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Atlantic City: A Lot Less Like Las Vegas

The casinos of Atlantic City soon began to imitate the rapid success that had characterized southern Nevada establishments--- during the postwar period.

By 1981, the New Jersey city, with 19 million visitors, became the leading resort attraction in the nation, drawing more tourists than either New York City or Disney World.

In 1982, it attracted more than 23 million visitors, almost twice the number that traveled to Las Vegas, and earned about the same gross revenues from gaming, $1.5 billion.

The tourist industry as a whole was still more lucrative in southern Nevada, where casino operators paid lower overhead, visitors stayed about four times longer, and players spent more money on goods and services besides gambling.

Some of the controlling corporations in Las Vegas participated in the new growth by investing in establishments in New Jersey, while others remained confident about their future.

Nonetheless, the trend in American gambling at long last favored East over West.

Because growth in the Las Vegas industry seemed to be leveling off during the early 1980s, while New Jersey casinos expanded their patronage by 2 to 4 million annually, observers predicted that Atlantic City would soon become the nation's gaming capital.

The bright prospects of the New Jersey resort seemed to suggest that Las Vegas might be beaten at its own game, but the nature of East Coast casino operation indicated that Atlantic City gambling had developed a distinctive style.

New Jersey casinos relied upon different markets and a separate economic structure.

Its eastern orientation and its proximity to such metropolitan centers as Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Washington, D.C., which accounted for the tremendous volume, made it more suitable for tourists interested in shorter visits.

In contrast to the experience of southern Nevada, where most players made their own way to the resort, New Jersey casinos played a bigger role in bringing customers to the tables by chartering bus trips.

Whereas travelers to Las Vegas, having come a longer distance, stayed for an average of four days, those who went to Atlantic City seldom remained for longer than one day.

Thus, while southern Nevada had about 50,000 hotel rooms in early 1983, a relatively high occupancy rate, and a substantial convention business, Atlantic City had but 8,000 hotel rooms, many fewer overnight tourists, and inadequate as well as underutilized convention facilities.

The New Jersey resort earned far fewer revenues from such support businesses as restaurants, bars, and motels.

Its visitors also had a reputation as less sophisticated bettors, perhaps because few stayed long enough to learn how to gamble at games other than the slot machines.

In part because of newness and location, but also because of its isolation from frontier traditions. Atlantic City was slow to parlay gambling into the lodestone that it had become in Nevada.

In fact, as attempts to regulate the industry illustrated, the eastern state hesitated to embrace casino gaming fully.

Although New Jersey expected great benefits from gambling, it only accepted the practice conditionally, as a tool for expediting urban redevelopment and enlarging state revenues in a politically popular fashion.

Moreover, visitors who came from nearby urban areas where also less than wholehearted in their acceptance of legal casino gaming.

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