Atlantic city: the rise and fall of the boardwalk empire

Atlantic City has a turbulent past. It may be famous for its boardwalk and beaches but it are without a doubt the many casinos that really put Atlantic City on the map. Casino gambling was legalized in New Jersey in 1976, making it the second state to do so after Nevada. Two years later, Resorts International opened its casino doors in Atlantic City. In the time that followed, Caesars, Bally’s as well as nine other glitzy hotels opened up and helped ot make Atlantic City one of the favorite destinations for gamblers.

At the beginning of the documentary we see Donald Trump. ‘I have nothing to do with it!’, the former casinotycoon and the current President of the United States Donald D. Trump says, ‘I’ve been out of Atlanticy City for many years!’ Well, of course not, who would dare to accuse the President of the United States of being involved in the rise and fall of this gambling Walhalla? For years, Atlantic City was the only state in the Northeast that went head to head with Las Vegas. But then new casinos in nearby Connecticut and Pennsylvania were opened and Atlantic City started to lose it’s strong attraction towards gamblers.

New Jersey gambling revenue hit its peak back in 2006 and has declined steadily for the past decade due to competition from nearby states, New York and Pennsylvania. Revel, Atlantic City’s newest casino is set to shut down after failing to find a buyer in bankruptcy. The casino was opened in 2012 for more than $2 billion. With this closure Revel joined three other hotels that closed their doors in 2014. The Atlantic Club, which shut earlier that year, and the closings of Caesars Showboat and the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. It was clear that the future did not look very bright for the once thriving Favorite Playground of America.

Donald Trumps Taj Mahal, once the largest casino in the world, also went bankrupt. The once famous Plaza Casino? Closed. Atlantic Club Casino? Closed. The Revel was barely two years old when the doors closed on 10 September 2014. The once lively boulevard is full of ghost casinos. So, how did this happen and was there no way to stop the decay?

taj mahal atlantic city bankruptcy

Atlantic city went from boomtown to busttown

Well, Atlantic City flourished for the first time in the twenties and thirties as an entertainment city with hip bars and trendy dance halls. It was also an ultimate holiday destination for American families with children because of the lovely beaches. But after the Second World War, civil air and prosperity kicked in and Americans opted for more sun-secure and less windy destinations to entertain or relax.

To lure the tourists back, gambling in Atlantic City was legalized in the late seventies. The casinos managed to save the city for a while, but eventually could not save the city at all. the casinos were masters in keeping people inside and once they were broke they would leave. This resulted in many stores and restaurants closing their doors first. The entire local economy was casino-driven and heading for disaster. The many promises made by the casinos to invest in the local economy never saw the light. After a decade of waiting local politicians even formed a new entity called the casino reinvestment authority. Its purpose was to force the casinos to reinvest their revenues in the local economy and revitelize the local community. By that time the power of the casinos was too strong and a lot of bribing and corruption was going on. Of the last 9 mayors of Atlantic City, 6 were charged with some form of fraud, bribing or corruption.

As gambling became legal in more and more American states, the competition from online casinos was on the rise, and the younger generation, the so-called millennials, gambled less and less, it was clear that Atlantic City was going bust.

The fascinating documentary The Rise and Fall or The Boardwalk Empire shows it all. Intriguing are the interviews with politicians and casinotycoons mixed with the old footage of what once was America’s Favorite Playground.