Why Atlantic City casino woes matter here
Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen recently visited “Vegas-by-the-Sea” and found nothing good to say about Atlantic City’s casino experiment. In the time-honored tradition of journalists everywhere, Cullen tapped the consummate local expert, a taxi driver, for his view on the Bay State’s gaming proposition. “You say Massachusetts is gonna have casinos?” the cabbie said. “You people are nuts.”
Atlantic City is the poster child for casino excess. In 1976, New Jersey voters decided to allow casinos in the sleepy seaside town known in the Delaware Valley for attracting generations of Philadelphians seeking relief from the sweltering summer heat.
Nearly 40 years ago, casino supporters argued that gaming would lead to a renaissance for the city (New Jersey still calls the move “a unique tool of urban redevelopment for Atlantic City”) and produce thousands of local jobs. Anyone who has ever taken a stroll off the city’s famed boardwalk knows that the renaissance never materialized.
Atlantic City is the principal victim of the glut of casinos in the Northeast. A new study by the University of Nevada Las Vegas finds that the region has had more casino openings than anywhere else in the US.
Today the city is shedding thousands of jobs.Two of its 13 casinos closed this year. Another, the multi-billion dollar Revel, the boardwalk’s most expensive property, filed for bankruptcy and may close if a buyer cannot be found by the end of August. More than 3,000 Revel employees would lose their jobs.
In a letter to the editor in the South Jersey Times, Warren Massey, the former chairman of the Atlantic City Housing Authority, had this to say:
Since casinos came to town and became the one and only game in town, we who reside here knew it was a very bad idea to allow the casinos to become all-encompassing venues. Businesses that existed for many years were run out of town…. Those at the forefront of this debacle should be exposed for their greed, incompetence and neglect. They neglected to do what’s right for Atlantic City and the thousands of employees who have lost their livelihood due to the callous nature of this insidious business.
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian is touting non-gaming revenue options including retail and expanded convention space as the next big thing. “Atlantic City is undergoing a massive economic transition,” Guardian told the Philadelphia Business Journal. “We know it is painful for those who are losing their casino jobs.”
What do the gaming happenings in Atlantic City mean for the Bay State? They are a heads up, demonstrating how competition in a neighboring state can put a major dent in what appears to be a lucrative sure thing.
Though Cullen highlights the Connecticut casinos’ role in Atlantic City’s current plight, the root of the problem was much closer to home: The advent of casinos in Philadelphia and elsewhere in Pennsylvania finally spelled doom for Atlantic City. The Keystone State is now the second biggest casino market after Nevada.
The Empire State is striking back. This week, the New York State Gaming Commission received 17 bids for the state’s four casino licenses, including four bids for a license in Rensselaer in the greater Albany area. A casino across the border in New York could potentially draw Massachusetts patrons away from Springfield and its MGM Resorts International casino- especially those Berkshire County residents who have a stronger affinity for Albany and its environs than they do for the greater Springfield region.
Springfield may not be betting the house on the Berkshires, but the winner of the Rensselaer casino license will certainly figure out ways to pull Massachusetts folks across the state line.
Atlantic City officials know that the New York casinos will further erode their market share and they are planning accordingly. In casinos, as in baseball, Massachusetts will have to consider how it counters the New York threat.
— GABRIELLE GURLEY
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