Atlantic City casinos about to go bust, but baby don't need shoes at the Shore

Are the Atlantic City boardwalk casinos about to topple like a stack of dominoes? The three Trump properties -- the Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, and Trump Marina -- are in trouble, on their way to bankruptcy or worse. And Resorts, the original boardwalk casino, is facing foreclosure.

Resorts Atlantic City's current problem is dire, although it has been in bankruptcy before -- it was also previously owned by Donald Trump's group and also Merv Griffin. It is now in a court battle to hold onto its casino license as a group called Column Financial, which is its main lender, attempts to take it over in a foreclosure action.

What has happened since Resorts opened as the first casino outside of Las Vegas in 1978? The casino ushered in an era of gambling expansion that has still not stopped. It set the tone for the building of the strip that was to come, and for the last 31 years has stood in the middle of all the glitz and glamor.

You can blame a lot of things for the downfall of this quiet giant, not just the sour economy. Resorts, and the rest of the casinos in Atlantic City, are throw-backs to an era when the notion of a "strip" seemed to work: All you had to do was stack up a bunch of casinos next to each other and try to create a destination out of it.
But that never really worked in Atlantic City. As Vegas learned to expand and create family attractions, lavish shows and concerts and celebrity dining experiences, Atlantic City did not. While A.C. has the advantage of the beach, Vegas has the advantage of land mass. It could expand beyond one street and create a kind of suburban destination that could support a lot more clout as a destination. The strip in A.C. stayed right along the boardwalk, however, and the rest of the little town suffered greatly. Walk even 50 feet from the bright lights of the casino lane and you are in a desolated area full of Cash4Gold shops and peep show halls.

The only expansion that went on was to the "marina" area, not an easy commute from the boardwalk. That area is still building, which signals more than ever that the traditional strip is dead. People who come to gamble and play want a kind of suburban experience, which the boardwalk was never able to provide. Perhaps the big spenders don't want to look out onto the cigarette-butt littered beach while they dodge panhandlers.

My family is from the area, and we've gone through every iteration of Atlantic City. My mom went to the illustrious Atlantic City High School, which sounds like a joke to most people who don't know the area. I spent a lot of my childhood standing on the beach watching old hotel after old hotel being blown up for new construction. My brother worked at Resorts to help put himself through college. I worked at Bally's Park Place. My grandmother was a bookkeeper for the casino workers union, and she died holding onto many secrets. Let's just say that when we took her to see Hoffa, she came out white as a sheet.

As a long-time resident, I'm not so upset to see the downfall of these iconic casinos, even Resorts. Atlantic City has always been at its best as a family beach resort, where local people converged in the nice weather to enjoy the waves. The casinos, to me, were simply a place where you could stop for a bathroom break on boardwalk bike rides. I won't be sorry to see them go.

So go home, shoobies. All I need to keep me happy is a few fudge shops and some skee-ball arcades.

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