Growing up just minutes from Atlantic City, I have seen or at least heard of the decline of the city in terms of financial well being and in general as a tourist attraction. Recently there has been news of casino bankruptcies, including the Revel and Atlantic Club. This trend seems to follow the economic downturn starting in 2006 and the introduction of nearby casinos and online gambling. Being a resident of Atlantic County, this news and downward spiral is an important issue which should be corrected in the near future.
From a once flourishing shore tourism destination, the city’s health has declined, most notably in the success of the casinos. Going into a bit of history for Atlantic City, the area used to draw a large tourism base long before the casinos were established. The boardwalk and beach were the city’s first great assets. Popular attractions of the early 1900’s included the diving horses and other live entertainment on the boardwalk piers. Recently the city has added some popular attractions and events including the Thunder over the Boardwalk air show since 2003 which attracts over 750,000 visitors per year. The new addition of the Tanger Outlets also brings in more people and gets them to spend time and money in the city. It seems perhaps, that in lieu of these new attractions that the problem with the city lies elsewhere.
In 1976 the city passed legislation that would allow gambling in hopes to bring in new revenues, create jobs, and improve the overall quality of the area. As the casino district expanded and grew it reflected in the number of jobs available and influx of cash. Currently “Atlantic City is considered the “Gambling Capital of the East Coast,” and currently has eleven casinos. In 2011, New Jersey’s casinos employed approximately 33,000 employees, had 28.5 million visitors, made $3.3 billion in gaming revenue, and paid $278 million in taxes.” Although these numbers seem to be great, there are some underlying themes of distress. The past eight years have seen the expansion of casinos in other states as well as the introduction of online gambling. All these factors have hurt the Atlantic City scene. With five major resort closures since 1990 and many more canceled projects, it seems that the casino industry is not on track to keep supporting the city. The recent failure of the Revel resort is the epitome of this issue. Opening in 2012, the casino has constantly had losing quarters and is not expected to be profitable until 2017. The value of the casino has dropped from $2.4 billion to $450 million.
So what can be done? While there have been various bailouts and power plays by government officials, there does not seem to be a clear solution to Atlantic City’s issues. According to members of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in a video by USA today, Atlantic City needs to break the barrier between the casinos and its greatest asset, the beach. It does appear that just shifting money around and offering hotel deals will not be enough to correct the tourism decline. Looking at the positive impact of events such as the air show and concerts at Bader Airfield, it seems that people will come to the city given the right attraction. From experience I can say that sports are not the answer as all the city’s teams, at least in my generation, have folded (AC Surf, Boardwalk Bullies, etc.).
One possibility is the redevelopment of Bader Airfield. This area is considered a redevelopment consideration by the city and could be the key to drawing people to the area. In my opinion, the city does not need any more casinos, but rather a large-scale attraction along the lines of an amusement park. While the city is planning something for the site, it can be a crucial decision for the future. The key to this development will be attracting people from local as well as distant locations and keeping them there for a while.