Fireworks and skydivers were seen floating over Atlantic City this weekend as Resorts International rolled out the red carpet to celebrate 30 years of gambling at the Jersey Shore. The celebration comes with nostalgic enthusiasm, but also some nagging worries about the future of gaming in Atlantic City.
When the bells of those first slot machines rang out across Resorts, Atlantic City heard the sound of silver rolling out into giant piles of cash. On May 26, 1978, what was once a worn, seaside resort with a famous boardwalk and pier became a town with glittering possibilities. Steve Callendar, who is now a senior vice president of Resorts, was in that first class of dealers. Callendar remembers walking down the famous Boardwalk with 500 other newly minted dealers, with thousands of people lining their path.
“They treated us like we were celebrities, walking down in our dealer outfits. It was pandemonium. You never saw so many people trying to get into he same place at the same time. There was a nervous excitement, we were all learning as we went along,” said Callendar.
Resorts became the gateway to gambling outside of Las Vegas and other cities in Nevada. As a result, Atlantic City started raking in the cash, and never looked back. Resorts regional president Tony Rodio says with the opening of Resorts 30 years ago, the proliferation of gaming after that changed the landscape of the country.
Now there are more than 1,000 casinos nationally, including the new Pennsylvania slot parlors which, in the first year of operation, have siphoned away hundreds of millions of dollars from Atlantic City. The Spectrum Gaming Group, independent researchers for gaming nationally, say that total gaming revenue in Atlantic City was 4.8 billion dollars as of April 30, 2008. Though that sounds like a fortune, it reflects a loss in revenue of 6.5 percent from the same 12 month period, the year before.
The concern now is the perfect storm of a downturned economy, higher gas prices, nearby competition and smoking restrictions. Investors are positioning their bets on building 10,000 more hotel rooms in order to make Atlantic City not just a haven for day trippers with a roll of quarters, but for visitors looking for a destination resort.