Tourism and the Fate of the City

For Thursday, please read Bryant Simon, Boardwalk of Dreams, chaps. 7-9. For your blog response, please offer your thoughts on the impact that the legalization of casino gambling had on Atlantic City in light of your reading of these chapters. What went wrong, and could anything have been done to change the outcome?

Avatar of Mark Souther

About Mark Souther

I am an associate professor of history at Cleveland State University and director of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities. I'm the author of New Orleans on Parade: Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City, editor of American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition, and am writing a new book on perceptions of decline in postwar Cleveland. Apart from my involvement in CPHDH, I authored a recent successful National Register of Historic Places nomination and serve on the Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission. My history interests include urban and suburban history, 20th-century U.S. political and cultural history, leisure and tourism, and architecture and historic preservation.
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9 Responses to Tourism and the Fate of the City

  1. Avatar of Matt Sisson Matt Sisson says:

    Reese Palley predicted that the legalization of casino gambling in 1976 would create jobs, transplant the poor and minority populations through the elimination of the dilapidated residential districts, and make Atlantic City a bastion for the nouveau riche to come and spend money. In a sense his vision came true through the physical destruction of the eight blocks of dilapidated, poor, minority residential districts. However, the casinos also destroyed the residences of the blue-collar white population. Despite such a dramatic loss of living space, these populations remained in Atlantic City, which caused great overcrowding, desperation, and escalated crime.

    Palley essentially made a devil’s bargain by sacrificing the welfare of local residents in an effort to return Atlantic City to prominence as a tourist destination for the middle and upper classes, which caused locals of all kinds to become at odds with the outsiders of all kinds who came along with the advent of casinos.

    In hindsight, the legislature that passed casino gambling could have included higher income and property tax rates for casinos, and this tax money could have been allocated to renovate properties in need of repair. Also, a crackdown on land rush speculators and scheming landlords could have occurred to preserve the cost of living. However, this seems implausible due to the difficulty of tracking the dummy names and false identities used to collect properties, and the likeliness of middling landlords to sell-out to developers with deep pockets.

  2. Avatar of ysaleh ysaleh says:

    On November 2, 1967 the party was an amazing sight to see. People were overjoyed and thrilled that gambling had finally been approved in Atlantic City. The Headlines read, “City Reborn.” Unfortunately this was the last time normal everyday people would be excited about casino gambling in their city. Atlantic City was run down, and failing by the time the bill passed to allow gambling in the city, but what was thought to be the savior of the city became the nightmare for most. The rundown dilapidated neighborhoods were now wanted as prime real estate. Only one problem, people still lived in these places. So all the sudden the people that lived there had to be removed. Landlords shut off electric, gas, and water to people just to get them to leave. It was a horrible time for the people that called Atlantic City home. The Casino owners offered big money for the property they lived on, and would stop at nothing to get them out. The town itself was becoming non-existent, and the Casinos were all that mattered. Even the ocean and boardwalk were not important to the Casino owners. All they wanted was to make money for themselves, and everyone and everything else was not their problem.

  3. Avatar of luzelac luzelac says:

    Atlantic City has struggled to balance community and tourism. Various ethnic groups face competition with tourists. Unlike Las Vegas which did not have a community before becoming a tourist site, Atlantic City did have residents who simply wanted to live out their lives not necessarily as a part of a tourist city.
    Minorities like the Puerto Ricans and Gay community were blamed for the decline of the area. Those who simply left or became absentee landlords were not blamed. Dwindling resources, competing populations and conflicting goals made success difficult for Atlantic City.

    • Avatar of luzelac luzelac says:

      Atlantic City has struggled to balance community and tourism. Various ethnic groups face competition with tourists. Unlike Las Vegas which did not have a community before becoming a tourist site, Atlantic City did have residents who simply wanted to live out their lives not necessarily as a part of a tourist city.
      Minorities like the Puerto Ricans and Gay community were blamed for the decline of the area. Those who simply left or became absentee landlords were not blamed. Dwindling resources, competing populations and conflicting goals made success difficult for Atlantic City. As minority groups took the least desirable areas and opportunities dried up, crime escalated. The area grew worse. Gambling was a last ditch effort to save the area but at who’s expense? Developers were still trying to bring back the white upper-class families from the old Boardwalk days. Part of the trouble with that is that those tourists are such a minority now and they have so many more options. The very rich tourist can now visit any part of the world and stay as long or as short as they wish. Meanwhile, the people living in these tourist cities are neglected in favor of the tourists who do show up.

