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Demonstrators took to the Boardwalk to protest the shutdown of a casino in Atlantic City, N.J., one of three that could close by fall.

Wayne Parry, Associated Press

Casinos no longer golden for declining Atlantic City

  • Article by: Tina Susman
  • Los Angeles Times
  • July 27, 2014 - 7:29 PM

– The fortunetellers hawk their services along the boardwalk, offering to read palms, study tarot cards and gaze into crystal balls for $5.

But for free, you can get most anyone along the seaside stretch to peer into the future, and it doesn’t look pretty.

Since January, four of the city’s 11 casinos have closed, announced plans to close or gone bankrupt, jettisoning jobs and eating away at revenue from visitors who, when they weren’t gambling, could be found spending money in local businesses. With nearby states building up gambling industries, people are finding fewer reasons to travel to this sandy spit, where gritty streets and dilapidated homes sit in the shadows of once-glittering casinos.

“It’s very disheartening,” shop owner Todd Lovitz said, motioning toward the wide Boardwalk, which on a glorious summer’s day was hardly a hive of activity.

This is the height of the tourist season, yet Lovitz’s Pier 21 T-shirt and souvenir shop had no customers. By 3 p.m., only three people had come into Tony Mitchell’s psychic shop.

“I don’t think it’s going to get better. I think it’s going to get worse,” Mitchell said of the downturn. “This will probably be my last year here.”

Atlantic City’s ups and downs mirror those of the gamblers it seeks to attract. Once a bustling resort, home to the Miss America Pageant and the inspiration for the game Monopoly, Atlantic City fell into disrepair as cars and jet travel gave East Coast visitors options to go elsewhere for beach holidays. Voters approved gambling in 1976 in hopes it would reverse the decline, and for a time it did.

By the mid-90s, nearly 50,000 people worked in ­casinos in Atlantic City. That was down to 33,000 by 2011, according to David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gambling revenue in Atlantic City, which for years topped $4 billion annually, amounted to $2.8 billion last year, its lowest since 1989, said Schwartz.

Officials blame monstrous storms — Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 — in part for the problem. But he and others who make their living here say the real problem has been lack of foresight by city and state officials, who they say should have acted years ago to fend off the threat as neighboring states legalized gambling.

 

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