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Atlantic City's Uneasy Casino Era

23 May 2003

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey – As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer: "…Twenty-five years after the first casino opened on May 26, 1978, amid promises of the revitalization of a moribund seaside resort, many in Atlantic City are still uneasy about the impact of the gambling palaces.

"They acknowledge the jobs (45,000 at the casinos, with an annual payroll of $1.1 billion), housing (more than 1,500 new homes in town financed with $280 million in casino taxes), economic development (major new retail developments, hotel expansions, and a capital investment of more than $8 billion), tax dollars ($5.4 billion to the state since 1978, $60 million a year in local property taxes), and visitors (37 million a year) the 11 casinos have produced.

"…But something still seems to be missing for many in Atlantic City.

"For all the jobs, unemployment in Atlantic City remains a stubborn problem - last year it was 11.4 percent, about double the state average. And a disproportionate number of the 10,500 city residents employed in the casinos are in lower-level jobs. Just 5 percent of `key'6 employees - those at supervisor level or higher - live in the city, which has a population of about 40,500.

"For all the innovative housing, officials acknowledge that few owners are families and that nearly 70 percent of city residents are renters.

"For all the money in town, the casino era has created all-inclusive gaming halls and led to the closing of restaurants, nightclubs, movie theaters and stores, and thriving business districts turned into lackluster collections of barbershops, pawn shops, nail salons, delis and massage parlors. Local musicians who thrived in the old days have been all but shut out by casinos.

"…`The people of Atlantic City have never fully embraced the industry,' said Eric Reynolds, director of the Atlantic City Jobs and Opportunity Program, a five-month-old program started by the Borgata - the first such program a casino has created for residents. `The industry has never fully embraced the people of Atlantic City. There needed to be a bringing together.'

"Don't look for too much 25th-anniversary cheering out on Atlantic Avenue, where the trickle-down effect from the casinos two blocks away seems mostly to be more customers for the barbershops and better tips…"

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