AC now is scrambling to “reinvent” itself as a family destination as Vegas has done successfully over time. Reinventions don’t happen quickly, if at all. It took Asbury Park 40 years for a comeback.

The question is: should we really care about the decline of gambling in AC?

doacOf course we should care about the thousands of workers who will lose their casino related jobs. For them the demise is horrific, even if it is hardly a surprise. But from a macro perspective I don’t give a hoot about the demise of what I feel is an industry which did little to help revive AC and now is merely financial heroin for the area and the state. The DO AC marketing campaign is too little too late. Good ads don’t salvage a declining product. Yet we still want to revive the gaming industry in New Jersey through online gambling (which has been a dud) and probably the expansion of gambling to Northern NJ locations and sports wagering. These are all new forms of a bad idea, which will merely drive AC into a deeper spiral.

As every resident knows, we have deep problems in New Jersey (more in a future Struming). Glad to see our Governor making 5 trips to Iowa to “solve” them. Mmmm…wonder why that is? He should be smart enough to see that “saving” casino gambling and expanding it are not solutions to far deeper problems. They are just financial band-aids and are lousy ones at that.

Epilogue: Atlantic City was recently named the #4 unfriendliest city in the U.S. by The 2014 Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Survey. And it appears the Taj Majal is next on the closing casinos list.

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