The Other Side of the Atlantic City Casinos Story

By: Michael Joe Murphy | Posted: January 10, 2014 3:55 AM
Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Thank you, Nancy Smith, for bringing up Atlantic City, and for allowing us to tell the other side of the story (ref: Jan. 6 Smith column, "About All That Crime Gambling Brought to Atlantic City ...").

First, the source you quoted described the No Casinos organization’s opposition to casinos as being morally based. Actually, the morality of gambling is not our point. It never has been.

We stand firmly against an expansion of gambling and the introduction of full-scale Las Vegas-style casinos because the social and economic costs for Florida would far outweigh any perceived benefit. As for benefits, let’s not forget that comprehensive statewide study by Spectrum Gaming Group that admitted casinos would have only a minimal economic impact on Florida. It also projected that less than 5 percent of the patrons to casinos would be tourists. So where would the rest of the money spent in a casino come from? You guessed it – our existing economy.

Likewise, our opposition does not start and end with concern about the documented increase in crime that comes with casinos. But here’s the crux about Atlantic City: violent crime there touches 19.2 people per 1,000 residents, when the New Jersey average is just 3.1. Ms. Smith notes that anti-gambling groups divert attention away from the “full story” of Atlantic City. What is the “full story”?

• Before casinos, Atlantic City’s population was 47,859. Today, the number of residents has dwindled to 39,558.

• In 1970, the percentage of residents living below the poverty line was 22.5 percent. Today, it’s a staggering 29.3.

• In 1977, the jobless rate was 18.1 percent. In 2012, it was 17 percent, nearly twice as high as the statewide average. Today, Atlantic City’s jobless rate languishes at 12.6 percent. (NOTE: October jobless rate.)

Half of Atlantic City’s casinos have declared bankruptcy in the last six years – not because of a bad economy, but because of an oversaturation of casino gambling caused by legalization in neighboring states. You see, the casino industry has been so successful getting its product legalized that it is no longer a draw for tourists. That’s important to remember as the legislative debate over this issue heats up.

And the $2.4 billion casino that was supposed to save Atlantic City? New Jersey taxpayers bailed it out to the tune of $260 million – and it still declared bankruptcy within a year of opening. Once a state becomes dependent on casino revenues, the casinos become too big to fail. Florida taxpayers should be spared a similar plight.

While we’re looking at statistics, let’s look at Nevada for a moment. If casinos are so great for the economy, why does Nevada continue to have the highest unemployment rate in America? Nevada also leads America in suicide, divorce and personal bankruptcy. Is that a model worth emulating at any level?

As for Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss., casinos have not proved to be a magnet for economic development. They remain “quiet,” as Ms. Smith says, because there was little commerce for casinos to displace. Introducing casinos into desolate places like the swamp in Mississippi is hardly analogous to introducing them to a highly developed urban, family, tourist-based state like Florida.

Ms. Smith quotes Steve Norton, “a semiretired consultant in the casino industry,” as saying, “No Casinos has every right to be morally opposed to casino gambling.”

As you can see, the strong case we make has nothing to do with morality. It never has. Leave it to Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson to broach that subject. Adelson said he is “morally opposed” to online gambling, calling it a “toxin” that will rob the young and poor. I’m not sure what makes it any better inside a big, garish building.

Casinos engage in false promises and a lot of hype. But their record tells a different story entirely.

Michael Joe Murphy handles communications/content for No Casinos Inc.

Comments (7)

