In 2010, New Jersey saw a 9.4 percent decline in gaming revenue. Pennsylvania’s revenue jumped by more than 26 percent over the same time. The legalization of table games in the Keystone State and in Delaware last year also hit New Jersey hard. Poker players and blackjack lovers now have more than one option, and they’re taking advantage of it.
As many states added gaming jobs over the last several years, the Garden State has shed them. About 34,000 people worked in New Jersey casinos last year, down from 36,377 in 2009, the AMA reported.
There is little New Jersey officials can do to lure Pennsylvanians back to Atlantic City, now that they’ve discovered the benefits of gambling a few miles from home. Instead, the city is trying to shed its image as the East Coast’s version of Sin City and reinvent itself as a tourist destination and family vacation spot.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired the opening salvo earlier this month, chiding New Jersey residents who may be considering a summer trip to Las Vegas.
“There is no reason people should go to Las Vegas in the summer,” he said during a Sept. 7 news conference. “Why would you go to the middle of the desert in the summer? You’d have to be stupid to do that. Come to Atlantic City, where there’s a beautiful beach. Gamble if you want to.”
Mr. Christie made the comments before introducing the new head of the state’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, an agency tasked with making Atlantic City cleaner and safer. The governor chose John F. Palmieri, a New Jersey native who also headed up redevelopment efforts in Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; and other major cities.
“I would hope what we get right now is, we exploit the extraordinary advantages Atlantic City has as a destination resort and a convention resort,” Mr. Christie said, outlining his vision for a seaside resort town.
Analysts think Mr. Christie is wise to overhaul Atlantic City’s image. The explosion of casinos in recent years has made craps, roulette and other games more accessible to the average gambler, regardless of where he or she lives. Boarding a plane and booking a weeklong stay in Las Vegas just to play at the tables is no longer necessary.
“If you look around at all of the casinos in the U.S., the hotel-casino is increasingly becoming an exception,” said William R. Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada at Reno. “Most casinos are now within a two-hour drive for 98 percent of their customers.”
For some in eastern Pennsylvania, a weekend in Atlantic City has been replaced with an afternoon trip to Parx Casino, a sprawling “racino” — industry slang for a casino/horse-racing track hybrid — in Bensalem, just outside the city limits of Philadelphia.
Gino Melucci, a 58-year-old advertising executive from northeast Philadelphia, used to be an Atlantic City regular. Now, when he isn’t on the road, he spends his time at Parx.
“Everybody around here has a positive attitude about this. The people who gambled around here used to go Atlantic City. They were looking for something here,” he said as he pulled receipts from the pocket of his jeans. He had won $3,600 a few hours earlier.
His strategy is not to waste precious time on penny or nickel slot machines. Instead, he finds the busiest area in the high-limit slots room, armed with a wad of $100 bills.
Along with receipts of his winnings, he keeps more than a dozen “player’s club” cards in his pocket. He’s a frequent guest of casinos in Illinois, Nevada, Connecticut, California and other states across the country. Like many others, he showed up the day Parx opened its doors in December 2009.