Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Atlantic City Blues the Get-Rich-Quick Town Is Going Broke ... Again

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Atlantic City Blues the Get-Rich-Quick Town Is Going Broke ... Again

Article excerpt

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.

On a recent breezy Saturday night, row after row of slot machines at the Trump Plaza sat eerily unused, their semi-synchronized blinking creating a sort of hall-of-mirrors effect. In a few days, after Miss America contestants pack up their sashes, the casino will close.

The Revel, a $2.4 billion gleaming white elephant completed with $261 million in New Jersey tax credits, shuttered just two weeks earlier. Its 57 glittering, vacant stories cast a long shadow over the empty lots and broken-down brick homes just across the street.

Five of Atlantic City's 12 casinos are expected to close this year. The onslaught of job losses, at least 8,000, briefly turned one of the city's celebrated convention centers into a makeshift unemployment office. With its biggest employers and taxpayers folding, and nearly a third of the city below the poverty line, the city's credit rating has been downgraded to junk bond status.

Yet, somehow - despite being the subject of one of Bruce Springsteen's dourest songs, Atlantic City remains a font of optimism.

"Everything dies, baby, that's a fact; but maybe everything that dies someday comes back": That essentially was the mantra of this town long before Mr. Springsteen crooned those lyrics in 1982. For more than a century, Atlantic City has died and reinvented itself again and again.

Atlantic City is both a parable for, and parody of, the American spirit of ingenuity. Each time the city's economy threatens to finally fall into the ocean for good, it hatches some new, long- shot, bet-it-all-on-black scheme for self-rejuvenation.

During Prohibition, the bet was moonshine, since the city's political machine was one of the few willing to ignore the 18th Amendment. Around the same time, the city birthed the Miss America pageant, a stunt created to extend the tourist season. The city then invested in its big, noisy convention business. For years, Atlantic City hosted conferences of every major professional group - doctors, teachers, mafiosos - until other cities got into that lucrative game.

Then, in the desperation of the mid-1970s, Atlantic City convinced the state to legalize gambling, here and here only. …

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