Memorial Day weekend was once again the kickoff to the all-important summer season for casinos, the time of year that can produce the profits this industry needs in order to continue investing in new facilities, hiring people and paying taxes
In Atlantic City, Memorial Day holds multiple meanings that can actually be more important than its image as the harbinger of summer crowds. Local historians use this time of year to remind people that Atlantic City played a crucial role in the lives of American veterans. Camp Boardwalk - what was once Haddon Hall, but what is now resorts - was an important rehabilitation center during World War II. Every year, we lose more and more veterans from that greatest generation, leaving fewer people who can tell the story of an important era.
Birth of a new eraWe also cannot forget something else about Memorial Day in Atlantic City: Three decades after World War II ended, Atlantic City became home to the first legal casino in the United States outside Nevada. On the very site where wounded soldiers rested, a new industry was founded. Haddon Hall became Resorts International, which opened its doors to the gaming public for the first time in May 1978. This industry can never afford to allow itself the luxury of forgetting that important date, and that critical experiment. To put it all in context, we need to remind ourselves that there was a very good reason why casinos were illegal in 49 states in the first half of the 1970s: Most people simply did not trust casinos to be honest, nor did they trust the people who ran them.
New Jersey, under some very enlightened political leadership, changed that, in part because they had no choice. Atlantic City, as a dying urban center, needed to try some radical treatment. And the political leadership needed to demonstrate that it could change the image of the industry by infusing it with an unprecedented level of integrity. So, New Jersey created two agencies - the Casino Control Commission and the Division of Gaming Enforcement - that were, and remain, two of the finest casino regulatory agencies anywhere.
Forging a new pathEvery casino in the United States that has opened since 1978 - even those in Nevada - owes something to the efforts that were made in Atlantic City.
Ultimately, New Jersey helped convince everyone that casinos could be run honestly by people of high integrity. And, in doing so, they could make money for their investors, create jobs for their neighbors, and send tax revenues to their state capitals.
Because this is the 30th anniversary of the first casino in Atlantic City, the moment is particularly noteworthy. For some reason, anniversaries that end in a zero are always special and more deserving of reflection. We need to remind ourselves of two important points when reflecting on the birth of casinos in Atlantic City.
One: While most of the states that have legalized casinos in recent years have done so to generate tax revenue, that was not the motivator in New Jersey. This was an experiment in urban renewal, and by any credible measurement, the experiment has been wildly successful. People need to remember what Atlantic City was when they think about what it is and will become. The industry has generated billions in tax revenue and created more jobs than there are residents in Atlantic City. And that brings us to the second important point.
All over the world, quite literally from Macau to Maine and many points in between, the casino industry is filled with managers, line employees, suppliers and many others whose careers began sometime around May 1978. This phenomenon is particularly apparent in Atlantic City, but can be seen everywhere.
Casinos gave hope to countless families, and created opportunities to build careers. Atlantic City had very little of that before 1978. Whatever jobs could be found were often dead-ends, finishing right where they began.Today, Atlantic City exports hope. We should remember that when we celebrate this 30th anniversary.