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April 20, 2020

How Will Atlantic City Come Back From All This?

April 20, 2020
atlantic city reopens

My girlfriend and I tried booking a room at Harrah’s casino on the marina in Atlantic City last month. As everything around the world shut down like a depressing domino rally, we figured we could squeeze in a weekend for her friend’s birthday.

We got a great deal for two nights for under $100. 

However, the shutdown order came through and our brilliant plan fell apart. We booked on a third-party site so we have credits for our next adventure, whenever that is.

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The shutdown of Atlantic City

March, often the month where foot traffic picks up along the famous boardwalk and casinos now expect a jump in revenue from the men’s basketball tournament, was a disaster for the gaming companies.

For New Jersey, the shutdown of AC’s casinos means more than dollars and sense. It strikes to the core of a community already on the verge of major upheaval.

Wednesday saw the grim numbers released by the Division of Gaming Enforcement. After closure on March 16, the casinos saw their gaming revenue drop over $130 million from last March.

  • Casino win was down over $137 million, while sports betting revenue fell over $18 million.

The rise in NJ online gambling helped bring in over $64 million for the month, a pittance of what could have been.

The American Gaming Association believes a two-month shutdown would cost the state $1.1 billion in economic activity.

How long will we wait?

About 33,000 casino workers are at home now, waiting. My dad used to be part of that group for over 20 years. His colleagues have changed over the years, with more coming from Asia and Latin America to forge a better life in the United States.

Many now work multiple jobs at different casinos to make ends meet.

Atlantic City and the communities that support it are hurting right now. The city itself has been under state control since 2016, as the erosion of casino activity caused five to close.

A vote to reorganize the municipal government from a nine-member council with a mayor to five councilmembers and a manager was scheduled for March 31 but got moved to May 12 by Governor Murphy.

The 2010s were not kind to the seaside resort. However, things started to turn around in 2018. The opening of two new casinos at the boardwalk’s north end in two vacated locations brought new life back, as did the surge of sports betting.

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AC will rise once again

atlantic city

Fans came out to concerts, parties, and big sporting events watched at the books. Revenue began to rise and new jobs were filled. That can happen again.

NJ Sports betting, which has gone heavily online since the digital books opened in August 2018, will bring back customers. Fans will show up for the return of sports, especially if the Sixers and/or Flyers get on a playoff run. Summer nights with baseball may take a backseat if Carter Hart and Joel Embiid dazzle in the postseason. 

While Atlantic City is a destination like Las Vegas, it has a smaller window to visit. People are tired of being cooped up at home on quarantine and are dreaming of the warm summer days with a cooling breeze from the ocean. Seasonal business was a concern for the Jersey Shore but if things go back to normal by June, expect a busy summer.

  • The state and federal governments will do a lot to help AC get back on its feet.
  • The industry and unions that represent workers have lots of friends in Trenton.

While a lot of attention will go to the NYC suburbs after all the loss of life and business that has happened up there, the Legislature will not forget to help Atlantic County.

While we haven’t seen much out of Congress in specifics, the area has a major ally in Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ 2). The former state senator may have ruffled feathers when he changed parties but he’s always been a staunch advocate for Atlantic County.

  • When the budget crunch threatened another shutdown in 2018, he was part of the charge to make sure casinos stayed open during July.

Right now, industry and legislative leaders are holding their cards close to their collective vests in terms of recovery plans. Like hotels and other travel companies, gaming corporations are taking a major blow from this pandemic. Across the country, gaming venues are closed and losing millions daily.

Like so much of this crisis, we don’t know what we don’t know and that’s a major concern. There’s no consensus of when we can expect a return to business as usual.

  • Likely, casinos will be near the bottom of priorities for restarts, despite the history of the current Commander-in-Chief. 

However, there will be a need for people to congregate in groups eventually.

  • Either through the government’s coercion or our own inherent need to be together, concert venues and dance clubs will fill again.
  • People will want to hit the beaches and boardwalks.

Also, unless you have a mixologist or really good bartender quarantining with you, what are the chances you’re getting a free cocktail while you gamble online?

When the casinos and hotels reopen, I’m sure we’ll all be ready.

Atlantic City will glow from afar as patrons pack the trains and highways to visit.

We’ll probably be back in greater numbers because as much as we may not admit it, we miss being there.

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