ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.
The rapid disintegration of Atlantic City’s casino market might be an early indicator of what could happen in other parts of the country that have too many casinos and not enough gamblers.
In the 36th year of casino gambling in New Jersey, which not too long ago had a monopoly on the East Coast, the casino industry is crashing with a suddenness and a fury that has caught many people here by surprise. It started the year with 12 casinos; by mid-September, it could have eight.
The Atlantic Club shut down in January, taken down by two rivals, stripped for parts and closed in the name of reducing competition, eliminating 1,600 jobs.
In recent weeks, the owners of the Showboat and Trump Plaza announced plans to close, and Revel, which opened two years ago, said it, too, will close if a buyer can’t be found in a bankruptcy court auction next month. That would put nearly 8,000 workers — about a quarter of the city’s casino workforce — on the street.
“Most of us had expected one or two places to close this year, and that would be it for a while,” said state Sen. James Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor. “This is happening very quickly, and it is absolutely devastating to our region.”
David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said casino markets around the country could find themselves in a similar situation.
Connecticut’s tribal casinos have been affected by New York casinos and face an even greater challenge from new casinos going online soon in New York and Massachusetts. Even Pennsylvania, which overtook Atlantic City as the nation’s No. 2 casino market, is seeing its own casino revenue stagnate as competition grows.
How did this happen?
The most immediate and powerful reason Atlantic City’s casinos are struggling is because of a glut of casinos in nearby states. Since late 2006, when the first casino opened in neighboring Pennsylvania, Atlantic City’s casino revenue has fallen from $5.2 billion to $2.86 billion last year. Casinos have popped up all around New Jersey; in New York, a Manhattan casino could open before the end of the decade.
The casinos failed for years to plan for the day when they wouldn’t be the only game in town. For decades, they were content to offer gambling — and little else. It wasn’t until the Borgata entered the market in 2003 that Atlantic City realized the need to diversify the experience their customers could receive.