Atlantic City residents react to casino closings
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The sun-soaked, cloud-piercing Atlantic City skyline still sparkles to drivers coasting down the long stretch of expressway leading to the many hotels and casinos here. They come in search of entertainment, family fun on the boardwalk, or perhaps just the chance to score tremendous wealth with a single pull on a slot machine’s arm. From afar, Atlantic City still looks like a dream.
But up close, the Atlantic City reality is veering toward nightmare territory.
Several casinos have shuttered or will soon. Others are just drab shells of their former selves. Business is down, and tourism is plummeting. Atlantic City is in big, big trouble. And that’s a problem for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
In 2011, Christie placed a big bet on the struggling city, spearheading a five-year plan to resuscitate “America’s Favorite Playground,” which had fallen victim to the proliferation of neighboring states’ casinos and the recession. But with two casinos having closed their doors in the last week, plus another one planning to later this month – and approximately 6,000 people set to lose their jobs – this is a bet that Christie is clearly losing. What that means for his presidential prospects in 2016 remains to be seen.
Revel, an ultra-modern, $2.6 billion casino that opened in April 2012, shut its doors over the weekend. So did the Showboat casino, after 27 years on the boardwalk. Trump Plaza’s last day is Sept. 16.
City officials have announced a governmental program that includes job training in an effort to find alternative employment for affected workers. But laid-off employees aren’t optimistic.
Debbie Huey, a hotel cashier supervisor at the Trump Plaza for 30 years, said, “I thought I’d be retiring from the casinos. At 50 and starting all over again, it was very shocking.” She added, “I started in the casinos at 19, and I thought I’d be finishing with the casinos. It’s like losing a home. It’s like a second family. We all work together and it feels like you’re losing more than just your job.”
Latoya Dunston, a lifelong Atlantic City resident, has been working in guest care for Revel since it opened. Now the mother of five children doesn’t know what she’ll do. “Now without a job, it’s going to be hard to provide for my family….We’re all going to be fighting for employment.”
The closings of the casinos are also sparking fear of spillover affects, such as housing prices tumbling and surrounding businesses taking a hit.
Ron Dibona, a hotdog and snack vendor who has worked in the city for 25 years, sat underneath a tree – a stone’s throw away from Trump Plaza – observing passersby walk right by him at lunch time on a recent afternoon.
“Business was bad this summer already. With the closings, it’s gonna hurt us even more,” said Dibona, who said he cut his work days down to three. “It’s hard to be here looking at everybody walking by and not making money,” said the 63-year-old, recounting the throngs of people who would line up at his cart decades ago.
“Now it’s a ghost town,” Dibona added.
John Francis Peters is a Los Angeles based photographer specializing in documentary and portraiture.