Ah, the lost city of Atlantic. For those not fortunate to grow up in the tri-state area, Atlantic City is a tourist trap that has gone through several changes in its long history. It began as a beach getaway at the turn of the 20th century, attracting hard workers from Philadelphia and New York City. However, when that pesky airplane was invented, people chose to see far-away lands, rather than the quaint city that Monopoly was based off of. When it looked like all hope was lost, in that ugly decade known as the 1970′s, New Jersey threw the dog a bone and legalized gambling. And like that, the city was back on solid-ish ground.
With my mom and grandmother being solid gamblers (the former on roulette, the latter on the slots), I would spend many a weekend there in the summers of the beautiful decade of the 1990′s. Back then, Atlantic City was working on being “kid-friendly”. The Showboat had a bowling alley, where my brother, my cousin, and I would whip the bowling balls down the alley with reckless abandon. There was the Pier One shops, which had a fantastic assortment of arcade games in the back. Tropicana had Trop World, an amusement park with rides located in the casino.
As I grew up, the trips to Atlantic City were less frequent. However, I still had the itch to return there. Not as a boy, but as a man – able to drink alcohol and lose money (or vice versa) at all times of the day, and however frequently I wanted! I turned 21 in 2005, but did not make my first official trip until 2007. And man, things have changed. The bowling alley in Showboat? Replaced by a high-end buffet. The Pier One arcade? Replaced by a high-end mall with fancy clothes and stuff. Trop World? Replaced by another high-end mall with fancy clothes and stuff. Sensing a pattern here?
So, while my trips to Atlantic City have been good for indulging my sinful side, it has left me wanting in the nostalgia department. Even the favorite casino that I’ve visited over the last five years, the Wild Wild West Casino, is getting a make-over to become, what else, but a high-end mall with fancy clothes and stuff. Allow me to question Atlantic City’s marketing techniques for a second.
Atlantic City seems to be positioning itself for two demographics. The first being their bread-and-butter – old people. Let’s concede this, as long as there are slots that you can play in denominations of $0.01 per spin, old people will show up. The other demographic in Atlantic City’s sights is the beautiful 25-year-old millionaire. If you look at all their advertising, you see young, beautiful people playing and drinking with reckless abandon. Fancy clubs with names like “Dusk” and “Casbah” are ready for you to make reservations and have ridiculously expensive bottle service.
Now, chasing the beautiful 25-year-old market is all fine and good, but I just have one question: how many beautiful 25-year-olds can there possibly be? In the past five years (god I feel old) that I’ve been visiting Atlantic City, I’ve yet to run into any. More frequently, I see creepy old millionaires talking to beautiful 25-year-olds, but you don’t see that in Atlantic City’s marketing. And now we have two casinos catering to the high-end youth market (Borgata and Revel), as well as the aforementioned renovations to Caesar’s, Tropicana, and Wild Wild West.
Basically, there are two key points I’d like to make to sum up this long-winded rant. First, it is about time that casinos in Atlantic City stop taking themselves so seriously. You are in New Jersey, and your clientele is 90% old people. No matter how “swanky” you promote yourself, nobody is going to buy it. And secondly, there are a plethora of people like myself – people who are in their 20′s and 30′s, who have a solid income and aren’t extremely rich or extremely poor, who would love to visit Atlantic City more often. These people want to come down and blow $300 over a weekend, not $300 over a couple hours of bottle service. However, you are constantly limiting our options for fun, whether it be increasing incredibly high table limits on weekend nights (even $15 tables seem to be going the way of the dodo), removing cheap bars (rest in peace, Wild Wild West 24-hour happy hour), or having ridiculous hotel room prices (the cheapest hotel room for this Friday is $110 a night in a crummy motel off the boardwalk, whereas in Vegas you can stay at the Imperial Palace, located in the middle of the strip, this Friday for $63).
Despite these complaints, I still love Atlantic City. Yes, I am a gambling addict, but despite its warts I always go to Atlantic City with a smile on my face (whether I leave with that same smile is a different story). These Atlantic City Diaries will give you a taste of AC through my eyes, as I try to have the most fun without taking out a second mortgage or being confined to the penny slots. So tune in next week – I’ll be visiting the Orion Music Festival this weekend and will have a full report.