May 27, 2003

Atlantic City – Twenty-Five Years and Still Raising the Stakes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 11:01 pm

This week marks the 25th anniversary of legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey (here, referred to most often merely as “A.C.”). It is perhaps fitting that this week the New Jersey Casino Commission has announced preliminary approval of slot machines that will cost a whopping $1,000 per pull.

It is interesting to note that back in 1978, the backers of casino gambling promised state’s voters that slot machines would not be permitted in the casinos, urging that New Jersey’s casinos would have a “Monte Carlo” image. This, of course, turned out to be pure baloney, as the very first legal casino in Jersey (Resorts International) opened with lines of people formed in front of each of the hundreds of slot machines in the place (the most expensive of which cost $1.00 per pull). So much for the Monte Carlo image. Now slot machines account for approximately 70% of the casinos’ revenue.

The general consensus seems to be that gambling in New Jersey has brought with it mixed blessings. However, exactly what kind of blessings and exactly how they are mixed depends on who you ask.

True, the industry has produced more than 45,000 jobs, but it has done little to lessen the unemployment rate in Atlantic City itself, which hovers around 11.4%, which is more than twice that statewide average. It has been reported that the industry has pumped $7 billion of capital investment into the city (e.g. new high school and police station), but it is fair to say that the industry’s capital infusions have not had any effect on Atlantic City that is obvious to most people who visit.

What one finds in Atlantic City are a dozen self-contained, huge pleasure palaces, one more gaudy and glitzy than the next. Unfortunately, the portions of the city that lie between these gambling palaces remain, quite frankly, a dump. The reason for this is that there is absolutely no incentive for hotel developers to make it attractive for patrons to wander out of the hotels and, heaven forbid, actually spend some of their money elsewhere in the city. Indeed wandering outside the casinos can be downright dangerous, as, contrary to the predictions of the pro-gambling lobby 25 years ago, the crime rate in the city has risen over the years.

So, in my view, the mixed blessings shake out as follows:

If you like to gamble, and you can comfortably afford to do so, legalized casino gambling has been a big plus for you. Hell, if you gamble enough, most of the hotels will give you a free room.

If you are one of the 45,000 people who work in the casino industry, or you are one of those employed in related industries, such as food or linen vendors, good for you.

If you are a purse-snatcher, business is great.

If you are a member of organized crime, well, ……who knows for sure (said with tongue planted firmly in cheek)..

If, however, you are just a regular tax-paying schnook in the Garden State, and you don’t much care about gambling, the benefits of casino gambling to the state, while palpable (e.g. casino taxes helped pay for a prescription drug discount program for senior citizens, some low-income housing and day care centers), they are not nearly what the citizens could reasonably have expected after 25 years of booming success in the gaming industry, making people like Donald Trump even wealthier.

If you’re an Atlantic City resident, chances are legalized gambling hasn’t done much at all to improve your daily life.

Finally, if you are William Bennett, those $1,000 slots are just sooooo sweet.

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