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Top-10 first impressions from an AC rookie

9 March 2009

You would think that someone working for a gambling Web site would have visited Atlantic City at least once. You would think that someone who went to college three hours away would have visited Atlantic City at least once. You would think that someone who is under the age of 25 and enjoys gambling would have visited Atlantic City at least once.

Before last weekend, sadly, I had to answer "no" for all of the above. Thankfully, I finally made the long-awaited journey down to "America's Favorite Playground" and here are my Top-10 first impressions.

10. People love to talk about comps
One of the big draws of this impromptu trip to A.C. was the fact that a friend said he could get us a comped room at the Borgata. I said, "That's great." By the time I got down on Friday night, the Borgata comp was now a Harrah's comp. Of course, by Saturday afternoon, the Harrah's comp turned to a full-priced room.

9. Game On! gets it done
For those looking to both watch a sporting event and drink at the same time, Game On! at Caesars is the place to be. I was familiar with the bar because there is a separate location at Fenway Park, and the set-up is quite similar. There are more than 50 HD TVs throughout the bar/ restaurant, and plenty of beers available. My experience at Game On! was sullied, however, by the fact that Maryland -- my alma mater -- lost yet another must-win road game and now is now on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament

8. Surfing in March? Why not?
The overcast skies and 50-degree temperature did not stop one brave soul from donning a wetsuit and heading out to catch some waves. Watching him from The Pier Shops at Caesars, we were able to see him wipe out twice. You have to give him an A for effort though.

7. Irish pubs
I was able to visit two Irish pubs in my 36 hours in Atlantic City, and both get a thumbs-up from me. The first was at the Tropicana and was named the Ri-Ra Irish Pub. The prices were reasonable and they had plenty of Jameson in stock, which made me very happy. The other Irish Pub was simply called The Irish Pub. It boasts the name of "America's Greatest Watering Hole," and while I wouldn't go that far, I give it rave reviews. Having Killian's on tap surely helped.

6. The cabs
For a broke 23-year-old just out of college, the cabs in A.C. were a godsend. As long as you stay in the city limits, cab fares are capped at $13. For a group of four, that works out to about $4 a person to cover the fare and the tip. Try doing that in Las Vegas.

5. The Boardwalk
Even in March, the Boardwalk was thriving with people. Many shops and sandwich carts were open and in business, and I observed more than one couple showing some public displays of affection.

4. The 'Chris Moneymakers'
You know the type. The men at the poker table who wear sunglasses and listen to their iPod, pretending that their $1-2 no-limit game is on ESPN. There were a couple at my table at Caesars, and taking a pot off them gave me a pretty good feeling.

3. The bright lights
After driving for six hours and dealing with traffic in Boston and New York, I needed something to lift my spirits. Well, getting through the toll on the Atlantic City Expressway and seeing the Borgata and Harrah's lit up in the distance certainly did the trick.

2. The diversity
People from every walk of life were in Atlantic City. Children on trips with their family. Tourists from different countries. Skinny people. Overweight people. Young people. Old people (OK, a lot of old people). High-rollers. People sticking to the penny-slots. People in Armani suits. People wearing football jerseys (I saw a Jay Cutler and a Mario Williams, not to mention the many Eli Mannings and Donovan McNabbs). If someone wants to see a microcosm of American society, Atlantic City would be a good place to visit.

1. Not a ghost town
With rumors of up to three casinos in danger of shutting down, and with the economy getting worse by the day, you would think there would be more people staying away from casinos. On this weekend, at least, it looked like A.C. was doing quite well for itself. I had to wait 30 minutes to get on the poker table. Many of the high-limit blackjack and craps games had no open seats. The slot machines were packed with old ladies and their bags of coins. There were plenty of coach buses filled with eager customers. The stock market may be dropping, and the unemployment numbers may be rising, but people still love the rush of gambling.