Atlantic City has been a hub of economic development for New Jersey since the 1970s. The city’s casinos have long been the state’s defining attraction to out-of-state guests, even more so than its expansive beaches, which are a huge summertime draw.
AC has been a focal point of development, tourism and marketing, and has generously repaid the favor in the form of revenue and taxes to the state.
But a disturbing trend that began almost 10 years ago continues today: People are spending less and less money at Atlantic City casinos every day.
The Center for Gaming Research at UNLV reports that, since 2006, total revenue at Atlantic City casinos has dropped a whopping 45 percent. Casinos brought in $2.9 billion last year, down from $3.1 billion in 2012 — the seventh straight year that revenue numbers were down from the year before.
In the wake of surrounding states approving expanded gambling offerings at racetracks and standalone casinos, New Jersey no longer has the East Coast monopoly on gambling that it had even 10 years ago. No longer do gamblers have to choose between New Jersey, Las Vegas and, to a small degree, Connecticut; they can now stay closer to home in Pennsylvania, Delaware and even Maryland to place a bet.
Gov. Christie and other legislators have recognized this alarming trend and have focused their efforts on alternative forms of gambling to pump fuel into Atlantic City’s fire. Online gambling began Nov. 21 — with casinos reporting $8.4 million in related revenue since that time — and the push for legalized sports betting continues.
But other surrounding states are already following suit in their own push for online gambling, and New Jersey’s case for legalizing sports gambling in the state doesn’t look promising.
So it seems about time to look elsewhere — outside of gambling as a future source of significant revenue for the state.
If Atlantic City casinos continue to lose revenue, and if online gambling doesn’t make up those losses, then the state as a whole will suffer.
What else is out there? What else is available? What else can attract tourists all year round?
It might not be possible to answer these questions now, but lawmakers need to recognize the need to come up with a revenue solution soon. Our state’s long-term economic health could depend upon it.