Mayor is a Leader in a Time of Need

It has always been natural for me to compare Atlantic City and Reno. Maybe that’s because like most people in the casino industry in Reno, I have always been envious of the volume of business of the Boardwalk casinos. And Atlantic City did replace Reno in the number two spot on the casino revenue list, pushing us down the path to never again being near the top of the list. So when Atlantic City fell on hard times after slots were introduced in Pennsylvania, I was inclined to compare that to Reno’s experience.

Comparing Reno and Atlantic City can be unrealistic or superficial. Even in decline, Atlantic City’s casinos are bigger and busier than Reno’s casinos. Atlantic City still sits in the most populous area in the country – 100 million people live within a few hours’ drive. Twenty million people visited Atlantic City in 2013, compared to less than three million for Reno. However, for me, neither the decline nor the number of tourists is the biggest difference; the real difference is the attitude of the community toward the casino industry. Reno never embraced its casinos, it only tolerated them. Casinos in Reno have always been at least slightly embarrassing to local citizens and local politicians. Over the years, scores of casinos have come and gone in Reno. No one seemed to care much and no city leader ever proposed measures to help the struggling casinos that remained.

Atlantic City is just the opposite. It has always been proud of its casino industry. As long as the casinos were flourishing, city officials were eager to exploit them as much as possible. But as the casino crisis has deepened, that attitude changed. Governor Chris Christie was first, reorganizing the too-restrictive gaming commission, creating a special entertainment zone, and even imposing a kind of martial law. Maybe his finest hour was in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. He went to Atlantic City, literally wading in and taking charge. His one glaring mistake was the Revel Casino Hotel. Without Christie’s help, Revel would not have restarted construction and would not have opened. But his mistake is much easier to see now than when he went to Wall Street and drummed up the additional financing necessary to restart the project. It’s not surprising that Christie has been invisible lately:

As Atlantic City’s declining casino economy entered freefall this summer, Gov. Chris Christie has stayed away from both the city and broader discussions of the resort’s future. And while the governor has embarked on a tour of some of the state’s seaside resorts, Atlantic City has been conspicuously absent from his itinerary. Christie’s absence and silence is significant, because throughout his first term he invested a significant amount of political capital in the resort’s resurgence. Derek Harper, Press of Atlantic City, 8-4-14

Atlantic City mayor Don Guardian was elected when no one believed any longer that Revel or any new casino would save Atlantic City. By the time Guardian was sworn in, Revel had been in bankruptcy twice. Revel is now scheduled to be either sold at auction or closed. The Atlantic Club closed in January and Showboat and Trump Plaza are scheduled to close in August and September. It is now clear to everyone that Atlantic City has too many casinos. Casino revenues are on a steep downward slide. Casino property taxes are dropping as rapidly; several state senators are proposing casinos elsewhere in the state; and New York is going to add seven new casinos to the region. The casino situation today is the worst that any Atlantic City mayor has had to deal with in 40 years.

Short of a return of Hurricane Sandy, it is hard to imagine things being worse, overall. Guardian’s response has been to look the situation in the face. He first told the citizens that their taxes would be going up by about 30 percent. Then he rolled up his sleeves and started to work bringing dozens of ideas and events to the city. He is also working to help the casino workers faced with unemployment and is trying to find buyers for the casinos threatening to close.

It’s not exactly full speed ahead, but Mayor Don Guardian’s proposal to bring cruise ships and their well-heeled passengers to the seaside resort will be studied by a state agency that oversees the Atlantic City Tourism District. Donald Wittkowski, Press of Atlantic City, 7-7-14

Tropic Ocean Airways is touting the flights as a hassle-free alternative to the congested highways or slow train travel between New York and Atlantic City. The price per flight is about $4,000 each way, but Tropic Ocean says the cost can be shared by up to six passengers carried by its Caravan seaplane. Donald Wittkowski, Press of Atlantic City, 7-21-14

Atlantic City’s mayor said Wednesday there are six potential buyers for the Revel Casino Hotel, which is up for sale next month at a bankruptcy auction. Don Guardian also said his administration has been in talks with the current owners of the former Atlantic Club casino about selling it to a new buyer. Wayne Parry, Associated Press, 7-24-14

The executive producer of a gay- and lesbian-oriented weekend-long beach party said Atlantic City proved a great venue, but with a smaller crowd than before, they will have to review their records and see if it makes financial sense to hold the Sand Blast Weekend in the resort next year. Derek Harper, Press of Atlantic City, 7-24-14

Richard Stockton College officials are still interested in locating a campus in Atlantic City, and might be interested in a casino property if the price is right. “The changing landscape in Atlantic City makes it more important than ever to diversify the economic base in Atlantic City as well as provide four-year degree and higher educational opportunities for the many employees being displaced,” the statement said. “Diane D’Amico, Press of Atlantic City

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta’s yacht, Boardwalk, is so massive that the top deck doubles as a landing pad for his helicopter … but Fertitta often has it moored in Atlantic City at the Sen. Frank S. Farley State Marina. The once-deteriorated marina has become a haven for supersized yachts — as well as more modest boats — now that Fertitta has invested about $1 million to upgrade the docks, ramps, bathrooms and other facilities in the past two years under the operation of his casino company, Golden Nugget Atlantic City. Donald Wittkowski, Press of Atlantic City, 7-21-14

Atlantic City Alliance hired 12 photographers to capture Sunday’s free Lady Antebellum mega-concert from nearly every angle … The photos and footage will be used in an ad campaign to promote Atlantic City in major newspapers and on popular websites in coming weeks, and fight back against a recent deluge of doom-and-gloom news reports about Atlantic City. Reuben Kramer, Press of Atlantic City, 8-4-14

The task is not an easy one, but from my view from across the country Don Guardian has given Atlantic City more true leadership than any mayor I have seen lately. Once again, I am envious of Atlantic City. This time it has nothing to do with the thousands of people standing outside of Resorts International waiting to get into the casino or the billions of dollars that people from Pennsylvania and New York were willing to wager in the Boardwalk casinos. No, this time I am envious of a governor, a mayor, and a city getting behind the casino industry and fighting to save it. On my ballot, Guardian has replaced Christie as the best possible option for the next president.


2 Responses to “Mayor is a Leader in a Time of Need”

  1. 1 Marjorie Preston August 21, 2014 at 5:27 am

    I think you mean Hurricane Sandy, not Katrina. And yes, Don Guardian is good for Atlantic City–he has the right attitude, no arrogance or entrenched belligerence, just a warm-hearted, hard-working, unentitled guy.

  2. 2 Ken Adams August 21, 2014 at 7:43 am

    Thanks and you are right, I did mean Sandy and not Katrina.

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