In the first half of the 20th C., Atlantic City was one of the premiere vacation spots in the country. With its grandiose hotels such as the Queen Anne style Marlborough House, Ritz Carlton, Mayflower and Traymore Hotel, these establishments were considered some of the finest in the country. Being centrally located between New York City and Philadelphia, Atlantic City was a few hour train-ride away from the stifling summer heat of these cities and offered a beautiful beach with exceptional accommodations. With its 7-mile boardwalk and easy access, Atlantic City was a family affair and a wonderful place to visit. It was such a wonderful beach resort, that the Miss America Pageant started there in 1921 and continues to this day.
For those who have visited AC in the recent past, it is hard to imagine that this holiday destination was filled with family and friends, women dressed to the nines in beautiful outfits and men with coats and ties. Many of us have seen the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire”, and although there is much artistic license in portraying Atlantic City in its early period, the scenes of lavish hotels, well-groomed locals and visitors is spot on.
What transformed Atlantic City into the derelict city of the 60s and 70s?
The big change occurred with the automobile and its post-war popularity as well as the jet age, which offered travelers unlimited options, specifically Miami and the Bahamas. The novelty of taking a train to Atlantic City from Philadelphia or New York was instead relegated to the back seat and flying somewhere exotic or packing your car and journeying on endless roads with the family was the new adventure. In short, Atlantic City declined in just a few decades and became a once glorious destination that turned into just another urban area of poverty and blight. After years of decline and decay, the powers that be decided in 1976 that the panacea for all of this would be to develop Atlantic City into a gambling destination.
What was the solution to overcome this quick decline?
You must remember that in the mid-1970s there were few options for casinos and legal gambling. Other than Las Vegas, there were no other places in the US where you could go to a large casino and enjoy the gambling and the entertainment associated with these establishments. All the big shows and performances were in Vegas, as it was “the destination” for the likes of the Rat Pack and Elvis.
On paper it appears the idea of introducing casinos to Atlantic City would seem to be a proper endeavor. Strategically located in the Northeast of the country and accessible from the Philadelphia region, (Delaware Valley) New York City, New Jersey, Delaware and parts of Connecticut in less than a 3-hour drive, it would be much more convenient than flying to Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, the solution to introduce casino gambling to Atlantic City failed and created a situation where AC was still a dilapidated city with poverty and poor infrastructure albeit with glitzy and garish casinos. There are many reasons for this, from corrupt politicians, organized crime, competition from new venues such as the Tribal Casinos, etc.
Is there a lesson to be learned from Atlantic City?
With the recent US Supreme Court ruling on sports gambling, there will no doubt be States that see this as a way to raise revenue through taxes and increase spending on social programs and infrastructure. We have seen this too many times to count as it comes along with the promises from the introduction of legal gambling and the resulting pay off. From the Slot casinos in Philadelphia and the surrounding area, to the Tribal casinos in Connecticut, the promises of the politicians seem never to meet the reality promised.
Take any promise from politicians regarding the benefits of legalized sports gambling in your State with a grain of salt. It’s a great way to garner votes and the support of the populace, but with no real accountability and grand visions of easy money, it’s another one in a long line of empty promises and broken dreams.