Since the 1970's there have been high hopes that the casino industry would pull Atlantic City up and make it not only a premier tourist attraction in New Jersey, but that the casinos would somehow make the City itself a beautiful, safe and friendly town. To date, it doesn't appear that anything good has come out of the casino industry in Atlantic City. The day after the new legislation was signed, 115 casino workers lost their jobs due to their positions being deemed unnecessary under the new de-regulation law.
However, casinos have employed many residents from the region. Many people are attracted to Atlantic City's casinos for day trips, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and just some weekend fun. But it has never been a destination for week long family vacations, nor a vacation spot for the wealthy crowd, nor has it attracted a large number of people from other places in the nation or the world.
Then in July of 2010, Governor Christie held a press conference touting the rehabilitation of Atlantic City. He received the initial support of Atlantic City's Mayor Lorenzo Langford. Mayor Langford's support did not last. The Governor's plans included taking a portion of the City and making it a State-managed tourist spot. The Governor's pro-business campaign would make casino industry less regulated.
In January of 2011, Governor Christie's plans came to fruition with the State Legislature signing off on the revisions. On February 1, 2011, Governor Christie signed both pieces of legislation. To make things more enticing he signed the laws at the partially constructed Revel Casino in the City's South Inlet. With the signing of the two new laws, Revel would also receive a $261 million tax break with Revel's promise to re-invest in the community surrounding the Casino.
At first glance, this sounds good. It will not "cost" the State anything except revenue (which by the Governor's terms is not money being put out - it is simply not money going in). The businesses surrounding the Revel Casino will benefit as will the Absecon Lighthouse, the major tourist attraction in that part of Atlantic City.
But how will it change Atlantic City itself? That is the question. Will the tax break reinvigorate the area to the extent it will attract more investors, businesses, tourists, and all good things? Or will it simply allow a renovation of the deteriorating part of the City and leave all else alone.
For those who are familiar with Atlantic City, and by that I mean the entire City not only the casinos, you know that the City is poor. Many of its residents are barely surviving pay check to pay check. There are many homeless in Atlantic City. There are many people on welfare and disability. These people do not benefit from any of the casinos.
If the Governor wants to make the City a place for its residents to thrive, he needs to understand the City's residents, all of them. Governor Christie needs to put money into the City's residents not only into its businesses. Many people would say that putting money into businesses gives the residents an opportunity to make more money for themselves. But it isn't that simple.
If there are not enough safe and clean housing units, and if there are not enough sustainable wage jobs, and if there are not enough competent job training programs, the people are not going to be helped by the revamping Governor Christie has planned. Speak to any reputable social worker in Atlantic City and I am sure they will add more to the list of things needed to ensure the City's residents begin to succeed.
What Governor Christie and the State Legislature has done is a start. But they need to continue doing more. He needs to walk down the residential streets in all of its neighborhoods and speak with the people about their needs. At this time, however, he has only shaken the hands of casino executives. Once he realizes there are a lot more hands to shake and ideas to listen to, he may just find a real solution to real problems facing Atlantic City.