I’ve been around Atlantic City (AC) for the last 25 years or so (living in NYC and New Jersey.) And, over this time period, I’ve watched this once promising gambling resort destination deteriorate to become nothing more than a cesspool at the sea. Think about it. That really isn’t an easy thing for any town, municipality or city to achieve when so much of its prime real estate lays on miles and miles of truly beautiful beach front property. Nothing is certain in life. But, any real estate destination that offers ocean views and sandy beaches should have among the best chances of flourishing. Unfortunately, almost since its inception, this city of false hope has been mismanaged, misappropriated and misguided by so many inept politicians, business executives, promoters and municipal guardians who promised prosperity and instead brought nothing but shame.
That’s why this article, entitled, “Can Atlantic City Raise the Stakes?” makes me twinge. This city had every opportunity and expectation of becoming the Las Vegas of the East Coast (or even bigger.) It’s hard to believe that after so much colossal failure, once again there are a few believers out there who are doubling down on their bet that Atlantic City can make a comeback. The old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” is what comes to mind here.
Here’s my question: After how many blunders can someone (or in this case someplace) officially be labeled dumb? Seriously. The Mob first owned Atlantic City in the early days and boy did it start with a big bang. (And I don’t mean gun shots.) Those early casinos on the boardwalk (like Resorts) were so jammed back, that tourists would wait hours to see a show or have a chance to hit a casino table.
The way I see it (though) is that even when the Mob left, wide scale corruption never stopped. And through all of this, Atlantic City continues to make the worst type of decisions. Here are a few of them:
• What happened to gentrification? We’ve probably read about 10 plans over the last 30 years to root out all the inner city crime and turn the bad part of Atlantic City (that’s about 90 percent of it) into middle class, or at least more respectable neighborhoods. This city is too far gone for that to happen now. Allowing all the bad in this city to grow and fester out of control has certainly been the major reason behind its downfall.
• Who would create casinos on the beach and not take advantage of them? I just can’t figure that one out. These casinos could have created truly sustainable properties that wouldn’t live and die on pure gambling (all subject to economic highs and lows in our economy) if they had the foresight to build these beaches into major consumer destinations (i.e. maximize their beaches as full swimming/boating/drinking resorts.) Walk along a typical AC casino boardwalk and see how poorly the beaches are actually utilized to make money.
• The Indian Tribes just left them in the dust. First it started in Connecticut (Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun) and then it exploded with tribes opening up casinos in PA, NY State and now Delaware. AC casino operatives had their heads buried in the sand trying to find a way out of their junk bond miseries, while their savvy and nimble upstart competitors moved swiftly to offer a better entertainment product that is much closer to where they live. This had helped to really put the nail in AC’s coffin.
• Current modernization is still flawed. I went to Caesars Casino this summer for a night of dinner and gambling. On the one hand, it was nice to see how millions of $$$ have been pumped into this property to keep it afloat. (A new mall with restaurants and shops has been developed.) Unfortunately, the entire décor is designed in an 80s feel and that is just very strange. From the music, to the shops, to even the architectural design, if felt like we were being transported back in time. I’m just not sure why anyone would find that appealing.
Maybe there’s something in the water they drink near and within Atlantic City, but I firmly believe that the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” when it comes to the clarity by which some people think and make decisions in that neck of the woods. As a case in point, about 15 years ago one of the first prospects that called upon Peppercom was something called The Atlantic City Golf Association. Steve and I were excited because this qualified lead is an association that managed all the beautiful golf courses in the greater Atlantic City area and its Board was looking for a small, strategic firm to help immediately.
The first problem was that most target consumers/business people didn’t even know these golf resorts existed. The bigger challenge was that they were looking for a new way to position the association to compete with really “hot” golf vacation destinations such as Myrtle Beach and South Florida.
This looked like the perfect early client opportunity for us. We could really help them articulate a new brand positioning that would be both exciting and real and then our little firm could promote the heck out of these picturesque golf courses. That was until we had our last meeting (before being hired) when two of the association Board members were adamant that they knew exactly what the new positioning should be. Not wanting to sound like know-it-alls, we listened… and then we laughed… and then we realized it wasn’t a joke.
They wanted to position their golf courses as, “The Perfect Place to Golf ALL YEAR ROUND.”
We tried to explain to the powers at large that this wasn’t actually true. It isn’t possible to golf on these courses in the middle of January or February when six inches of snow are on the ground. But, they wouldn’t listen. Nope, they were adamant that technically golfing is still possible then (maybe it’s called frozen golf?) and they wanted to reposition themselves in this way to compete with the warmer climate destinations. Then they curtly said that we could take this or leave them. So, we did just that… we left them.
After that experience, I realized that sometimes people in life just make very little sense. And, there’s nothing you can do to change their perspective or how they go about making business decisions. Are they dumb? Well, you’ve read my story. So, now I’ll let you be the judge of that.