  4. Avatar of James Lanese James Lanese says:

    Atlantid City underwent a similar transition to Cleveland and other ‘rust belt’ cities during the last.35 years of the previous century. The main industry (tourism) slowed like the hard industry of the northeast/midwest. The urban residential areas changed as did the central core fo the city; empty tourist attractions were not providing economic viability. Racial, ethnic, and gender orientation issues contributed to the city’s vibrancy.

    As the gaming and casino industry arose to revitalize the city as a percieved urban renewal vehicle, the self contained, drive-up, indoor strategy of the casinos close the door of opportunity to the local citizenry and municipal development interests. Interestingly, i heard this debate recently with the planning of Cleveland’s casino. If you design an attached garage for the casino, you effectively shut off business to downtown businesses; casino patrons will not leave the confines of the complex.

  5. Avatar of zlafleur zlafleur says:

    Atlantic City found itself at an industry crossroads when casino gambling was legalized in the mid-1970s. While the industry was sure to reenergize the area and potentially return it to its glory days of tourism, it came at an unknown cost. Promises and deals were made between the gambling entrepreneurs and enterprising politicians, but to a certain extent, as with any sort of bargain, corners were cut and Atlantic City’s residents found themselves at the wrong end of a raw deal to a certain extent. The city did not take full advantage of the profits earned by the casinos and many residents found themselves displaced as casinos began to take up a number of Atlantic City blocks. Residents of Ohio who now find themselves in the world of legalized casino gambling should carefully observe the sorts of things that happened to the residents of Atlantic City. While the scope is not nearly as large, the problems associated with it are similar and could very easily be repeated.

  6. Avatar of elkaiser3 elkaiser3 says:

    The mid-twentieth century was tough on Atlantic City. The once bustling coastal city began to see diminishing tourist numbers. It became clear the city needed to be re-branded to reboot the tourism industry. In 1976 some members of the Atlantic City community believed they found the answer- legalizing gambling and casinos. Nearly immediately big name hotels and casinos moved in, property values soared and tourists from all over the east coast flocked to the only other legal area in America other than Las Vegas. The legalization of gambling was not an overly popular decision; in fact many Atlantic City residents adamantly fought the law. They felt the casinos and gambling would be detrimental to their neighborhood. And of course they were right. The city’s officials made the Devil’s Bargin when they passed the law, and along with the money and positive effects came some serious consequences. Organized crime and big businesses took over the shore, pushing the poor people out, and increased crime and violence rates. Over the decades the hype of legalized casinos has dimmed but the consequences of the legalization remain. Today Atlantic City is a shell of its former glory days of the late 1970s and years prior to the Great Depression.

  7. Avatar of rjprice88 rjprice88 says:

    The legalization of gambling in Atlantic City with the passage of the referendum in 1976 was supposed to be a saving grace for the struggling tourist city. Since it’s establishment in the mid 1800’s, Atlantic City was one, which had cycles of boom periods but also regression periods. With the passage of legalized gambling in the city, officials believed they created a solution to bolster the struggling city. Many of the citizens of Atlantic City were against bringing gambling to their city, ironically similar to the way Clevelanders are torn on the idea of the newly established casino in their city. The people of Atlantic City believed that casino’s would increase crime and pollution around their neighborhood and feared it would destroy neighborhood in which they made their living. Eventually, the fears of the citizens were proved true as most people who lived in Atlantic City had no choice but to move away from the failing neighborhood. The Casino’s had totally taken over control of the area. Now we are left with the current image of Atlantic City, which is just a run down New Jersey City with casino’s as it’s main tourist attraction. Personally, I was not aware that it started off as a city, which people lived; I always thought it was established for the sole purpose to be a gambling city, similar to Las Vegas. This is most likely the portrayal that most people have today, effectively making the rich history of Atlantic City before it’s gambling days lost in time.

  8. Janelle Daling says:

    Toward the end of the 20th century, Atlantic City as well as most rust belt cities , including Cleveland, had to undergo a major reconstruction of the tourist scene. The entire country was in the throes of the civil rights movement, and what had been ok for the previous generation was no longer viable, all attractions needed to cater to a broader spectrum of ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. For Atlantic City this meant completely reinventing itself yet again, this time as a gambling enterprise and a place where anyone could come to make his/her fortune. Unfortunately for the residents of Atlantic City, politicians and entrepreneurs made deals to maximize profits for private businesses, and in doing so casinos began to take over much of the city. It’s interesting to read about the effects of casinos in Atlantic City as Cleveland is entering the casino world, and to think how future generations could possibly look at 2012 as the tipping point for either the saving of downtown, or its destruction.

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