When I was growing up, to me, Atlantic City was “downtown”. For a lot of South Jersey folks, Philadelphia is the “big city” where you go for a good time. But for me, I called “America’s Favorite Playground” the big city. And why not? It had bright lights, tall buildings, a bustling downtown, and everyone wanted to go there. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to be able to play my first game of Blackjack or pull the slot machine handles and hopefully win millions. (In case you’re wondering, it never happened. And by the time I was 21, I had already moved to Canada.)
Then something happened.
While I would love to say it was a direct relation to me moving away, I don’t think it really was. Some time in the mid 90’s Atlantic City started to decline. Tacky t-shirt shops and palm readers started to dominate the once famous Boardwalk, outnumbering the stores and restaurants. Casinos started to lose money and the State didn’t seem to care.
Then Las Vegas was reborn as the tourist destination, other states legalized gambling in the U.S. and AC continued to fall.
Sure, there was the promise of big name casinos that would come to town. But so far, only two have come and many more have pulled out. And yes, the recent rescission sure didn’t help. But how come Vegas continues to grow and Atlantic City, month after month, continues to struggle along on life support?
The answer is of course that Vegas is Vegas. Atlantic City had that chance too, but failed to grab the brass ring. It has what Vegas doesn’t have: a shore line. In the 90’s, the city should have done a massive overhaul, tearing down anything that wasn’t geared to help grow the economy and made cuts, tax breaks and incentives that would lure the casino owners to the coast instead of the desert.
Atlantic City has a great history, but that is almost all forgotten now. And in the 80’s thanks to Trump and Tyson, the resort town enjoyed a small sporting boom and even hosted WrestleMania twice. (Laugh if you want to, but that event now brings in 50 million bucks to the host city each year) but hardly any big names come to town any more.
There was also the loss of the Miss America pageant and other setbacks including crime and the lack of decent jobs that has kept investors from heading east. Sadly, no sales tax on clothes and shoes isn’t enough to bring them back.
Small advances have been made over the years. The addition of The Walk and The Pier at Caesars have helped stir the local and tourist shopping interest, but it isn’t enough. The question still comes up “why would I go to Atlantic City when I can go to Vegas?”
Sad but true.
And every time I read an article from the Press of Atlantic City talking about the decline in business or loss of revenue the casinos are reporting, it breaks my heart because in the back of my mind, I can’t help but wonder “will this be the final blow?”
Good Jersey folks like author Jen A. Miller try to remind everyone that southern New Jersey and Atlantic City are great vacation destinations. They try hard to fight the negative Jersey stereotype brought on by the crap that is Jersey Shore and other heavily scripted ‘reality’ shows.
I doubt the remaining casinos will all pack up and leave together, but will there be an Atlantic City in 50 years from now? It may not seem like a huge deal to everyone, but to me and many other Jersey people, it’s a scary thought.