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Atlantic City Still Hasn't Cashed in on Casinos

4 March 2003

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey – As reported by the Baltimore Sun: "The drive along Pacific Avenue, in the shadows of the giant hotel casinos here, invites comparisons to Park Heights Avenue, on the edges of Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Both are shabby eyesores on the periphery of substantial gambling money. Both invite the inevitable question: Where does the money go after it leaves people's pockets?

"Atlantic City famously started opening its casinos about a quarter-century ago. The way gambling interests pitched them to a suspicious public invokes comparisons to today's slot machine pitch in Annapolis: The new gambling money will pay for better schools, we are told. It will save the dying racetrack business, and the overflow might even juice the moribund neighborhoods on the edges of all that new money.

"… But then you drive along Pacific Avenue here, or Atlantic Avenue a block west, or Arctic Avenue beyond that, and wonder what went wrong.

"…They're a string of pawnshops, check-cashing businesses, bail-bond operations, boarded-up buildings and shabby housing.

"…`When the gambling people made their pitch, this was not what we saw coming,' says Dr. Michael Katz

"…Atlantic City was already having a rough time back then.

"…With the town slowly drying up, the gambling interests arrived, painting castles in the air.

"They didn't entirely lie. There's life inside the casinos, which are vast supermarkets of longing and greed.

"…About 15 years ago, Katz headed the residency program at the hospital. Having heard all the public pitches about civic-mindedness, Katz asked for a meeting with the leader of the casino operators association.

"…He wanted donations to bring in 10 more residents. It would have cost each casino about $25,000.

"`You know how much $25,000 is to these casinos?' Katz asks now. `In terms of the money they take in every year? But they turned us down flat, saying it wasn't the kind of thing they were interested in.'

"…Here on Pacific Avenue, a sign outside Bail Bonds of America declares `Twenty-Four Hour Service Any Day.' Not coincidentally, the casinos are also open 24 hours every day. Next door, doing a brisk business, is the Royal Pawn Shop. Royalty aside, it's not the kind of business Atlantic City envisioned when the gambling boys first came to town and promised castles in the air."

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