On The Boardwalk In Atlantic City is No Longer Americas Favorite Playground, but It Can Be Again

This month The Trump Plaza will close its doors and it will be the fourth Casino to close in 2014. 11 years ago The Borgata open and AC was back on the rise and now it is crumbling at an extremely fast rate. Many people know that I love Atlantic City and have argued for years that I preferred it to Las Vegas.   It was true I preferred going to AC over Las Vegas, but based upon my last three trips to the Boardwalk, I can no longer say that. I was last in AC the weekend before July 4th weekend and frankly it was depressing to see what has happened to my favorite vacation spot on the Planet.

People have been asking me for weeks “Is AC dead”? My answer is NO it’s not dead. The seaside resort has faced trouble before and the city came back and it will come back again. But before I give my theory how to revive the very first pure vacation destination, I thought it would be necessary to give a little history of the great town.

Atlantic City was incorporated on May 1, 1854 (160 years ago). As legend goes some gangsters in Philadelphia wanted to create a resort town for blue-collar workers. Since ocean swimming had started to get popular they took out a map and drew a straight line from Philly to the Atlantic Ocean. On a small Island named Absecon. The gangsters built hotels along the beach and they built a railroad to take passengers back and forth. In a few years a permanent Boardwalk was built (it was built to keep the sand out of the hotel) the very first boardwalk in the United States.

Common people came to AC; it was a family destination, the beach, salt-water taffy and a lot of sideshows. At night dance halls opened and late night there was the casinos and the oldest profession (it just wasn’t legal back then).

Prohibition came and the city boomed. Led by Enoch “Nucky” Johnson (Thompson is just for HBO) who worked hard to bring people to the resort. He turned the City into a major port for illegal booze, he built Boardwalk Hall, and he organized the first organized crime commission, which was held in Atlantic City.

Then came my favorite person of Atlantic City, Mr. Atlantic City Paul “Skinny” D’Amato. Skinny was born in 1908 (nobody knows the exact day); he started running cigar shops, which really doubled as casinos. By the 1940s he owned the famous 500 Club on Missouri Avenue. The 500 Club was one of the countries greatest nightclubs. Move Stars, Professional Athletes would mingle with common folk. Legend has it that Skinny was the person who teamed up Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis to create one of the greatest comedy teams ever. He also was a good friend with Frank Sinatra. Skinny taught Frank how to hold a cigarette and order a drink. When Frank was down on his luck Skinny stood by his side. Frank would perform 5 shows a night every summer until 1974. In 1974 the City took a turn for the worst, the economy was bad and then the 500 Club burned to the ground. Everything was destroyed except one photo of Frank Sinatra performing at the Club.

The City was in decay in the 1970s and everyone thought the City was Dead. But in 1970 they legalized gambling and the city was re-born. The 1980s saw AC take the lead on gambling revenues from Las Vegas. In the 1980s all of the Las Vegas casinos were getting old and people from the east coast didn’t have to fly to Vegas, they could just drive to AC. It wasn’t until the Mirage opened in 1989 that Vegas began to make its big comeback (that is a post for another time). Slowly but surely casino’s started popping up all over the country hurting Atlantic City. In addition Atlantic City’s gambling revenue was so big they never saw the change coming that Vegas did. Vegas was ever changing to attract more guests, but AC said we are okay people love to gamble.   By the time AC figured it out it was too late. Now with casinos in eastern PA and in Delaware, the racino’s in New York, the gamblers stopped coming. Then there came the Revel, the dumbest idea to hit AC since the diving horse. The Revel is way too big a 50-story hotel that doesn’t allow smoking anywhere. In 2013, the Borgata is the only casino in AC whose gambling revenue increased. The Taj is close to being put into bankruptcy and all the other casinos are struggling. It looks real bad and if they don’t fix it the city will die.

So how does Atlantic City revive itself? Its simple, they have to go backwards not forwards. They have to go back to what the city was built on “AN AFFORDABLE VACATION SPOT FOR COMMON PEOPLE”. How do you do that easy COMPS!!! The Comps in Atlantic City just Suck. I have been going for over 35 years and each year they get cheaper and cheaper with comps. I get comps in the mail for a toaster or a chance to win a Hyundai. Give me food and room comps. So here is a list of things AC can do to attract people:

  1. COMP ROOMS – Give rooms away, an occupied room doesn’t cost much more than an empty one. If you don’t want to Comp them charge $25 per night instead of $400
  2. COMP FOOD – buy the player a meal. Give a $25 coupon to any restaurant in the casino. Every trip my wife and I go to Ruth’s Chris for dinner. If the steakhouse in the casino would give me $25 or $50 off I would go there.
  3. Stop Making it impossible to win – Go back to 4 or 6 deck blackjack, play single 0 roulette and give 20x odds on Craps.
  4. The casinos need to become more player friendly. Stop watering down the drinks, hire more waitresses and serve them faster. Treat the minimum player the same as the Max Player, there are more minimum players.
  5. CLUBS and LOUNGES – Get some good clubs and lounges. People love the Clubs. I hate them but I love Lounges. Give me live music along with drink coupons. Open a Cigar Bar and a Whiskey Bar.
  6. Bring in Real Entertainment – Only the Borgata does this and that’s why they are making money

I hope the town will listen because nothing would be worse to see Atlantic City fade away. The town inspired Monopoly, created the post card, the oldest Boardwalk, salt-water taffy, and my favorite vanilla/chocolate twist frozen custard. Summer would not be summer for me if I could go out and walk that Boardwalk with my coffee and cigar, singing my playlist.