Atlantic City is no Las Vegas, and it never was

Atlantic City’s casino industry is in free fall. One of its 12 casinos closed in January, and Caesars Entertainment will close one of its four, the Showboat, on Aug. 31. Two others could close this summer if buyers aren’t found.

The culprit is market saturation. Mayor Don Guardian, who could see thousands of residents lose their jobs in his first year in office, said the downsizing was a necessary evil.

“There is pain as we go through this transition, but it’s critical for Atlantic City to realize we no longer (have) the monopoly on gaming on the East Coast. If you build more and more casinos and don’t increase the amount of people coming to them, you’re sharing that wealth.”

Why, then, has Las Vegas not suffered a similar fate?

Every state west of Colorado, except Utah, allows casino gaming in some form. Yet Las Vegas’ visitor volume and gaming revenue are rising, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

And the resort corridor is growing. SLS Las Vegas plans to open in August. Malaysia-based Genting Group plans to build Resorts World Las Vegas. MGM Resorts International is building an arena and the Park, an outdoor retail and dining area. Caesars Entertainment’s Linq, with its High Roller observation wheel, opened this year and continues to add tenants.

But there’s a more important difference between Las Vegas and Atlantic City than what is happening now. Las Vegas developed from legalized gambling. It’s in our DNA. Atlantic City only introduced gaming in the late 1970s as a way to dig the seaside town out of a deep economic decline.

Las Vegas’ infrastructure — schools, law enforcement, civil services, government, retail, etc. — developed from the needs of an economy centralized on gaming. Over many decades, a symbiotic relationship evolved between gaming and local and state governments, for better or worse.

Las Vegas also helps itself, a lot. Its willingness and ability to reinvent itself cannot be denied. For instance, when marketing Las Vegas as a family-friendly destination flopped in the 1990s, a new emphasis — the adult-party ethos — was tried, and from that the famous “What Happens Here Stays Here” campaign emerged.

And the reinvention goes on, with celebrity-chef inspired restaurants and the nightclub/pool club scene, both geared to a younger crowd less interested in gaming.

By the time other U.S. gaming markets catch onto what happens here, which Atlantic City did too late, Las Vegas will already be doing something else. This is the one thing that only happens in Vegas, and it needs to stay in Vegas.

Tags: The Sunday