Blows Keep on Coming for Atlantic City: Can City Weather Another Storm?

Written By Ivan P

Atlantic City, one of the main gambling destinations in the US right behind Las Vegas can’t seem to catch a break. It wasn’t that long ago that the city had to deal with a deep economic crisis that led to several iconic casinos shutting down – including Trump Taj Mahal, a property once owned by the sitting US President Donald Trump.

The situation became so dire that in 2016 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to force a state takeover. Although unpopular, the move helped Atlantic City finally start to move in the right direction. Situation was once again looking bright.

And then, all of a sudden, came 2020, bringing with a global crisis and the one that hit the entertainment industry particularly hard. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the NJ Governor issued an order to shut down all major events and close all casinos in the state. Once again, Atlantic City’s economy found itself at risk, perhaps more so than ever before.

From Bad to Worse

Of course, the situation for casinos is pretty much the same everywhere in the US and almost everywhere else around the globe. Las Vegas is dealing with same problems and their economy was dealt a big blow as well.

However, Atlantic City was already in a bad spot and this sudden change came at the worst possible moment.

According to the president of the City Council, AC is facing a possibility of a real Armageddon. Although the area hasn’t been hit particularly hard by the virus, economic consequences of the complete shutdown could be just as bad – if not worse. At this point, casinos have been closed for well over a month and consequences of this decision could be felt long after the virus crisis is behind us.

There are some 27,000 people directly employed by the casino industry in the city. Almost all of them are out of work right now. On top of this, there are many businesses that indirectly depend on the gambling industry, such as hotels, restaurants, and rentals. These businesses are dealing with significant losses as well and this will likely lead to even more people losing their jobs.

Uncertain Future Ahead

Life is very slowly starting to get back to normal in the US. However, this will be a long and painful process and it might take months before things are the way they used to be before the pandemic. And for the people of Atlantic City who depend on the gambling sector to make a living, this spells a grim future.

Even when casinos finally reopen, many employees expect that they won’t go back to work immediately. It will take some time for people to gain back the confidence and start travelling the way they used to. So, the summer season of 2020, which is the busiest period of the year, probably won’t be anywhere near the levels from earlier years.

In this whole mess, one thing that the gambling industry could count on is its online segment. With live casinos shutting down, the number of people trying their luck online has seen a sharp increase. However, while this is better than nothing, it is also a double-edged sword.

With people getting more used to playing online, the foot traffic at live casinos is likely to dip. This was a threat even before the pandemic but now punters have an added incentive to stay home at play from the comfort of their living room. With a wealth of casino games just a few clicks away, there is very little incentive to drive all the way to Atlantic City just to play some slots.

Just Another Crisis to Overcome?

Despite of things looking rather bleak at the moment, local politicians and analysts don’t seem overly concerned. Most of them seem convinced that this is just another crisis that AC will overcome and come on the other end even stronger than before.

It is true that Atlantic City is an excellent example of a survivor. Time and time again, the city and its people have weathered the storms and managed to pull through even when it seemed like there is no solution on the horizon. But, while a positive outlook is always welcome, those in power also need to be realistic. This is the kind of crisis that has never happened before and “staying positive” may not cut it.