|Our reporter Lieba Nesis
Click images for full-size views
I had no idea what to expect on my first ever visit Atlantic City as the reviews from my fancy friends were mixed-why would you go there they asked. Despite my apprehension, I grabbed my heavy suitcase and camera and headed to Penn Station to grab a train. Unfortunately, I misread the schedule, and there were no direct trains on a Wednesday night. Should I or shouldn’t I? It was close to 10 PM, and I was more than a bit discouraged about whether it was worth the trip. Heading to the Port Authority terminal, I was told the next available bus was leaving in an hour and a half. Vacillating as to whether to proceed I waited patiently next to a man who sounded like he had Whooping cough and about ten pigeons who remained dangerously close to my suitcase. I purchased a ticket for $21 and headed to the gate. As the bus left the driver asked the passengers to refrain from drinking. To no avail, the man in front of me continued to offer me and my seatmate sips from his vodka flask admitting that he had been drinking since way before departure.
|Elvis Presley Rolls Royce at Hard Rock Casino
All photos: Lieba Nesis
I am slightly uneasy but mostly annoyed by this passenger who continues to chat my reluctant neighbor up. We arrive at Caesar’s two hours later-my trip to Greenwich Village during rush hour takes longer-and I am left wandering the streets of Atlantic City at 2 A.M. with a suitcase and Louis Vuitton bag wondering if this is a precarious situation. Finally, I spot a Sheraton in the distance and for $150 a night I am brought to a lavish room replete with air conditioning and curtains (luxuries an $800 room in the Hamptons fails to provide.)
The next morning I excitedly headed to the casino openings of “The Hard Rock Hotel” and “The Ocean Resort” located on the Boardwalk. I was astounded by the vast expanse of the Boardwalk and its magnificent beach. Amusement Park rides, Go Karts, and Food Trucks sprinkled on the nearly three-mile walk which was teeming with enthusiastic crowds. “The Hard Rock Casino,” the 2,000 room behemoth located in the midst of the action, spent $500 million over the past 14 months to renovate the former Trump Taj Mahal. Joe Gingoli, along with Jim Allen and Jack Morris otherwise known as the “Jersey Boys,” attended the day’s festivities. Gingoli wearing a sharp grey suit and accompanied by bodyguards called the Hard Rock “a game changer” due to the 390 shows a year and the numerous theaters it contains. Gingoli said the press reports about the demise of Atlantic City were wholly inaccurate and he was willing to bet big on the beautiful beaches and boardwalk.
|Jamie Foxx performing at Ocean Resort|
The morning festivities at “Hard Rock” consisted of greeting guests with the smashing of guitars, a performance by Jamie Foxx and massive fireworks. Mark Wahlberg was also in attendance at both openings as well as Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan. Over the weekend a 36,000 Square Foot “Scores” Strip Club is opening, and both Carrie Underwood and Pitbull are to perform at the “Hard Rock.” Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam heralded the day’s events calling it “a new era” and remarking that Atlantic City was open for business. In fact, within the next couple of days, more than one million people are heading to Atlantic City to celebrate its reemergence as a gambling hotspot.
The introduction of sports betting and the opening of Atlantic City’s Stockton University’s Beach Campus in September are signs that the lost jobs and casino closings during the last five years might be a thing of the past. Five of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos closed between 2013 and 2106, and the unemployment rate of 6.3% was way above the national rate of 4% at that time. Atlantic City was once the number one tourist attraction in New Jersey, but as recently as July 23, 2017 “Business Insider” called it a “ghost town.”
|Left to right: Peter Milto, Paul D’Angelo, and Nick Milto|
It is hard to explain why developers have chosen to pour billions of dollars back into this risky investment with multiple nearby venues now offering gambling; however, since most of these renovations have occurred during the Trump Presidency one explanation might be the resurgence of the economy and the hope that people are spending big again. The Second Casino, “The Ocean Resort,” which was formerly called “The Revel,” cost $2.4 billion to build and closed in 2014 after only two and a half years of operation. Glen Straub acquired the property out of bankruptcy in 2015 for $82 million and Colorado developer Bruce Deifik bought the 1,399 rooms in January for $200 million and proceeded to spend more than $200 million on a renovation.
The building was magnificent with glass enclosures that highlighted the beach and a casino that was on par with the best of Monte Carlo and Vegas. I gasped when I rode up the escalators and looked out onto the magnanimous boardwalk. Restaurants including Dolce, Amada, Cafe 500 and American Cut as well as a hamburger restaurant owned by actor Mark Wahlberg called “Wahlburgers,” and an over-the-top Food Court draws culinary aficionados to this gambling site. “Ocean Resort” also contains a sports betting facility, golf simulator, burlesque club, spa and a 5,500 seat concert hall.
Some novelty features include “Cereal Town” which serve cereal 24 hours a day and a giant fish tank. Between the two casinos, more than 7,000 people have been hired with room supply increasing by 30 percent and gaming space up by 41 percent. When the clock struck 11 PM, I ran to catch the two-hour express bus at the nearby station and took one last glimpse at the majestic “Ocean Resort.” Atlantic City was established in the 1800’s as a health resort has become a mecca of glitzy high-rise hotels and nightclubs. The short 24 hours I experienced has left me wanting more. When my friend’s inquiry about my trip I gleefully respond, “what happens in Atlantic City stays in Atlantic City.”