Family attractions may rescue Atlantic City

Family attractions may rescue Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY N.J. - After 19 years working as a cook at Atlantic City's Showboat Casino, Dave Rose is counting the weeks until he and about 2,000 fellow workers lose their jobs when the casino is shuttered at the end of the summer.

The Showboat will be the second major casino to close in this struggling New Jersey shore city this year, a trend that has some tourism officials talking about revamping the aging gambling Mecca to broaden its appeal beyond bachelor parties and bus loads of retirees, with more family-friendly attractions.

"They've been saying that for ten years," said Rose, who holds out little hope of that strategy working and fears he will have a hard time finding a job that matches the $18.18 per hour he earns at the Showboat.

"There aren't too many good-paying jobs out there," he said. The unemployment rate in the city stood at 10.3 per cent in May, among the highest of any major US metropolitan area and well above the national rate, which was at 6.3 per cent in May, and has since fallen to 6.1 per cent in June.


Atlantic City, which once held a lucrative East Coast gambling monopoly, has fallen hard. Gaming revenue has fallen to $2.8 billion, a little more than half its 2006 peak of $5.2 billion.

The decline reflects the opening of new casinos in the northeastern United States in recent years: New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Connecticut today all have casinos and Massachusetts is in the process of awarding licenses.

One of the main questions for officials and workers in Atlantic City is, after Caesars Entertainment Corp pulls the plug on the Showboat on Aug. 31, how many of the city's remaining 10 casinos will survive.

The Revel casino and resort, which was a centerpiece of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's effort to bring Las Vegas-quality gambling to Atlantic City's declining gaming business when it opened in April 2012, last month filed for bankruptcy for the second time in its short history.

The casino, which employs 3,140 workers and is losing $2 million a week even in the peak summer season, is trying to line up a buyer. If it doesn't find one in the next few weeks it plans to close.

Christie had provided a $261 million tax package to help build Revel after Morgan Stanley, which had begun building the casino, pulled out of the project two years ago and took a $932 million loss.

"We still have five or six relatively successful casinos," said John Palmieri, the executive director of New Jersey's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, an economic development agency funded by a tax on casinos. "There were 12. Can we support nine? Will that end up dropping to seven or eight? That's the big question."

Losing more casinos could punch a big hole in Atlantic City's budget, which has historically offered generous contracts to public employees and relied on casinos to provide about 80 per cent of its tax revenue, said Michael Busler, a professor of finance at Richard Stockton College, located in Galloway, New Jersey.

"We aren't done dropping yet," Busler said. "What (the mayor) has to do is get spending way down."

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian took office early this year to discover the city ran a $10 million budget deficit last year, a number that is on track to rise this year without budget action. Almost one in three city residents live below the poverty line, according to US Census Bureau data, more than triple the poverty rate across New Jersey.

Guardian was not available for comment but he will hold a teleconference on Thursday to brief the press on the city's efforts to address changing market conditions, officials said.

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