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.”