So you thought you knew everything there is to know about Atlantic City? Here is something that I bet never seeped into your consciousness: Atlantic City is a manufacturing town.
I am not speaking of the sort of manufacturing associated with smoke stacks or assembly lines. Atlantic City, however, has forever been in the business of building and exporting a variety of products, starting with hype. From its earliest days, Atlantic City was in the business of hyping itself as the birthplace of everything from salt water taffy to beauty pageants to the modern convention business.
Later, Atlantic City moved into the business of manufacturing dreams. Remember Atlantic City, the classic Louis Malle film from 1980? Burt Lancaster starred in the movie which was an allegory about people starting new dreams and living old dreams. And, of course, there is the classic Bruce Springsteen song, also called “Atlantic City,” which features the lyric: “Well now, everything dies, baby, that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.”
Now, Atlantic City’s manufacturing base has morphed once more. Atlantic City is now in the business of generating headlines, and this machine is feeding newspapers, TV stations and bloggers all over the world.
For the most part, the headlines are not exactly what Atlantic City’s dream machine has been hoping for. They speak, in short phrases, about a city in decline, in which month after month of bad news feeds a never-ending appetite for more bad news. I find this particularly frustrating since much of this bad news has the potential to be self-sustaining. The reality, of course, is different, as realities often are.
Spectrum Gaming Group, a global research and consulting firm that happens to be based in Atlantic City, has noted often that Atlantic City retains some incredible assets: A tax rate of only 8 percent, a concentration of gaming capital in one location and a tourism infrastructure. Spectrum also notes that no state in the Northeast is considering emulating the Atlantic City model. The assets will remain.
Certainly, the combination of a recession and competition has hit Atlantic City hard, but recessions are temporary. The advantages will remain. So, the question I am asking is: Will the negative headlines remain as well?
Recently, Atlantic City delivered some good news to the world: August revenues grew by 13 percent. Most analysts dismissed this as simply the result of a hurricane threat in August 2011 that made a year-over-year comparison look favorable as a result. Still, there are some who looked beyond the obvious. I was impressed by an analysis developed by veteran TV journalist Dick Sheeran who wrote: “… The most important thing the positive August figure does is help change the template about Atlantic City being a struggling casino town. Yes, it is in a tough battle with casinos everywhere, but August 2012 might give some writers second thoughts about throwing in the usual adjectives when describing Atlantic City like ‘sagging revenues,’ ‘declining fortunes’ and ‘fleeing gamblers.’ For several years, it’s been gloom and doom, now August 2012 changes the picture a bit.
“Big events in August obviously made a major difference in performance. The huge air show brought thousands of people to the city… And Nik Walenda’s tightrope walk across the Boardwalk had the same effect. Perhaps Nik’s walk is a metaphor for Atlantic City’s challenge in the casino world… Revel needed some good news and got it. The buzz about Revel lately has been concern… But Revel is the face of the ‘new’ AC. From the start, its marketing has been that it is a luxury resort first and just happens to have a gambling operation.
“It is seen as the future: to attract conventions and visitors who will stay two or three days not just do a couple of hours of gambling and head back home in their car or run for the bus.”
Sheeran saw beyond the obvious, and like Spectrum Gaming Group, he thought long and hard about the big picture. Atlantic City will continue to manufacture dreams, and will surely continue to generate headlines. But, if more journalists and analysts were willing to provide thoughtful commentary, perhaps those headlines can actually fuel some of those dreams.