Warren Massey
3:56PM JAN 12TH 2014
Steve Norton has stated that Mr. Murphy is paid to oppose gaming in Florida . While I don't consider myself to be at the professional level of Mr. Norton , I did play a intricate roll , as Chief Of Staff to Mayor Joseph Bradway Jr. Former Atlantic City Mayor, in the early 70's . Atlantic City was experiencing some very tough economic times . The city that was once known as the " Playground Of The World " was in dire need of change / reinvention if you will . As the Mayors spokesperson and Asst. I was charged with addressing a state committee with the idea in mind that the state support our efforts to provide incentives to never realized industries , that would provide jobs for the small percentage of blue collar workers who found themselves experiencing difficult economic times . We felt , if we could attract new industry to Atlantic City , which was heretofore banned from setting up shop in Atlantic City , because of the desire to maintain a imprisoned workforce , who would always be available for the one and only viable industry in Atlantic City , the hotel industry , these were those people who worked the less desirable positions , they worked during the summer months and had no choice but to collect unemployment at all other times of the year and this was all by design and strictly enforced by the State Senator , Hap Farley , he headed the very powerful Republican machine . To make a long story short , the state turned it's back on our request and to my dismay and surprise , we ended up with the most destructive industry we could have ever had the misfortune of hosting , " Casinos " Yes Mr. Norton was one of those Executives who was employed by the first casino , Resorts International , formerly known as the Mary Carter Paint Company . The Mary Carter Paint Company and Resorts International had questionable investments in the Bahamas and allegedly a unsavory relationship with it's political leaders . When casino gambling was first introduced via a public referendum , it failed , which prompted Jim Crosby ( Chairman Mary Carter Paint ) and his minions to flood the streets and the pockets of politicians with money , so that the next time out ( new referendum ) there would be success and of course it was .

Atlantic City and it's economic problems , in my opinion were solvable , absent casinos , how could it not be , we were the premier tourist destination on the east coast , we were the premier destination for conventions . What we needed was the cooperation of the state and ultimately those politicians who through corruption and mismanagement placed us where we were economically .

Resorts and the casino industry in general , did put many people back to work and that was a plus , but at what price ? We now have former employees , who through no fault of their own , have lost everything . Why ? Because the owners of these casinos had become so greedy that they and the politicians neglected to recognize that the city outside of the casino zones were being ignored . Today we find ourselves floundering in a pool of incompetence and once again , bad decisions and a city that looks today , much like it did , before casinos .

I did not vote for casinos and I would not vote today for casinos if it were a issue . Our city like many others is facing rising heinous criminal acts of violence and the poverty is so very visible . Mr. Norton stated that there was a concerted effort to hire Atlantic City residents and there was such an effort , that is until they realized that the majority of these residents needing employment were African Americans , at which time the casinos began to label Atlantic City residents as lazy and not willing to work . That ladies and gentlemen was a outright lie . I eventually found myself working in the industry , at Resorts , I walked in the door with a state recognized Executive level license and the department which I eventually managed , while very ethnically diverse was dominated by African Americans and I had very few problems , Why ? because those worked for me knew I cared about them as much as I cared about getting the job done , I never treated them like just a number , which was often the norm in the industry .

In closing , I believe it has been proven that where large sums of money are concerned , greed will always rear it's ugly head and collateral damage is inevitable . We were sold a dream and what we got was a nightmare and we're living that nightmare , as we speak .

Mr. Norton also made reference to the prevalence of subsidized housing and we all know that , that type of housing is usually occupied by minorities , seniors and the much less fortunate , in a town that was supposed to have a industry that was to be a " A game Changer "

Mr. Norton has always been deeply invested in the industry and for him it's a family thing , his son holds a high level position in a casino that competes with Atlantic City .
** As a side note , the Mayor of Atlantic City and I as his representative , as stated earlier in the comments , attempted to do what this city and it's new Mayor is hard pressed to do toady and that is offer the same type of incentives that we were denied , to bring new life into a dying city . History has a way of repeating itself . Go Figure ?

