Trump Casinos announced today that it would be closing its two Atlantic City casinos on Sept. 16th, the day after the Miss American Pageant.
Remember the old Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler”? “You have to know when to hold/Know when to fold up/Know when to walk away/Know when to run/You never count your money sittin’ at the table/There’ll be time enough fer countin’/When the dealin’s done.
Back in the 1970s when the first casino opened in Atlantic City (Resorts), the promise was that the casino industry would revitalize the aging city.
And for several decades it did, despite misgivings about gambling and the southern location, with no airport (eventually an airport was built and a train extended to accommodate A.C.). Many workers benefitted by the opening of the casino, including my mother, who was promoted from school bus driver to long-distance driver to Atlantic City driver.
Mom hated every minute of it, but it not only kept the roof over our heads but paid off the mortgage on the roof, and then repaired. Sometimes I would go with her (although not very often) and watched the hotels springing up out of the sands. On her 999th trip to Atlantic City, my mother quit the A.C. line run – although not her job.
“I will not drive to Atlantic City a 1,000th time!” she declared to her boss.
Her boss knew when to fold them, about the time corruption overtook the lucrative bus routes from Northern New Jersey to the Shore. He sold all his tourist buses and stuck to the government certainty of the bureaucratic school bus routes. Gamblers may come and go, win and lose, but people will always have kids who need a way to get to school.
By the mid-2000s, Atlantic City was already on the decline. Now it was time for me to hate going to Atlantic City in my own right. I didn’t have to part senior citizens getting into fistfights over the front seat of the bus. But I still had long days and long night rides home (to be fair, the rides home from Harrisburg, Pa., much longer and much more tiring).
Atlantic City’s bus terminal echoed with emptiness. No buses were lined up at the casino’s bus entrances. By the time of my last trip, when the Tropicana’s SEIU employees were threatening to go on strike, the casino floors were empty, with only a scattering of gamblers at the casino’s mainstay, the one-armed bandits. The Trop is the casino that featured “The Quarter,” – that is, the Latin Quarter – a shopping center styled after Havana, Cuba in the 1920’s, that featured, among things, a Russian restaurant and a statue of Vladimir Lenin.
Never fear for the buildings themselves. They constitute pretty much hurricane-proof real estate along the Jersey Shore that will provide condominiums for the wealthy of Philadelphia (New York City already has Long Island). Without the cost of having to maintain the entire building, the owners can afford to rent out the entertainment space.
The one thing New Jersey should not due is bail out Atlantic City. Let the private sector handle it. The unions supported Atlantic City, gambling their employees’ futures on a good economy fueled by middle-class taxpayers with cash to spare to do weekenders at the casinos. Between the gambling, the shopping, and the entertainment, they thought they had it made forever.
Only they literally built their castles on the sand.
National Review writer Kevin D. Williamson wrote that Gov. Christie lost the bet on two new casinos, one of which, Revel, closed before it opened. He suggested that Atlantic City needs to review its business plan with families in mind.
The last time I looked, National Review had its offices in New York. Has Mr. Williamson ever driven down the Garden State Parkway? Has he ever been down to the Jersey Shore (here in New Jersey, they say, ‘Down the Shore,’ but I was born in Yonkers, N.Y., thank you very much)?
Has he ever heard of Wildwood? Surely, he’s heard of Seaside Heights, especially since Hurricane Sandy blew the place over in 2012. Seaside Heights still hasn’t been restored. The last I heard, its roller coaster is still swimming in the surf.
Atlantic City is not Las Vegas. Las Vegas sits in the middle of an enormous desert, in a state where nearly 90 percent of the land is owned by the government. Its nearest competition is in Reno, in the northwest section of the state. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can put up roller coasters galore without any fear they’ll be swamped by a hurricane.
Atlantic City is one coastal town (city) among many, many, many. Seaside Heights, when it had an amusement pier was the seaside resort of choice for northern New Jersey residents; Wildwood, for southern New Jersey and metro Philadelphia residents, as well as joy-riding teenagers who love the distance from home and parents, and the decidedly profaner tee shirts that can be purchased there.
Wildwood has upgraded and gone gentry (there are three towns – North Wildwood, Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest [South]). Vacation condos have replaced many of Wildwood’s kitschy motels. Vacationers are attracted to its mile-long boardwalk, but no longer to its Sixties-themed motels. Wearing peacenik tee shirts and love beads is one thing. Staying at the Jupiter II Motel is another (I made that up; there’s no Jupiter II Motel, but there is the Stardust Motel at the corner of Ocean and East Spicer – basically, right on the boardwalk near the most popular pier).
Wildwood built a beautiful, new convention hall. Then 9/11 happened, and the firemen who were supposed to fill it up, as well as American Legionnaires and other groups, stopped coming. Families who used to vacation there from the North had left the state right behind their companies, fleeing the highest corporate taxes in the nation, itself holding the title of highest corporate taxer in the world.
Since the state is more likely to bail out Atlantic City before it will restore Seaside Heights, even though it’s almost another full hour’s drive down the Garden State for Northern vacationers, Atlantic City might as well restore its boardwalk.
Gov. Christie should leave the Seaside Heights roller coaster where it is in the ocean as a monument and a reminder as to what happens when you allow the government to manage the economy. Asbury Park had the S.S. Morro Castle, which was set ablaze on Sept. 8 1934, by a disgruntled crew member. Yesterday, in fact, was the 80th anniversary of that tragedy. (God bless, “Aunt” Fannie! You were a true heroine!).
But that’s okay. Atlantic City already has a fitting monument – the statue of Vladimir Lenin. The city should transfer him from The Quarter at the Trop to the end of the Atlantic City Expressway, where all traffic enters the city.