by Ryan Felton
The cause of A.C.’s woes isn’t mysterious. When the city welcomed gaming in 1976, it was the first American city that wasn’t outside of Nevada in the market.
Since then, gambling’s gone national. Among new competitors include casinos along many of the highways that carry tourists to the shore: Philadelphia’s Parx Casino, Delaware Park, Harrah’s in Chester, Pa., Perryville, Md.’s Hollywood Casino and Anne Arundel County’s Maryland Live.
Now the city’s gaming revenue is less than half of what it was just two years ago — and about one-quarter of its peak in 2006.
Is Atlantic City “the next Detroit“? Which casino will be next on the chopping block?
This summer, the plight of Atlantic City dominated the headlines. The historic resort city — now famous for being a gaming capital — lost 6,000 jobs in the course of six months when four of its 12 casinos closed due to poor financial performance. The city now boasts one of the highest unemployment rates in the country — 13.8 percent — as civic leaders and the State of New Jersey ponder the future of this iconic American city.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Atlantic City is poised to become the next Detroit. In many ways, the trajectories of the two cities are similar. Both cities relied on one industry to prop up their economies — and both failed to innovate as competition increased. Similarly, both Atlantic City and Detroit failed to invest in a sense of place — casinos and factories were more successful when their customers and employees had little reason to go outside. The result: defensively built cities designed around the automobile that gave visitors little reason to stay.
With the closure of the recent Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, rumors of the bankrupt Revel being sold to Hard Rock, more than half of the mortgages in Las Vegas under water, casinos opening up all around the country and online gambling legislation underway in various states, it seems as if the reasons for the very existence of Atlantic City and Las Vegas are in serious jeopardy.
Time will tell if these two cities will end up like Detroit. However, the fact that they are losing their biggest industries to major competition, much like Detroit did, with depressed housing, casinos bankrupting/closing and businesses fleeing, makes their fate seem eerily similar.
Leave it to Don Guardian, the feel-good mayor of ailing Atlantic City, to put his city's woes into context.That line — the punch line on Internet message boards and insipid late night talk show monologues forever — drew an expected response from Detroit boosters. Certainly, while no one wishes the downfall of a city, it'd certainly be nice to see this line buried for good.
Atlantic City lost four of its 12 casinos last year, saw 8,000 jobs eliminated, and has lost nearly half its gambling revenue in the past eight years.
But, he says, "At least we are not Detroit."