- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.
Prosperitiy remains a rumor in some neighborhoods nearly 25 years after this city's revitalization began with the opening of a Resorts International casino. Along the Boardwalk, business booms in many of the city's 12 casinos, but dozens of Atlantic Avenue shops and restaurants have never hit the jackpot they expected from casino-bound customers. For them, the decay of this seaside resort hasn't gone away.
Still, many people credit casino gambling with remaking Atlantic City, although they also acknowledge that mistakes were made.
"Did it work? Yes, it worked," said Carl Zeitz, a former member of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. "It delivered on the promises, and I was a skeptic. All the horribles were true. But yes, it worked."
In a Nov. 2, 1976, referendum, New Jersey voters agreed to let Atlantic City have casinos.
Resorts International opened May 26, 1978, with long waits for people to even enter the building and gamblers standing three- and four-deep at the craps tables. From that start grew an industry that now employs more than 46,000 people and wins $4.2 billion a year from gamblers.
But in other ways, casinos crapped out. They were brought in to reverse the city's deteriorating Boardwalk hotels and ramshackle neighborhoods, but progress was slow in many ways.
In retrospect, regulators and casino executives here blame the original casino legislation, which required that casinos have at least 500 hotel rooms and corresponding amounts of convention space, restaurants and retail stores.
The amenities paid off for the casinos. But they hurt Atlantic City businesses, which were left out as gamblers ate, shopped and attended concerts inside the casino buildings.
There were about 100 full-service restaurants in the city when casinos began to open. Now, there are 14, according to Mayor Lorenzo Langford.
"We kind of shot ourselves in the foot when we created the legislation that casinos would be all-encompassing, self-contained," said Mr. Langford, a former casino dealer. "The city's business district was destroyed because people had no reason to leave the casinos," he said.
About 25 percent of Atlantic City's residents still live at or below the poverty line, Mr. Langford said.
But casino taxes have helped build an $83 million high school, a new minor league baseball stadium, a new bus station and dozens of new housing developments.
Many officials credit the success of the casino venture to a regulatory code aimed at keeping gamblers in and mobsters out.
The code helped New Jersey acquire a reputation as having the most effective casino-regulatory structure in the world. It required intensive background checks on everyone from chambermaids to chief executive officers, looking for financial problems, criminal records or any other blemish.
It also required background checks for vendors and suppliers, under the theory that if organized crime was going to infiltrate casinos, it would try to do so first by doing business with them.
The ultrastrict regulation, which has kept Atlantic City casinos free of mob taint, has made New Jersey's system a model for other states.
Michigan and other states that later allowed casino gambling looked to New Jersey for guidance.
"The reputation gaming has had rightly or wrongly is that it's very vulnerable to fraud and corruption," said Nelson Westrin, executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board.
"We borrowed very heavily from New Jersey, particularly with respect to controlling vendors and suppliers who did business with casinos. We wanted to make sure undesirables didn't get involved in our operations, and New Jersey is one of the best and strongest examples of keeping undesirables out," Mr. Westrin said.


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