* The population in the 70's was 37,859 , not 47,859 , it makes a difference , the difference being , with the assets we posses ( beach and boardwalk ) , how could reinvention fail and the numbers of persons unemployed were easily trained and eventually employed .
11:43PM JAN 10TH 2014
Florida's best bet is a combined Resort Casino and Space X launch site on Merritt Island. Being in the middle of a scenic wildlife preserve, gambling, and front-row seats to rocket launches will be a dynamite, win-win attraction that no one can resist. It will be more popular than Disney.
Steven Norton
8:50PM JAN 10TH 2014
My final comment on today's article has to do with the comments about the population decline in Atlantic City, and the current status of the casino industry. I was part of the 1976 referendum campaign, helped draft the 1977 Casino Control Act, and was an executive during the first dozen years at AC's first casino hotel, Resorts International. In my 1976 speeches and presentations, I always envisioned our resort as the economic engine for all of South Jersey, and at our peak, employing 52,000 NJ residents, with another estimated 25,000 working in support industries. So many were commuting daily from the other 5 counties in South Jersey, that the State had to add hundreds of new busses to transport these employees daily to Atlantic City and Atlantic County.
The AC residents population declined as many employees, moved out of their subsidized housing (AC had the second highest % of subsidized housing in the US) into new homes in communities on the more family friendly mainland. At one time in 1980, the casinos offered to hire every individual in Atlantic City, that wanted a job and could qualify for a NJ Casino License. When we couldn't find enough people to staff the newest casino, the Sands, the operator reached out to West Virginia, to hire laid off steel workers. Unfortunately, like the Auto Industry in Detroit, the Glass Industries of South Jersey or Clothing manufacturing in many states, new competition took its toll, and these factories closed. In Atlantic City's case it was slots in Eastern PA and NY, and eventually full casinos in PA and recently MD; that have taken half of AC's visitors and casino revenues. But casinos are still a major tourism draw, doubly so for year round resorts, like those in Florida. When Resorts bought and operated the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel, we often experienced occupancies of 20% or less at our 1,000 room property. But after our casino opened, even winter occupancies were in the mid to high 80% range. I'm not saying that Florida needs to add more gaming, but if certain resort areas of the State need a substantial boost in tourism; then resort casinos, like the ones that would be built by Sheldon Adelson or Steve Wynn, would certainly do their part to quick-start that area's economy.
Steven Norton
8:14PM JAN 10TH 2014
Mr. Murphy is also correct that the Spectrum Report indicates that resort casinos would not have a major impact on Florida's economy, which is already extensive in commerce and tourism. But if introduced correctly, in resort communities with good air service and a meaningful number of existing accommodations, the impact in new jobs, construction, taxes and millions of additional visitors, could definitely have a major impact to the region. The kind of gaming I refer to are major casino resorts, like those in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Macau and Singapore, or Tribal casinos in Connecticut, California and Oklahoma. Orlando and Miami Beach have indicated that they do not want the kind of mega casinos proposed in the 2011 Legislation, receiving a specific proposals from Genting and Las Vegas Sands. But are occupancies and average rates in other Florida resorts doing as well as these two major cities? It seems that Florida's Legislature needs to study the current condition of the tourist industry in other resort areas in Florida. What about Ft. Myers, the golf and beach resorts around Jacksonville, Daytona, the Panhandle? Are all of them prospering? Could any of them use an additional million or more new visitors?
Steven Norton
7:51PM JAN 10TH 2014
Mr. Murphy is paid to paint a picture of casino gaming, that will harm Florida, and I have no problem with his employers being opposed to casinos for moral, religious or being afraid of new competition, But I do object when he uses statistics in a misleading or incomplete manner. His comments about Atlantic City's crime rates being much higher in AC rather than the State of New Jersey. What he doesn't say however, is that the FBI Crime rates for Violent and Property crime are based on a community's permanent population (AC today is 40,000). But in Atlantic City, the annual visitor count went from 4 million in 1977 to 35 million in the 1980's, and the casinos employed 52,000 and another estimated 25,000 in support industries, so all of these people are at risk, but they aren't considered in the FBI statistics. But what Mr. Murphy didn't do is compare crime in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, with the fabulous family resort Orlando (with Disney World, Epcot, Sea World, Universal Studios and Lego Land) has Violent and Prpoerty Crime rates that are double that of Las Vegas, and higher than Atlantic City. But the more important crime statistic for any high visit community, is the risk of being a victim. And in AC, an individual was 60 to 70% less likely to be involved in a crime, after casinos were opened.
4:40PM JAN 10TH 2014
How is this comparison statistics of unemployment and poverty level from 1977 to now valid by attributing the difference to gambling, without considering the economic struggles our entire nation- not just communities involved in gaming- has endured in the last decade?!
1:32PM JAN 10TH 2014
No, Mr. Murphy, I don't think so. Smith hits the nail on the head when she says, "In fact any kind of activity that meaningfully increases visitor totals will increase crime. That's because FBI crime statistics don't include visitors or commuting workers when reporting a community's violent- and property-crime numbers. It's the untold story in all this: A casino city like Atlantic City, with only 40,000 residents, sees crime increase as much as 300 percent -- but also goes from 4 million visitors before casinos to 35 million after." That is why Orlando and other cities have so much MORE crime, because they have more visitors. NOT because they have more gambling.

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