Monday, September 15, 2014

A.C., R.I.P.


In 1974 a referendum on legalized gambling failed to pass in New Jersey. Two years later it did. And the power brokers who were pushing for it then  would  have made sure it was on the ballot until it did pass. It was important, it was said, to add to the state’s coffers and  support new state initiatives and  education. Ah, education – the black hole of American politics. Thirty–eight years later, politicians  are still carping about the need for more funds for education.

The salty air was full of  promise of revitalizing Atlantic City. All those mom and pop businesses: shops, cafes and restaurants  that had been relegated to the dust heap of urban decay  would once again enjoy  a booming patronage. Never happened. Once  a casino was built it became an all-encompassing entity. All your needs could be obtained therein with a plethora of dining  options in the hotels themselves. Why would you want  your clientele  leaving  your premises for any reason while they still had two rubles left  in their pockets to lose. If anything,  gambling in Atlantic City spawned pawn shops and prostitution. And catered to the addictions of thrill seekers. And its fabled  Steel Pier, a family attraction for generations, was  dismembered. Why would you want kids distracting  from their parents' time on  the casino floor. Better to let the whippersnappers stay at home while mom and dad  thinned out their college funds.

Big players were offered comped rooms. How many times did I hear friends and acquaintances  boast of “being comped,” as if it was some endearing invitation from their friends at Caesars or Trump’s or Harrah’s or Resorts the first casino to open in 1978. “Being comped ,” to these slubs, carried James Bondian status but even Moneypenny would have seen through the subterfuge.

Then there were the senior bus rides from all over New Jersey, enticing senior citizens to enjoy  an exciting day away  from the doldrums of old age. With an added bonus of getting $25 in quarters  for the slots  and, in some cases,  a complementary free lunch. Coming up with activities where our seniors could blow their Social Security checks – now that’s community-minded altruism.

The final straw in the demise of paradise by the sea was a host  of casinos going down for the third time, drowning in an ocean of red ink,  especially the  two-year-old Revel, a  casino built  costing $2.4 billion. It  was  just sold  to  Florida's Polo North Country Club for $90 million and will be reborn, so a spokesman says, as a “mega casino,” pending court approval. The new owners  must still believe the adage that a fool and his money go separate ways. Or, as P.T. Barnum  once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

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