How Atlantic City Became America’s Playground

Eugene Durante


There's nothing like taking a walk on a boardwalk. The open air, the ocean waves, the nearby amusements. Tripping over an errant plank even conjures a pleasant sense of removal from  daily life. While the ocean has always been the lure, a well-maintained boardwalk is what brought the masses to the seaside. The boardwalk was the empire where seaside recreation began. Today, Atlantic City, New Jersey, retains one the world's great nostalgic walkways, and a treasure trove of other activities worth mentioning. Recent improvements in infrastructure, public safety, and a business-friendly local government have transformed the old monopoly board-game into a world-class destination dubbed "America's Playground."


As the city struggles through the current recession and gaming competition from nearby Pennsylvania (and soon New York), it still maintains an alluring charm.  No longer just a seaside hamlet for beach-goers, the town went electric in 1978 with the addition of legalized gaming -- offsetting another period of economic decline in the 1970s.


The grand opening of Resorts Casino introduced a steady growth in tourist revenue. As the crowds began to return, casino construction exploded. Glamorous properties, like Caesar's and the Golden Nugget (opened in 1980 featuring New Jersey's own Frank Sinatra in commercials) established a loyal following. Day trippers -- encouraged by casino promotions -- were shuttled in from nearby Philadelphia and New York. As tourism increased, so did the casino offerings. The casino industry proved to be the perfect stimulus for the local economy. Revenue growth in Atlantic City would eventually pace evenly with casino revenues in Las Vegas for many years.



The 1990s showed continued revenue growth and the expansion of the gaming empire. In 1990 Donald Trump opened the Taj Mahal (his third Atlantic City casino property) to much fanfare and an opening night concert by the late Michael Jackson.


Opulently outfitted with multiple chandeliers, high-end eateries, and more than 2,000 hotel rooms and suites, the Taj raised the bar for the Jersey shore. Trump also remodeled the historic steel amusement pier behind his flagship resort. Extending 1,000 feet into the Atlantic, the historic pier was America's first pier for family recreation and amusement. Trump's remodeled pier also included a private heliport for high rollers. The Taj's palatial entrance and fountain garden is a reminder of the first billion-dollar casino ever built. The property would become the biggest casino in Atlantic City, and the most consistently profitable resort of the 12 licensed establishments in AC. Trump maintained the title for  more than a dozen years.


After a long-discussed revitalization plan for the City's bayside, Atlantic City extended the casino empire with The Borgata Resort and Casino in 2003, upping the ante with  a more tasteful assortment of restaurants (including Wolfgang Puck's American Grille and Bobby Flay’s steakhouse), lounges, and the finest high-limit slot and gaming area in town. Borgata was also the first AC casino to offer complimentary bottled beer and premium cocktails to its gambling patrons -- slowly forcing other establishments to follow suit.



Borgata’s entrance into the A.C. market has led to sweeping upgrades and a notable period of innovation throughout the city. In an effort to remain competitive with Borgata, other casinos have undergone remodeling or expansions to some degree. Many boardwalk properties have enlisted top chefs from around the country and created sleek new wine bars, eateries and other upscale recreations. One great example of innovation from The Tropicana Resort was the addition of an entire building complex and nightlife emporium called ‘The Quarter.’


Caesar's continues to boast success of its own pier dedicated to a high-end shopping experience:  boutiques from Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Tiffany and Co. and many others.


Six boardwalk casinos are amped up and tiki-ready with remodeled beach bars for the summer season. Complete with live music, dj's, and a summer lineup of well-known bands, the beach bars are prepared to go head-to-head with the pool party culture popular in Vegas.



Raising the bar again for the storied resort town is Revel, the newest property to grace the boardwalk. Officially open since Memorial Day, the 2.3 billion-dollar all-glass resort has once again dazzled the skyline of Atlantic City. Encompassing modern trends in design and architecture, Revel boasts a year-round heated pool with swimming on both indoor and outdoor sections. The 32-thousand square-foot spa features 32 private rooms and a Himalayan Salt Grotto. Revel also offers Atlantic City's most scenic rooftop respite called the skygarden.


One can't help but appreciate Revel's revolutionary architecture and design. Turning tradition on its head, the casino aims to capitalize on the scenery and not build around it. The glass structure was positioned to embrace natural light and ocean views.

Revel's dining choices are also plentiful, from casual taco bars to the much touted mussel bar.


A.C. also offers  a number of steakhouses.  In addition, a leisurely stroll down the storied boardwalk provides multitudes of dining choices. Even the seagulls eat well from the casual plates of inattentive tourists. Despite a few weather-worn planks, the four-mile promenade is still a well-maintained treasure. The boardwalk provides a unique experience no other Nevada resort can recreate. While Las Vegas may produce faux volcano shows, impressive acrobatic entertainment, or indoor wannabe gondola rides, the arid valley cannot replicate the harmonies of live seagulls or the calming vision of the Atlantic Ocean breaking on the beach.


Author Bio:

Eugene Durante is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


Photos: Eugene Durante; Paul Lowry (CreativeCommons/Flickr); Wikipedia.

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